October 30, 2012

Kankoukyaku Diaries: My Japanice Hosts and the Athletic Kids of Kanoya

Once again, I tasted and saw that the Lord is good... in Japan! :-)

a kankoukyaku (Japanese for tourist) by the Uchinoura beach

Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to travel to the southern part of the country to visit Ate Nhea, my cousin who’s based in Kanoya Shi, Kagoshima. 

For the past weeks before the trip, I’ve been feeling awed remembering how graciously the Lord has been showering me with wonderful treats recently. It felt that there’s always something great to look forward to. Not that I’m complaining, but when my Japan trip got confirmed, I actually had second thoughts of going. I felt that I’ve already received too much from the Lord this year. Also, it’s only been four months since I got married and to go on a vacation without my husband somehow seemed like a selfish thing to do. 

But it was a blessing that was knocking on my door, and as Psalm 34:8 teaches us, who am I to refuse the invitation to taste and see God's goodness? :-) So, I took my prolonging unemployment, the hassle-free processing of my visa, and my husband’s gracious approval as signals for me to pursue the trip. 

One Year in the Making

Ate Nhea and I started planning my visit in October 2011, exactly one year ago. Back then, it was just a dream that seemed too far for the two of us to reach. But we would always envision it happening during our regular chats. There was never a day when she didn’t start a sentence with “Pag punta mo dito…”. However, little did we know that earlier this year, I’d say yes to a marriage proposal, get married and move to Singapore. Somehow, visiting her in Japan plummeted down to the least of my priorities. I had to postpone my trip over and over. So when the opportunity finally came, we were both grateful.

After eight years, Ate Nhea and I sat on the same dining table again. 
You see, Ate Nhea is not “just my cousin”. She was like a big sister to me. She, along with my other cousins who lived with us when I was growing up, sort of helped Mama raise me, at least while my father worked as an OFW for a good part of my childhood. Years passed when, one by one, our cousins left our house and started building their own families. Ate Nhea was the one who were still single when I was all grown up. When I graduated from college and had not started working yet, two of us spent a lot of time together. We’d often sneak out for a window shopping trip to Festival Mall. We bonded over looking after our nephews Audrick and Adrian, Ate Cecille’s kids, who were then still infants. We even enrolled in a gym and worked out together! I remember how we’d always stop by Chowking or Jollibbee after a workout session.

How I wish I could get hold of and share some of our pictures when we were younger, most of which are in my parents' house in Manila. But for now, I’m happy to share photos of our wonderful reunion. :-)

We enjoyed a sumptuous buffet lunch at Pisolino, an Italian restaurant in Miyakonojo, the day after I arrived

When we're about to see someone we haven't seen for quite a long time, we often wonder how much of their old self is still there and how much they have changed. Well, except that she's living more comfortably now, Ate Nhea is pretty much the same person - hardworking yet easy-going, fun-loving and easy to please. She still loves to laugh (like most of our relatives!) and still cries over her favorite teleserye!   

Aside from my much-awaited reunion with Ate Nhea, the trip also allowed me the opportunity to experience her life in Japan and meet her charming family.

Meet my hosts in Japan, the Kato family - Ate Nhea (Irene to her friends), 
Yoshiko and Akira

Our Little Japanice Princess

Among the members of the family, Yoshiko, Ate Nhea's four year old daughter, is my favorite.

Spending time with Yoshiko felt like payback time for me, for all the time Ate Nhea looked after me when I was young. And if I indeed owe her for taking care of me before, I was more than happy to do the same for her daughter, even if for only a short period of time. Yoshiko is such a darling!

Isn't it always nice to see a little version of someone dear to us? The children of people who are special to us become automatically dear to us as well, as if they inherit our fondness of their parent/s.

Just like any kid, Yoshiko was shy when we first met at the backseat of their car. Well, I was not shy but I didn't know how to approach her. So for a while, we just sat there and looked at each other. When I took out my cam and took photos of the two of us at the backseat, she loosened up, quite suddenly. Turns out, she likes posing for pictures! I then played back our shots and showed them to her, and without words, much to her mother's surprise, two of us started laughing together. Well, I got her at a few snapshots, and that same afternoon, she couldn't get her hands off me already! She'd hug me tightly and hold and squeeze my cheeks. She'd speak to me in the sweetest Nihonggo accent I've ever heard! If I'm lucky, her mother would be there to translate what she tells me. However, even if there's only the two of us and even if she knew that I didn't understand her, she wouldn't stop talking to me. I'd just smile and nod at her. People really nod a lot when in Japan. Haha! 

Trying on Tita Jen's stuff

When at their house, she followed me everywhere, even to the bathroom! Actually, we took a bath together during my entire stay. You can say that that's how we really bonded despite the language barrier. She observed me a lot and got fascinated with my way of doing things. She'd always tell her mom how she finds me interesting.

Yoshiko was the child who didn’t understand a single word I say, yet still hugged and kissed me warmly. Between us was an immense and quite a burdensome language barrier, but still, she looked up to me with so much admiration. Actually, most of the time, we ended up playing charades without us knowing. We had to act out every single thing we wanted to say. I admit there were moments when the situation shifted from challenging to frustrating. But she loved me just the same and she dreaded the thought of me leaving! It was humbling - to be loved by a child like Yoshiko.  

She's a very sweet kid. She's active and sensitive in a good way. She's relatively well-behaved, perhaps because she's often in the company of adults. She listens to the conversation of grown ups with respect and interest. She looks up to her mother and respects her role in the family. She has a very tight bond with her Ojiisan (grandfather) whose greatest joy is to read storybooks to/ with her. Once during my stay, we heard her talk in her sleep. She whispered, "Don't worry, I love you" in Nihonggo. You'd wonder who she was addressing in her dream but really, what kind of a child reassures another person in a dream?  She shows appreciation for people around her, and for little gifts that she receive. She's fun-loving like her mother, although it's a bit sad that there aren't a lot of kids for her to play with in their block.  

Ate Nhea wants Yoshiko to know and remember her family in the Philippines so once in a while, she plays videos of their vacation in the Philippines for Yoshiko to watch. One by one, Yoshiko would recite names of her aunts and cousins she recognizes in the video. Sometimes, she'd even sing Bahay Kubo. She once described to me how she played ball with Kuya A and Kuya Audrick. She remembers and misses them, even though she was only 2 when she last saw them. You see, she's sensitive that way. She's beautiful beyond words.  

Except for a few Aishiteru (I love you) and Sabihishi kunaru-wa (I'll miss you) that I told her, I fear that there was practically nothing I said that she could keep until we see each other again (only God knows when). But until now that I'm back in Singapore, her mother tells me how she hugs the pair of sleeping socks that I left and cries when she misses me. She still keeps a space in their bed for me in case I come back anytime. 

Before we walked her to school one morning

She probably would forget about me in a few weeks, but aren't I lucky to be loved that way by such a beautiful kid? I'll miss her everyday and I pray that somehow, she'll remember even just a little of me as she grows.     

Days before I left, I bought her a pair of slippers with Prikira design (Sailormoon-like characters, which, her mother said she likes very much). True enough, she was ecstatic when I gave them to her. In fact, she may be a little too happy that she refused to wear them. She just held them in her hands! She didn't want to get them dirty. After I left, Ate Nhea said that at night, Yoshiko laid the slippers beside them in the bed. I'm beginning to fear that they'll be too small for her feet when she finally decides to wear them. 

Someone doesn't want dirt on her new Prikira slippers

Race for all ages

I was fortunate to be present on this year's Undokai at Yoshiko's school. Undokai is a sports day that most Japanese schools hold yearly wherein pupils, teachers, parents, grandparents (and practically all the members of the family!) take part in competitive physical activities. Students also perform various presentations. It reminded me a lot of the Field Demos and Sports Fests we used to have back in high school, only, the Japanese has a special twist to it.

Undokai is a big deal in that part of the world - both for the school and the families. It is held during the weekend and is usually a whole day event. Before the event, students practice for hours and hours in school for their performances. The families, on the same hand, save the date months before, invite friends and relatives over and prepare an extra special lunch/ snacks for the guests. Ate Nhea intentionally planned the schedule of my visit for me to be able to take part in Yoshiko's Undokai

The day started off with a parade of all the pupils. After which, an opening ceremony was held. It was then followed by the students' perfomances.

The parade that kicked off the school's Undokai was such a charming sight

The children's performances amazed me. I remember when I was their age, we only had to do and memorize simple folk dance steps. In Kanoya, children show off a very impressive routine on drums. 

In between the performances were games. You can bet the Japanese is never okay with just a simple race. There always have to be silly hurdles and obstacles ala-Takeshi's Castle! Well, the Japanese have always been known for gags and games that often involve large, top-heavy costumes, foam boulders and moving planks and, upon failure, contestants would often fall into water or mud. I enjoyed watching TV shows like such when I was a little kid. To witness it live with my own two eyes was a much greater delight! 

I got the surprise of my life when the babies started racing against each other! A "crawl" race, that is! Being the youngest, they were the first ones to race. :-)

When the babies finished crawling to the other side of the mat, their parents would transfer them to the box, then drag the box to the next obstacle station.

Next to race were these cute toddlers!

Undokai was tiresome but was also very fun for the kids

It was also a time for the parents to take a break and enjoy a silly game or two with their kids

Even Samoa san, Yoshiko's 84-year old grandfather, was not spared. He joined the grandparents' game of relay.

In one of the parent-child tandem games, Yoshiko insisted I play with her. Well, I knew it was going to be easy, but all of a sudden, I was hell nervous. I couldn't understand the instructions. People greeted me and I felt embarrassed for not being able to talk to them. I actually wanted to quit but Yoshiko had already gone a long way in introducing me to her classmates and their parents! I guess when a child is elated that way about playing with you, you just give in. Well, it turned out a great experience. Short but super fun. :-) 

Yoshiko specially requested me to pair up with her in one of the games! Go blue team!
Ojiisan and I pose for a souvenir photo after taking part in the games

As the games progressed, the school administrators tallied the scores. The students and their families stayed up to the end for the awarding of medals and prizes. 

A little post-Undokai photo op with cutie Jap baby :-)

Ooops... I can't believe I've already reached this length yet I've only mostly covered the beautifully chinky-eyed kids of Kanoya! I'll take a break for now. Stories about the beautiful people and places of Kagoshima continues on my next Kankoukyaku Diaries. :-) 


  1. nice! nomimasho!
    (erin ito, hindi si unknown)

  2. Why unknown, Erin? :-) Thank you! Nomimasho :-)

  3. ewan ko, i use my google account and it comes out as 'unknown'