Host Family (Tokiwa) – First Impressions

I am very fortunate that my host family, the Tokiwa family, speaks Chinese. After interacting with a slew of taxi drivers, cashiers, and concierges who spoke only Japanese and broken English, I felt an immeasurable amount of relief when I heard the mother ask me, “你是乔子游吗?” – “are you Jeffrey Qiao?”

Mr. and Mrs. Tokiwa emigrated to Japan in 1988 and 1993, respectively, from Hunan Province in the People’s Republic of China. Their story resonated strongly with me because my parents have a very similar story, emigrating to the USA in 1993 for work. Just as my parents have largely assimilated into American culture, the Tokiwas have molded Japanese culture into their own. However, they still want to keep their Chinese heritage. When I asked Mrs. Tokiwa about how long she lived in Japan, she told me that as her children grew up speaking only Japanese, she panicked and moved them to China for six years in order to learn Chinese. Then, when her youngest son spoke only Chinese, she moved back to Japan with her family so that he could learn Japanese too. This illustrates not only their penchant for heritage, but their emphasis on practicality as well.

If I had to summarize their daily interactions in one word, that word would be respect. Children respect parents and obey them. Each family member is especially polite when speaking to one another, never raising voices, rarely ever interrupting, and above all, speaking calmly and looking into each other’s eyes. It seems as if the Tokiwa family keeps a traditional view on women. Mr. Tokiwa owns his own company, and asks Mrs. Tokiwa to not work because he doesn’t want the women to have to work. (And also because of taxes if she did work.) Megumi, the Tokiwas’ daughter, is encouraged to take Home Economics class because she “is a girl.” This is just how it is; tradition dating back to Confucius.

They are all very nice and open people. Mrs. Tokiwa always went out of her way to make me happy, asking me what I wanted to eat and what I wanted to do. Moreover, she bought sushi and sashimi for me on my first day with them, and both of those are expensive delicacies in Japan. (Thank you so much for showing me all this generosity! But I’m going to get fat from all the wonderful food you gave me!) Megumi is always willing to talk and spend time with me. She took me to walk her dog, TianTian, and subsequently started chatting up cultural differences between America and Japan, mostly about cuisine and outlooks on the environment. While Americans pollute, gobble down fast food, and guzzle electricity, the Japanese decry the “trash foods” and strongly respect the earth, going so far as to actually turn off lights when not in the room.  Akiya, who is about to enter college, shared with me the material he’s learning at summer school. (He’s taking special classes in order to prepare for the college entrance exam, which is the only way to get into college in Japan.) All I can say is that most American students would have a heart attack at seeing the difficulty of the calculus test. Mr. Tokiwa is out of town for business, and the Tokiwas’ younger son is away on a school trip, but I would love to meet them someday.

In short, the Tokiwa family is an amazing family. I hope to get to know them very well during my stay with them, for they are all great people.

July 22, 2015

~Jeffrey Qiao

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