It seems like with the New Year also came some ‘new’ weather. We’d been experiencing a fairly warm winter up until the two week vacation period where things started to really cool down. And along with the cold scarf and glove (or mittens, depending on your preference) weather came the rain. I’d rather see snow than rain during the winter but I’m not exactly in any position to argue with the environment. Due to the shortened hours of sunlight per day, plus the inhospitable weather, my favorite pastime of cycling around until all hours of the night has gone into hibernation for the season. That left me with no alternative but to watch the TV when I became incredibly bored and couldn’t find anything else to do. Of course there was always the Playstation but I’m reluctant to getting frustrated over this one particular RPG game that I just can’t play very well.
A home stay in France
So, this past Sunday I found myself channel surfing through the various programs that Japan has to offer. I hadn’t watched the TV for literally months, relying on old movies and anime series instead to keep me occupied. I had no idea what I would find to watch that could possibly entertain me for the night. Eventually, I let the channel rest on what appeared to be a taping of a young Japanese man vacationing in France. It looked interesting enough but as I continued to watch, the story developed into something else. The young Japanese man was actually a well known celebrity and he was doing a home stay in France with a French family. While there, he was also following his host father to work to do a sort of apprenticeship. At his host father’s company, he put a photographic art piece together that showed off pictures of him with his host family during the time they had spent together. I had tuned in halfway through the show, therefore missing what had gone on between him and the host family but his parting with them revealed that it had been a very emotional experience for both parties involved. At the end of that home stay, a lot of tears were shed on both sides while they bid each other farewell and exchanged fond memories of their time together. Then, the host mother did something surprising by giving the young Japanese man a copy of the key to her house. She extended an open invitation for him to return anytime for a visit. He was very flattered and moved to receive such a present that he took out his own keys, pulled off the one belonging to his home and offered it to her in return.
This program was indeed well worth watching so I waited to see what else would happen. At the end of the parting scene between the young Japanese man and his host father, the scene changed to a studio where the man in question was discussing his experience with other members of the cast. Somewhere in between the title of the program showed up at the top of the screen to read ‘sekai ururun taizaiki’ (which is very difficult for me to attempt a translation because ururun isn’t in my dictionary.) Sekai means world, and taizaiki translates roughly into period of stay. Somebody explained to me that ururun is the act of shedding tears so I guess with all that information an English equivalent title can be made up. I’ll leave that up to the judgment of the reader because my titles are just plain weird. Back to the program… they then had some quiz-like questions before moving onto another home stay tale, this time with a young Japanese woman who also turned out to be a celebrity.
Roughing it in Mongolia
The young Japanese woman’s home stay destination turned out to be Mongolia, and the family she would be staying with was quite large. There was quite a large difference between her home stay and the man who had gone to France. Whereas he had stayed in a normal home with the modern conveniences he would be accustomed to back home, she experienced a bit of a culture shock when she discovered that she would be staying in a traditional Mongolian home called a ‘pao’. It looked very much like a tent that was situated in the middle of a field inhabited by horses and camels. The young Japanese woman was both shocked and excited at the same time to be able to see how this family functioned on a daily basis firsthand. This was also very interesting for me because I hadn’t seen any programs on Mongolia before and wasn’t quite sure about their way of life.
During her stay in Mongolia, while living in a pao, the young Japanese woman faced many challenges. She had to learn how to cope without the technology and comfort she was used to, as well as learn about a new culture and try to adjust to it. One of the things that she found hard to do was waking up at the crack of dawn to perform the chores necessary for daily survival. Her host mother came to wake her up but was slightly unsuccessful with that task. Hours later, she finally managed to get out of her the blanketed mat that she was sleeping on to help out. She discovered that the entire family was already up and hard to work, with her host mother going about the business of milking the goats. She received a mild scolding about how she should have woken up earlier to get in on the action. She was then asked to help gather the horses but fell to the ground while trying to lead one of the smaller ones in by its lead. This brought about a lot of laughter from both her and the family members that had been watching in amusement. Aside from the hard manual labor that was required of each family member, she also found the dinner hour to be kind of awkward. She wasn’t a strong drinker by nature and tended to avoid alcohol whenever possible. However, her host family insisted that one of their customs was downing a glass of some kind of alcohol at night. She wanted to please her host family so she went ahead and gave it a try and ended up giggling through the dinner. At first, she timidly picked at the meat which had been cooked for dinner because it was from an animal that she had never eaten before. After sampling a piece here and there, she discovered that it was actually quite good and requested a refill. On another day, the young Japanese woman joined in on the preparation of animal fur being turned into material. She taught the Mongolian family the Japanese version of ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’, delighted when they began to sing along with her.
When it was finally time for her to leave, she was quite devastated but the family requested that she return for a visit and keep in touch with them. The host mother told her that she would always be considered to be no different from a real daughter, which was very touching for the young Japanese woman to hear. The clip ended and the screen returned to the studio where the woman was questioned about her experience in Mongolia. She revealed that it had been a very emotional and rewarding home stay for her and that she had wanted to return but couldn’t because she now had a one-year old baby to take care of. It was at that point that the program’s host suggested that she express her regret at not being able to return directly to her host family parents. She was quite surprised and speechless when her Mongolian host family parents wandered onto the stage to greet her. Apparently, when they had heard news of her child, they had dreamed of meeting their ‘grandchild’ so the TV station had brought them to Japan to make that dream come true. The host family had made many beautiful colorful clothes and toys for the child, which the young Japanese woman graciously accepted.
A clip was shown to illustrate just how lost the Mongolian host family parents felt when they’d arrived in Japan, much like the young Japanese woman had felt during her stay in Mongolia. They were very intimidated by the size of the city and the overwhelming population. They tried many foods that aren’t available in Mongolia, one of their favorites being multi-flavored yogurt. And the host father enjoyed himself in Yodobashi Camera Tokyo, picking up a pair of binoculars that would help him locate animals that had wandered astray on his land in Mongolia. Their home was nowhere near the sea so another destination was to a restaurant where they saw live fish for the first time in an aquarium tank. They then sampled sashimi for the first time, being able to choose the fish that they wished to eat.
After the dramatic reunion between the Mongolian host family parents and the young Japanese woman, the next clip showed what had occurred after they’d left the studio. While the host family parents waited in their hotel room, she returned home to retrieve her child to introduce to them. In the hotel room, they had a fun time dressing the child in the Mongolian clothes and doing some reminiscing.
Rope walking in South Korea
A third home stay was shown after that, this time in South Korea. Another young male celebrity was the one doing the visiting this time. He found himself in a small apartment with a family of three. The host father was somewhat of a legend in the small town where they lived. He was reportedly the only person who could walk over a rope suspended a terrifying distance above the ground, performing tricks with no safety wires or nets. So when the young Japanese man temporarily joined the family, the host father persistently insisted that he take up the talent of rope walking. This turned out to be a very hard and painful skill to acquire since the young man had to first conquer his fear of falling and work hard on his concentration and balance. He spent many hours every day practicing with the host father, determined to accomplish the feat of walking from one end of the rope to the other without falling. It was with great pride that he eventually was able to do so, and from there the host father took him to one of the local schools to show off his new performance skills. Even after returning to Japan, the young man continued to practice what he had learnt in South Korea, hoping to impress his host father when next they were to meet.
Before watching this program, I had encountered many Japanese people who were extremely keen on learning about other countries and foreign cultures. On average, they seemed to be very eager to understand the ways of life of foreigners that they have never come across or haven’t had the opportunity to study in great detail. ‘Sekai ururun taizaiki’ is a very unique, fun, and educational way for these celebrities to learn more about foreign countries while broadcasting their experiences to the general public. And not only is this program beneficial to the Japanese audience, but I think that it is also a very worthwhile show to watch for foreigners as well. Even if one doesn’t speak Japanese, just seeing other countries and watching the country residents in their natural environment is very inspiring. Then, there’s also the aspect of seeing how Japanese people interact with cultures that they are unfamiliar with and watching them slowly adapt in order to respect the local customs. For anyone who is able to understand Japanese, it’s an added bonus to be able to understand exactly what the young celebrity is finding awkward or uncomfortable. And then see how they overcome those feelings to become an integrated part of the family that they are staying with. It’s wonderful to watch two people from completely different walks of life communicate with each other and find common ground and understanding. So I would highly recommend anyone who has an interest in this type of program to tune in channel 4 at around 9 or 10pm Sundays because I’ve been told that Sekai ururun taizaiki is broadcasted weekly.