October 13, 2005
I had my very first home stay at the Aoki house, a 70-year-old traditional Japanese home. However, on my first morning in the Aoki home, I realized their house was slightly more modern than I would have expected.
The house is attached to Aoki family office, a modern building where they make pajamas and export them all over the world. There is a stark contrast between the two structures – a five-floor stucco building towering over an ornate two-story Japanese home.
My room for the next two nights is upstairs in the Aoki house. There is a very steep staircase leading to the small bedroom, and it took three of us – Mr. Aoki, his daughter-in-law and me – to push my belongings upstairs.
Like every Japanese family I have met so far, the Aoki family is very welcoming. The man and woman of the house don’t speak English, which makes me feel slightly better for knowing very little Japanese.
For my first evening in their home, the Aokis invited their daughter-in-law Tami to help translate. Tami spent a year of college in Portland, Ore., about 11 years ago, and her English is still very good. She helped me get through my first traditional Japanese dinner with the Aoki family, by telling me what goes where, what was edible and what is decoration, etc.
After dinner, Tami went home with her husband. I was on my own with my 10-word Japanese vocabulary and the Aoki family.
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We set a time to wake up – 6:30 a.m. -so I could go for a walk by the river with Mrs. Aoki. I was delighted because so far on this trip I have made a point to wake up early to go for a jog and take in my surroundings. You get such a different perspective on a place early in the morning.
Thanks to some lingering jet lag, I woke up at 5 a.m. the next morning. I decided it would be a good time to wash the legs of my pants, which were dirty from a factory visit we had the day before.
The Aokis’ room is across the hall from mine, so I made a point to make as little noise as possible. I winced at the sound of the zipper on my suitcase as I opened it. I held my breath as I shuffled a plastic bag from one spot in my bag to another.
Once I had gathered my dirty pants and other belongings, I slowly opened the door and gently made my way down the steep staircase. The floor creaked under my feet, but I was re-assured that everyone was asleep because of the sound of rising and falling breath from other rooms in the house.
I walked into the bathroom (which truly is a BATHroom in Japan), closed the door behind me, and sighed. No one in the house stirred. I was safe from disturbing anyone.
I got to it, getting my stuff together to wash my pants. I decided that the shower would be the best place to do it, so I opened the door and …
“RIIIIIING!” A loud sound came from the hall outside the bathroom. It must be an alarm clock, I thought to myself. I closed the shower door and walked outside the bathroom to investigate.
“RIIIIIIING!” Oh my Lord. The noise was getting louder, and now it was alternating between the ringing and a woman’s voice. The only word I could catch was “kudasai.” Then, I realized I had somehow set off the house alarm.
“RIIIIING!” It got louder. It said something in Japanese. Then, “kudasai.” Please? Please what?! People in Japan have house alarms? They don’t even lock their bikes. They leave their luggage in the middle of the airport unattended, and they have house alarms?!
I stared at the panel on the wall, from which the noise was coming, and waited. Someone has to come downstairs soon, I thought. It kept ringing and ringing, getting louder and louder. Finally, I heard someone walking upstairs. Oh Lord, I was dying.
“Sumimasen,” I apologized to Mr. Aoki as he walked down the stairs, covering his ears and wincing at the noise. “Sumimasen. Sumimasen.” I was bowing, shaking my head. Oh how I wished I could have explained something – anything – to him. Did he think I was trying to steal something? Sneak out of the house?
“OK, OK, OK,” he smiled. With the push of a button, he turned off the system. “OK, OK, OK,” he said. “So, so, so.”
Everything seemed to be forgiven, but I still cannot figure out why their alarm system was hooked up to the shower door.