by Kimberly Carrillo Word Count: 994
(New Year Celebration with a Japanese Family)
I have already been in a long term relationship with my Japanese boyfriend. We have been together for 3 years. Finally, he introduced me to his family last winter. It was my very first time to come to Japan.
Having a minor in Japanese studies, I already acquired some basic level language skills. In simple terms my Japanese is in the level of a Kindergarten. Here I will describe one of my experiences on that 9 day stay in Japan. This event was the New Year celebration on my boyfriend’s mother side. My boyfriend was an exchange student here in Ateneo 3 years ago. His major was International Relations, so he is already well-versed in the English language. In this situation, I will consider him as my key informant.
His mother side’s grandparents live in Inazawa City, Aichi Prefecture Japan. His family lives in the more rural part of Japan so they are more traditional than the usual Japanese. I preliminarily studied about proper Japanese etiquette through the internet. It is already expected that they will judge me in the Japanese standards despite the fact that I am a foreigner.
The party was almost the whole day. This was spent on eating, drinking and sharing stories with the family. Surprisingly, they were all very glad to see me. They remarked that I looked like a Japanese doll. His grandmother offered me to wear one of her kimonos. I was excited because it was my first time.
Wearing the kimono was a very complicated thing. It is considered an art in its own sense. The grandmother said that she practiced almost 5 times a day in dressing a doll just to perfect the silhouette. It took more than 1 hour for the grandmother and mother to help me wear the kimono. It was very tight but very pretty. They were all worried because most Japanese girls complain about it being uncomfortable. During those moments, I was very thankful with my Karate training which helped me have strong legs to sit in the traditional Japanese way.
Language was the major problem that time. I was taught only the general Japanese usually spoken in Tokyo area. Their family has a dialect, so some words and pronunciations were different from what I know. That is why when we were communicating, I did some charades. It looked somehow stupid when I need to act out what I am trying to say but it was extremely effective. My key informant also helped me translate some of the difficult words. He also explained some of the customs.
The formal party starts by having the head of the family (Grandfather) say some good words before the kampai (toast). He has to celebrate the goodness of the past year. He mentioned that he was glad that a “fuyu ni saku ikoku no kuni kara kita onnanoko / winter flower from a far away land” joined their celebration. He was referring to me, and I responded with a smile and a bow. I was very happy that moment. It is a big deal that the head of the family likes me. Actually, that grandfather is a National Meiji Jingu Competition in Japanese Poetry writing. No wonder that he was very good with his words.
The party was very calm at first but it became livelier when people drank alcohol. The food was very delicious. Real Japanese delicacies are very different from the restaurant versions. The taste was more delicate and fresh. The cold weather makes everyone seek warm drinks like tea and miso soup. I was just very careful about my etiquette. A girl’s etiquette is a sign of her elegance and I did not want being a foreigner to be an excuse for poor manners. I asked my boyfriend, every time I do something different like removing the covering of a shrimp.
They all responded to me in a good way. They remarked my good posture and chopstick skills. I did take a lot of time to practice this. They were very curious about how Filipinos celebrate New Year also. They also asked why I was white. It was funny and awkward question. Maybe that’s why they called me a winter flower. They said their image of Filipinos is very brown so I being white makes me look non-Filipino. Actually I have Spanish and Chinese ancestry somewhere in my bloodline. It was strange because mixed blood is not a common notion for them. I explained several things about the Filipino culture like using spoon and fork, fireworks during New Year, and summer weather whole year. They all were interested how a whole year’s summer can exist. Some Japanese don’t really like the cold winter, but I was really fond of the snow during that visit.
My presence made them curious about the world beyond them. Japanese are not as exposed to foreign culture as much as Filipinos. They were very curious about the Philippines and how Filipinos live. They were surprised about my stories about Spanish conquests. Their image of Philippines is the typical Malay culture and they were intrigued by the strong Western influence.
I was very happy that I was able to give a good impression. I was also glad that I learned a lot about their culture. Experiencing the real thing is very different from reading it from the books and watching J-drama. Interviewing people about Japanese culture also makes people too stiff and you cannot get the real nature about the situation. Having a key informant who understands the culture and the situation was also very essential. There was the language and cultural barrier which makes the exchange of information more difficult. His presence also helped me understand the detailed rationale on the small cultural details like in chopstick etiquette. I just hope that that experience was the start of many great things to come.