News from the Tennessee Valley Living Today
TUESDAY, JULY 17, 2007

Changing shoes part of learning daily life of Japanese culture

Editor's note: Hartselle High School student Amanda Elliott, 17, is spending seven weeks in Akita, Japan, this summer on a scholarship through Youth for Understanding, a nonprofit educational organization. This is part of an occasional series Amanda is writing for The Daily.

As with every aspect of Japanese culture, home life is near impossible to describe in a few paragraphs and, as in America, rules and customs differ from home to home.

I have stayed with two families since I arrived in Japan. The Aoyamas took me in for four days when I first arrived. Now, I am with the Ishiis, my permanent host family, until I return to the U.S. in August.

The head of the family is the father, or "Otosan," and a mother is "Okasan." It is common for an Otosan's parents to live with him and his family, as I have experienced in both homes. The grandmother is called "Obasan" and the grandfather is "Ojisan." Most families have no more than two children, but I have seen larger families. With the Aoyamas, I had two small brothers (who were adorable). The Ishiis have two children as well, a 13-year-old boy and a girl my age.

One universal rule that is enforced strictly is the routine changing of shoes. You are required to remove or change into appropriate shoes when entering or leaving a house, school and even certain rooms! It gets very confusing.

My first day of school, I accidentally wore my "inside shoes" home from school. What would seem to be a small and unimportant mistake quickly turned into an embarrassing family ordeal. I believe they change their shoes to keep dirt from outside from getting into the house. They also wear special slippers in the kitchen, another pair in the bathroom and a different pair in the shower room.

I'm adapting well to my new family and all the customs and rules. I have my own chores and responsibilities, along with specific freedoms. I'm treated the same as my siblings, with the exception that I get spoken to a little less. My host parents are not fluent in English, but we're all trying to learn each other's languages and communicate as best as we can.

Overall, I'm very happy. I'm beginning to feel less like a guest and more like a member of the family.

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