World Campus Japan participants trying Nou masks and movement

Traveling to a new city and experiencing Nou

Paul wearing the oni mask and costume
Paul wearing the oni mask and costume

There’s something intimidating about having to move to a new city every week. Right after getting used to a family and becoming part of it, you need to pack up and repeat the process over again in a foreign place. I won’t lie; I was scared to leave Omuta initially. I had grown so attached to my host family; my dad Mizu, my mom Riko, and my siblings Junsei and Koto. But I knew what I was signing up for when I joined World Campus Japan, and meeting new families was boldened in the contract.

We got to the bus station at the very start of the rainy season. It was pouring, and we had been running late. I chalk it up to taking my sweet time saying some final goodbyes to my siblings and mom, but I’ll blame the rain on anything official. We pulled up just as everyone was loading up onto the bus, so Mizu had to take off fast. The goodbye was short, but I know we’ll miss each other very much. Afterall, he had become my dad in the week I lived with him, and I became his son.

The ride was short, but the air in the bus was heavy. I think everyone felt the same growing anxiety at the prospect of meeting a new host family. I slept for the hour and a half drive to the YMCA in Kumamoto City. After arriving and waking up a bit, we received some free time from our councelors. We strolled through the thinning rain to the shopping street down the way, and we all split up and went our own ways. I wound up with another student from Sweden, and we had lunch at a curry house together, talking about our lives back home and how we felt about the world in the present moment. It was in that moment I realized I had really made true friends while on this journey of mine. I made my way back to our meeting spot early so that I could work on some journals for the trip.

We had been invited to experience a type of Japanese theatre called Nou. We walked down the road to a small cozy house nestled in an ally. Inside and up the stairs, a small stage had been built by the house’s owner. He demonstrated his beautiful art, akin to opera in the west, and then invited us to try the movements and some of the costumes. The air was thick with amusement as we watched our friends make stiff movements and try the exotic costumes and masks. We thanked the very talented actor, and we headed back to the YMCA to meet our Kumamoto host families. I won’t lie, I was terrified in the moment.

Families started to pour in, but we had no idea who our host family would be. We were given cards with our family’s info and we lined up in the front of the room and introduced ourselves to our families. My hands subtly shook as I read out the name of my new family; Takayama.

My host dad, Yoshi, stood up and waved at me. His wife, Tomoko, stood close behind with my 5-month-old host sister Hiyori in a sling. My younger host brothers, Eito and Kento stared at me with awe as I walked over and towered over them. My fear melted away to worry; worry that I would be obnoxious or too different from what they’re used to. But as we drove home that worry subsided, and a feeling of familiarity washed over me.

It occurred to me that the best part of this trip has been that feeling. The feeling of meeting and becoming apart of a new family. Every week, I was welcomed with open arms and, for all intents and purposes, was adopted into a new family. It was effectively the cherry on the cake that World Campus had offered me.

I didn’t just stay with families, I became a part of them.

Paul George Newman
USA