Monday, April 21, 2008

Homestay at Tochigi (Kanuma)

I signed up for a 2-day homestay in Tochigi(3 hours north from Tokyo by bus). There were 20 foreign students, each attached to a Japanese host family staying in that area.

A group shot at the start. Its not hard to differ the foreign student and who the local Japanese are.
It started off first with a BBQ lunch in the park - our first meeting point. The meal was sumptuous

We took some nice group photos by the river at the park.. and wandered till its time to leave the area.
Meet my host, Yoko san, who is a housewife, part-time boss of her family business and a mother of 2(they are abt 30 years old, all working in Tokyo).
Our first stop was to her friend's daughter's(they are the host family for Julian) house in Kanuma(a smaller town in Tochigi area)
Clockwise- 2 children, mother(Julian's host), mother-in-law, grandmother(Yoko's friend), MinRui(from Singapore), Julian(from France), me and Yoko(my host).
They served us tonnes of cakes, confectionery and coffee.

MinRui and I then left the house with Yoko and her friend, leaving Julian with his host family.
The next stop was MinRui's host's PLACE - Aoyagi san is the old man in the centre.
Coffee and traditional confectionery/cakes were served.

You realised that i used the word "PLACE" instead of "HOUSE"?
This is because his house/factory/warehouse was more of a VILLA than a normal house.

This building behind us looks like a shrine from far.
NO!! it is actually the main building of his house!!!

Of course, there is a river, garden, stream, mini golf course around it.

Not to mention, nice plants and trees such as this red-leaf (紅葉)-looking tree.

As a hobby, he collects vintage cars. Lucky me, i got a joyride on it from his son. This model is a 1939 Lagonda V12 Le Mans, with 300 horsepower and an engine capacity of 3700CC. After the ride, my hair was messed up by the wind - it was really powerful.
Other cars in his garage include a red Ferrari, and an AlfaRomeo. But personally, he prefers to drive this car around.

Although their core business is carpentry, their sideline(and hobby) is pottery. Tucked somewhere at a corner of his warehouse lies a furnace, where they make various vases and wine glasses.On the second floor, there was a mini exhibition hall.
According to Yoko, some of these displays are rare antiques and worth up to a million Yen. OUCH!

Dinner was at his place too. It was a big BBQ stove made of solid wood and rock.
Apart from the usual rice, sushi, oden, SAKE, yaki-soba, meat, bread etc etc, Aoyagi san also treated to a giant flower crab be bought recently.

Check out the size of that small portion of the crab's leg. I was already bloated when i finished the first piece of meat!!

After dinner, I left with Yoko san for her place - the last stop for the day.

She lives in a 2-story bungalow, traditionally decorated, with a small garden around it.
That night, i slept on a mattress on the tatami mat in her house. (thats what homestay is about right?)

We woke up early the next morning for breakfast
Then we set of for this town's annual event - The Woody Park Kanuma Stage

Woody Park Kanuma Stage

It is a kind of car race, but only for VINTAGE CARS. In my opinion, its more like a mass display of vintage cars as they drive around town.

We arrived at the starting location early to view the car exhibition. Aoyagi san is one of the race officials. His son and friends are taking part in the race.

There were abt 155 vintage cars in total. I took photos of most of them, but its just too many to post online. If you are into cars, you can check out the models on

Basically, the more common vintage cars seen that day were Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, Bentley, MG, Austin, AlfaRomeo and Mercedes.

Check out the driver in the red cap. Does he look familiar? He is actually a Japanese sitcom comedian/host.

This is the cutest car i saw that day - only 3 wheels!!

This car on display(above) is supposed to have one of the longest historical value - it is a 1936 Rolls-Royce Sports Saloon(Hooper)

This Bentley is my favourite.


After the race, there were only a few hours left. We visited random places in the town such as a stone-carved buddha and the cultural activities centre(to see some Yatais-wooden carts used in festivals)This Tsubaki (椿) is Yoko san's favourite flower. It can be seen along the road in most places. Comes in 2 colours - red and pink - its a beautiful flower.

This picture below was taken near Aoyagi san's house. In this small town of Kanuma, the scenery is breathtaking, the air is fresh and the flowers are beautiful. Most of the land is occupied by farm, and there are no buildings higher than 2 stories. With no buses and taxis around, there naturally werent any tourist around besides the closely-knit friendly local community. The air is fresh and entirely different from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo city.

This 2-day homestay at this small town was defintely an eye-opening and memorable experience.

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