This charming story was sent to us by 1976 AKP alum Sara Ackerman Aoyama.
Dear AKP,I thought you might like to hear about my recent trip to Kyoto. I had not been back to Japan in 21 years, so I was very excited to see what was the same and what was different. While walking around Kyoto, I decided to see if I could locate my old homestay. I was with them for just one semester in 1976. The father was a professor at Doshisha and lived just around the corner from the Imadegawa Campus. Of course much had changed. There was no internet in 1976 and I had not stayed in touch with the family.
I walked to where I thought the street must be and saw a modern building on the corner. It did not look as if my old house would still be there, but as I walked down the street accompanied by my 32 year old daughter who is half-Japanese, I saw three ancient looking houses and remarked to her that I believed the third one was my homestay. When we reached the gate I saw that the name was as I remembered—Inoue. I thought that perhaps the children lived there now, but decided to ring the bell. My daughter looked on with great interest to see what kind of adventure this might be.
An old woman came out. We looked at each other and I said (in Japanese) “I’m Sara Ackerman who stayed with you in 1976.” She nodded and then a flash of recognition came. She asked me to wait a moment, and then disappeared. A minute later she came out with her husband, Professor Inoue. I was still standing at the door. We began talking and after a few minutes he invited me to come in. I demurred… I’d stopped by with no advance warning… it was too presumptuous…it defied etiquette. He brushed this aside and said, “You’ll stay for thirty minutes, then.”
I opened the door widely so they could see my daughter. They smiled and were very surprised and pleased to see her. We went in, and the house was as I remembered it exactly. Tea and sweets were served. I’ve kept up my Japanese (I lived in Japan for 13 years after graduating from college) so I chatted with my homestay mother in Japanese, and the father spoke with us in English. Conversation flowed easily as he had been a visiting scholar at Amherst College a few times and I now happen to live in Amherst. Quite a coincidence since I originally lived in Kansas.
One of my biggest hardships as a member of their family had been the washing machine. It had to be hooked up anew with each use, and it was so different from an American washing machine of the time, that I could not ever remember how to use it. I apparently also did not know the right way to hang my laundry. My homestay mother would often comment that I must be a lazy girl because at age 20 I didn’t even know how to wash and hang my own clothes. I did not have enough Japanese back then to explain and she didn’t have any English. It was frustrating and I always felt like a dolt! So, imagine my delight when 40 years later my homestay mother said to me, “Now I know why you couldn’t use our washing machine. When I went to America the year after you stayed with us I was quite surprised how different the machines were and I had trouble adjusting.”
Vindicated!! After forty years.
Thank you for sharing, Sara!