By Anna Salamaña
During my university’s spring break last March, I had the chance to travel to Sadogashima with five other students. Each student had the opportunity to live with a Japanese family and do a homestay visit for three days. The experience was made possible by my university, Waseda University, which arranged for us to stay at different homestays at several locations in Japan during the break.
I chose Sadogashima from a list of cities in the prefectures of Yamagata, Osaka and Oita because the idea of going to a Japanese island piqued my interest. Sadogashima is an island located in the Niigata prefecture. In order to get to Sadogashima you must travel by ferry from Ryoutsu port, which takes around two and a half hours.
I stayed in Sado city with a very friendly family of five: a mother, a father, and three daughters. One of the daughters was a secondary school student, and the other two were primary school students. The family style was very similar to my own, since both parents were working and the younger daughters spent weekends doing different activities. One was in a running club and the other was in a baseball club. I spent most of my time with the older daughter, who was in an English language club.
I was really surprised by their family life, especially how the youngest ones went in and out from the house to their club activities without saying hardly anything. It seemed like they were already grown up, even though they were actually very young. It probably seems weird but I was most surprised by the two cats they had; they acted more like dogs than cats! They were very trusting, and almost always wanted me to pet them, which reminded me of my dogs in Spain.
With regard to Japanese lifestyle, there were a few things that surprised me. There were some customs that I knew, like taking off your shoes upon entering a home. But what surprised me the most were the morning rituals. Even on weekends, the whole family was already up by seven o’ clock. By that time, the mother had already prepared breakfast for the daughters. I also liked taking a bath in a Japanese bathtub. I was surprised to find out that the bathtub was electric. It had a system that (when configured) would fill the bathtub automatically with water and make a sound to let you know when the water was warmed up and ready. Another thing unique about the Japanese lifestyle is the eating schedule, which differs a lot from the Spanish one. For example, in Spain it is common to eat lunch around 2:00 p.m., while in Japan people tend to eat lunch at 12:00 p.m.
As is the case with most of Japanese cities, Sadogashima has a mascot who represents the whole area. In this case, it is the Toki, which is a characteristic bird from the area. Its image is synonymous with the island. During my stay, I had the chance to go to the Toki conservation center. I learned a lot about the Toki bird species, which previously went extinct in Japan but was recently reintroduced due to the conservatory’s efforts.
I am very happy to have gotten the opportunity to go to this city and live with a Japanese family. I was able to get away from Tokyo and enjoy a peaceful port town. If you go there someday, after seeing the Tokis, I recommend you go see some of the temples there, such as the Seisuji temple. It is the most beautiful one I saw in the entire island.