My first trip to Japan was kind of a weird one. I didn’t know what to expect and I spoke barely any of the language (high school Japanese does not prepare you for the speech that comes at you at a hurricane-like speed).
Something that really intrigued me was how people, total strangers that I would walk past on the street, would stare at my hair. I would have felt offended, if it weren’t for the fact that I felt like I was offending them.
Let me explain a little bit: I am blonde. My hair used to be so yellow it could counter the sun – or maybe I’m exaggerating a little. My hair has always been pretty boring – it’s one colour, it doesn’t curl, and it doesn’t grow fast. So before I left for Japan, I tried to streak some chocolate brown through it. You know, add some oomph and ta-da! The result certainly left something to be desired. However, that didn’t seem to matter to the people I met.
“Are you natural blonde?” they would ask, astounded.
“Hai!” I would reply (‘hai’ means yes). And they would clap their hands, laughing and shrieking.
“Real blonde! Real blonde!”
It wasn’t until I stayed with my host family that I finally understood what was going on. The family consisted of Mum (her name was Kikyo), Dad (Hideo), Daughter (Ryo) and Son (Kodai).
Of course I knew that the only natural hair colour in Japan was dark brown or black. Anything different always drew attention if it was real. They explained somebody cut a small amount of hair off their last home-stay student, as he had ginger hair. Poor guy was just on the train, next time he looked into the mirror he realized a bit was missing!
One night of my home stay, the family invited all their relatives over to a restaurant, which they owned. They had a celebration dinner held in my honour.
One of the aunts, who spoke no other English, kept saying “So cute! So cute! Kawaii!” She was lovely, except for the cheek pinching, which hurt a bit by the end. She wanted to stroke my hair a lot. After the first 5 times, the novelty of it wore a bit thin…. for me.
Here is a picture of some of my first host family:
You can see in the front right-hand side, Hideo in a red shirt and Kikyo in a blue apron. In the dead centre is Kodai in blue and red. And Ryo is up the back in a white and pink shirt. The aunt (“So cute! So cute! Kawaii!”) is the one covering a portion of the photo on the wall.