It was 5:30am, and my friend and I had just caught a train across Japan to stay with a girl I’d never met before. Her name is Saki, and she and her father picked us up from Nagoya, and took us to their hometown of Mie. Saki’s father spoke almost no English, and we didn’t speak much Japanese, but he was very cheerful, tried greeting us in English and didn’t seem to mind that he’d gotten up at 5am to pick up strangers. We got to their house at 6am and fell asleep immediately.
Upon waking up at Midday, we were greeted with friendly smiles from Saki and her father, and a traditional healthy Japanese breakfast which consisted of fresh salmon, rice bowls and Japanese vegetables. After spending the day inside resting and watching movies, her father invited us all to their family restaurant for dinner.
I can safely say that the food I had at Saki’s father’s restaurant was some of the best food I’ve ever had. He sat us down right in front of the kitchen, so we could see all the food being prepared. Saki’s father was cooking it all himself, and he had three big pans going at the same time. He served us a two-course meal of succulent meat with a vibrant salad (A western-style meal for us), then served us a Japanese dish called ‘omuraisu.’
Initially, I thought he was saying ‘home rice,’ as it seemed like a dish they would cook at home. However, the word ‘omuraisu’ is a contraction of the words ‘omelette’ and ‘rice’. As its name suggests, it’s an egg omelette with fried rice inside, topped with tomato sauce, and it was delicious. I was more than full by this point, but I felt as though I had to accept his overwhelmingly generous offerings.
After only having stayed three days in Mie, Christmas Eve had arrived. Saki’s father asked us what we would usually eat during Christmas, and he spent the past few days getting ingredients, just to make us our own dishes. Dinner was myriad of smells, colours, and a ginormous stack of food. For me, he cooked a whole roast chicken; for my friend, potatoes and broccoli, and also a do-it-yourself homemade sushi kit, which reflected Japan’s cultural food. I got quite emotional after seeing this single father, who I’d only known for the past three days, go to such lengths to make sure that our first Christmas away from home was special. It really showcased the kind of hospitality and generosity associated with Japanese people. We ate, were merry, and he even made us our own Christmas hats to wear.
Shortly after dinner, Saki and her family took us to their ‘illuminations’. Illuminations are a series of beautiful light shows for Christmas, specific to their hometown of Mie. We went through a tunnel surrounded by fiery lit-up flowers, walked past a river illuminated by all colours of the rainbow, and finally stopped at a 20-30ft tall replica of Mount Fuji, which changed colours to represent the different Japanese seasons. I was amazed throughout and knew that this experience was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I would never forget.
Saying goodbye to family
A few more days passed, and it was time for my friend and I to leave Mie. To thank Saki’s father, we bought him some wine and chocolate, which we gave to him after he prepared our last meal at their house. With Saki’s help, we wrote him a card thanking him for all he had done for us. Then, after reading the card and receiving the presents, Saki’s father was on the verge of tears. He hugged us both and said that we should call him ‘dad’. He said that we’ll always be welcome at his house and that he’ll always cherish our time spent together.
The next day we left Mie. I couldn’t believe that a week ago, we walked into a stranger’s house who completely welcomed us, made us feel a part of his family and went to every length to ensure that we had a great time, despite the evident language barrier. Saki’s father is the epitome of Japanese hospitality. The Japanese are incredibly kind, selfless, and generous people. I was lucky enough to experience unique traditional Japanese experiences like no other, thanks to Saki and her family. If you are thinking of travelling to Japan, then I highly recommend that you give it a visit. Not just to see all the amazing things that it has to offer, but also to interact with the locals and maybe experience living with a Japanese family, and making lifelong friends in the process.