Unit 5                         八王子市のホストファミリーとの会話(かいわ)

Conversations with the Hachioji Host Family



Part A:  家族しょうかい

Hachioji, where the Kobayashis live is on the western side of Tokyo and is a city in itself. This family is financially comfortable. They also have a small retreat in the mountains where they can escape the summer heat and the pressures of living and working in Tokyo. The photo of Kenji and Yoshiko and the dog is taken in front of the pottery studio next to their mountain house (山荘 さんそう).


This unit provides an opportunity for students to reflect on how they might communicate with an elderly family member and with a couple in their late fifties who have (as they will later realize from the Nama no Koe) quite clear expectations of what they perceive as appropriate language for a ryuugakusei. 



The first interviewee is Michie Kobayashi, Kenji’s mother. This interview provides an example of one elderly woman’s communication style, attitudes and values. The second interviewee is Kenji’s brother, Hideo Kobayashi. He speaks about politics and uses a range of specialist words and expressions. It would be suitable as extension work. The teacher may choose to analyse the language in depth or to simply use the interview as a global listening exercise. Neither Hideo Kobayashi nor his mother Michie appear in the Nama no Koe section.


Part B:  Language Choices


Information and suggestions for teaching and learning

Discussions focus students on the meaning of shimasu, - nakereba narimasen and -eba ii forms. In other contexts they could have quite a different nuance.  While there is a good relationship between the two speakers no one would be offended by any of the statements (except b which sounds odd) but the writers decided that some are simply more safe and typical than others.





Teachers reference for facilitating class discussion

a)    ふとんはどうすればいいですか。



Direct and polite   -eba ii desu ka  is a standard form for asking advice. The student is relatively new to the home and the polite direct question is polite but efficient.




b)    ふとんはどうしなければなりませんか。




The student may have mistakenly equated this nakereba narimasen form with the English should in What should I do with the futon?  when in fact the English should in this case is merely a polite (modal) form of shall and not a have to/must meaning.

c)     ふとんはどうしますか。



 The general verb shimasu in his context indicates What do you generally do with the futon (in this house) and it is a quite polite and natural way to ask.


d)    おばあさん、ふとんは、どうすればいい?

After some time, it is likely that the a 20 year old student and 80 year old Michie would feel comfortable speaking informally in the style of grandparent and grandchild. After only ten days it may be a bit early to be so casual but it would depends in their compatibility.


How do you find out about procedures for the following (using the eba ii form)

a)    Washing plates おさらはどう洗えばいいですか。

b)    cleaning the tatami,  たたみはどうふけばいいですか。

c)     cleaning the bath, おふろはどうあらえばいいですか。

d)    heating the bath, おふろはどうわかせばいいですか。  

e)    where to put the plates, おさらはどこにおいとけば(入れれば)いいですか。

f)      sorting the rubbish, ごみはどうわければいいですか。






Information and Suggestions for Teaching and Learning


The questions should aim to bring a focus to issues of personal differences between speakers.





Teachers reference for facilitating class discussion

a)    ありがとうございます。でも、まだまだです。


It is quite typical in English to initially thank for the compliment (for example, Thank you for saying so) and then indicate that you don’t feel you deserve the compliment (yet). The student wanting to sound gracious but not too proud or conceited might make this choice.

b)    いや(M)、いいえ(M F)とんでもない。


A formulaic humble response similar to “ Goodness no”.


c)     いいえ、へたです。




This is a definite statement “No, my Japanese is poor”. The student who says heta desu is not only being self-effacing but is implying You are wrong. Yoshiko may get the impression that the student is feeling quite negative about his/her skills – or has overstated the negative in an attempt to sound humble.

d)    そうですか。どうもありがとうございます。



Assuming the compliment was genuine (and not oseji ) the student has accepted it graciously and shows how happy he/she is about it. This student chooses not to affect humility. 

e)    がんばっているけど、まだまだ。



I’m working at it but have a long way to go. A similar level of acceptance and humility as a)

f)      いいえ。

With the accompanying gestures (hand brushing away the words) and intonation, this is quite appropriate in most contexts. 


 5. ぶんぽう

a)    かんがえて(い)るけど、出てこない。

b)    がんばって(い)るけど、なかなかごうかくできない。

c)     アルバイトをして(い)るけど、お金がたまらない。 




Information and Suggestions for Teaching and Learning


Particularly in a situation like this where the speaker expresses their amazement, the individual student’s personal communication style is a major factor when they make choices. Some people are much more expressive, and others are more understated and are uncomfortable with an obvious show of admiration.  While for some students those choices might be received quite favourable, the writers decided they could not be recommended as safe and typical for everyone in this particular context. Nevertheless there are choices here to add to the repertoire for another time and place.

1. The Language Choice




Teachers reference for facilitating class discussion

a)         わあ、すばらしい。




Adjectives like subarashii and suteki, generally delivered with amazement or surprise, are a typical spontaneous expression of appreciation. However, Waa! and suteki belong to a very feminine way of speaking. Ii (desu) ne is a safer option for those not identifying with the feminine image.

b)         すごい!or  すごいですね。


Sugoi is an outburst of amazement and can express a positive or a negative response but when the context is clear, it is unambiguous – in this case, when the pottery has fired successfully, the meaning must be positive. If it had all broken, sugoi would have been negative.

c)   いい(いろ)ね(F)。




A specific reference to one aspect of the pottery, the colour, gives the impression that the speaker is diskriminating, or someone who knows a bit about pottery, or at least colour. It is similar to someone saying that a wine is dry or has a certain bouquet compared with a general comment such as a good wine.


d)  上手(じょうず)ですね。




It could sounds judgemental to evaluate the quality of the work of a meue no hito unless you have been invited to make a judgement. An alternative which sounds less judgemental but which also comments indirectly on the skill of the potter is Yoku dekiteru ne. (It’s well made) 

e)  ぼく/わたしはやきものが好き()です。



The student is not particularly commenting on Kenji’s pottery. Kenji would still not know what the student thought of the pottery.

f)               ぼく/わたしの(くに)でもこういうの作り(つく)ます。



Kenji is showing you his pottery and the first response would normally be to say something about the pottery not your own country. Furthermore, we make pottery like this in my own country (implication: this is ordinary stuff. We’ve got this at home) could easily be misinterpreted as insensitive even if it is not the intention.


Koo iu no has a negative edge - no belittles the thing (this sort of thing) whereas koo iu yakimono (this kind of pottery) gives the product more value.




g)    一つほしい!



Only someone in Kenji’s own close family circle, or an innocent child could say hoshii of someone else’s possessions and not be perceived as rude. Perhaps, under particular circumstances, a close friend could say hoshii in a joking way but to give it a number (hitotsu) is sounding like a demand.


       Expressions demonstrating appreciation  ものすごく、 とても、 たいへん、わりあいに、なんとか、あるていど、けっこう、なかなか、 ょっと



4. ぶつだん


Information and Suggestions for Teaching and Learning


Ryuugakusei are often, as a matter of necessity, preoccupied with their own lives, and have not reflected on how, as a member of a family, they may also find themselves in a situation where they have to provide support for others.  There are many ways to express sympathy, or sorrow for someone, but in fact, the most effective and appropriate options for this particular context tend to be the most simple (for example, aa, soo desu ka). The choices which include zannnen are not rated highly in this situation but might be the most popular option for many other contexts, especially for less critical matters, such as when someone has not passing an examination or lost a game.


1. The Language Choice




Teachers reference for facilitating class discussion

a)                ああ、そうですか。

falling tone


At times like this, a simple sympathetic aizuchi like this is safe and respectful especially when said softly and with a falling tone.

b)             ああ、そうですか。さびしいでしょうね。



The student probably said Sabishii deshoo ne intending to say You must be missing him but it could give the impression that he/she is talking about someone else (She must be missing him very much).

 It would have been better to say Osabishii desu ne.    おさびしいですね。The o prefix refers respectfully to Michie’s own grief and could not be misunderstood.

c)                 会えなくて、ざんねんです。

The empathy is weak and it could sounds a little egocentric compared to b). The student has shifted the focus to his/her own loss (at not having the chance to have known him). Zannen desu  is more likely used to express regret for less tragic matters than death especially since the loss was just one year ago. The sentiment would nevertheless be appreciated.

d)             ああ、そうだったんですか。ざんねんでしたね。


Zannnen deshita is a weak expression of sympathy when consoling someone over the loss of a loved one. The sentiment would nevertheless be appreciated.

e)         でも、おまごさんがいて, よかったですね。



This is risky because although the intent is to cheer someone up, it seems to make light of the sadness having the effect of Never mind, you have a grandson. The student’s intent would however not have been missed. This surely applies regardless of culture.



a)    ask someone if they are busy  おいそがしいですか。

b)    ask someone if they are well   お元気ですか。

c)     ask someone if they have finished their work? (すむ =finish)おしごとはおすみですか。

d)    ask someone if they are resting (use やすむ)  おやすみですか。

e)    ask someone if they are going home。おかえりですか。



. しょくじ


Information and Suggestions for Teaching and Learning


Host families are generally anxious about what to serve an overseas guest or homestay students. They are looking for some feedback from the student either to inform them as to what to serve or to rewarded for their effort. The simple word oishii solves most situations but students often comment on how difficult they find it to turn down food or to indicate that they do not like something without appearing ungrateful. This section aims to provide some possible approaches. In this particular situation, the student is new to the household and some of the choicess are therefore not recommended as safe for this early stage. Of those however there are many which the learner can add to their repertoire for when they become closer to the family.


1. The Language Choice




Teachers reference for facilitating class discussion

1. Let the family know that you are enjoying the dinner.


a)    うまい。


Umai is commonly used in uchi relationships including within families and is spoken particularly by males, but until the student has moved further into the uchi context and noted how they communicate this is best avoided.

b)    おいしい。




Standard and always acceptable. The extent of the meaning changes with the emphasis and tone. Appreciation expressed with Oishii--- almost said to oneself  oishii desu said to the host would be well received.

c)     きれいですね。


While Japanese food has a reputation for its beautiful appearance, kirei desu is not often something said in the home unless the host had particular skills at presentation or a banquet had been prepared for a special occasion. If the student says Kirei desu about the food eaten at a regular meal then it tells something about the student’s unfamiliarity with what Japanes take for granted about the apperance of their normal meals.

d)    きょうはすごいごちそう



“What a feast this is today! “ would be better kept for a special occasion. Kyoo wa indicates that the student has been around long enough to make the comparison with other days and on the third day that is unlikely. Sugoi gochisoo could even sound either gushy or as though the student is giving an evaluation. Gochisoosama deshita at the end of the meal however is perfectly appropriate and expected.







Teachers reference for facilitating class discussion


2. You have been offered more but would like to indicate that you have had enough

Function: Refusing because you have had enough




いや(M)、いいえ(M F)けっこうです。


While still relatively new to the family, the student may find that to say this just once is not convincing and he/she might have to say this again, but nevertheless is a polite way to indicate that he/she has had enough. 


b) もうたくさんいただきました。


This would perhaps be said by a well mannered adult and expressed with a smile and gesture hand faced outward)  would be well received.





/ F



The students is describing what he/she thought of the food and not refusing any more. Oishikatta desu might be added to a) or b) however to express appreciation.



This is not uncommon for family members (uchi) but sounds too familiar for someone who is still settling in. It is to the point with no appreciation, something like a flat “No. I’ve had enough.” 


e)    どうも、わたし/






It is unlikely that a young person would use doomo, especially within the family. Doomo belongs more to the polite adult soto contexts. Implicit ending is used a lot (as in English Thanks but ..)and this unfinished sentences is often used within families where the speaker need say no more. The ryuugakusei may not have convinced the generous host (in the first week) with this one expression and may have to add f)

f)  おなかがいっぱいです。




This seems more acceptable in polite company than the direct English translation “I have a full stomach”

and would be quite appropriate for a ryuugakusei. When the speaker really wants to refuse any more food this is convincing since it is unarguable (only the speaker knows his/her own stomach!)







Teachers reference for facilitating class discussion

3Yoshiko offers you some sunomono ( cucumber and octopus vinegarette) but you have never eaten it before and are not used to eating octopus.


 a) まずい。



To make a negative judgement of the food, especially as a new arrival to the family is clearly very rude in any culture.


b) いえ、けっこうです。



This is a standard response for refusing, but can also sound quite blunt without the appropriate manner.


c) いらない。




The student may hear family members say iranai, but this direct style belongs to real uchi relationships, and a ryuugakusei might eventually use it with close friends of the same age but not at the family dinner table.


d) すみません。わたしは(すっぱいものは)ちょっと。



This message is more indirect, and quite typical of the style of many well mannered native speakers. Not all families might expect the student to be so indirect and prefer g)

e)  ごめんなさい。わたし/ぼくはたこがにがてなんです。




The message is polite but clear. The student simply cannot eat octopus.





If the student really does have an allergy to octopus then this is a lie, which is a dangerous thing to do. What if later he/she is seen enjoying takoyaki?  Lies are best avoided.







 Information and Suggestions for Teaching and Learning


At the beginning of the homestay experience, the student would most likely receive a formal welcome from the sponsoring organization and would be expected to offer expressions of gratitude in anticipation of the year ahead. A year later, at the farewell meeting, the student would formally thank the family for what has been done during the year. In between the beginning and the end, the student will have moved from formal to informal language but may find he/she should switch back to formality for the final curtain, before returning to the soto context. This is not to say that the farewell is not also an emotional experience, with tears and expressions of sabishii, mata kite ne etc. This register switching may be something the students do not expect and would have to be made explicit. On the other hand, there will be families who say they don’t expect from an overseas student the formalities they expect of fellow Japanese. In fact they may enjoy the difference and find the style of e) is preferable because it is free of formality. As students will learn when they listen to the Nama no Koe however, Yoshiko and Kenji, and Misa (from the Matsui family in Setagaya) have different opinions on what they expect but generally agree on a formal and respectful “closing.” 

 1. The Language Choice




Teachers reference for facilitating class discussion

a)                     長い(なが)(あいだ)たいへんお世話(せわ)になりました。ありがとうございました。

This is a standard polite response said by adults when someone has done something for them over a long period. The student might think it too formal since they have been relating informally at home, but now that the time has come to leave, it seems right to switch back to the more formal, polite register (and bow) as a final gesture.

b)                           いろいろおせわになりました。



This is polite and may be used as part of the final greetings but without more warmth may sound  emotionally flat and formulaic without any personal feelings expressed. However, it may suit the style of some families and the speaker.

c)                            ほんとうにありがとうございました。とっても楽しかったです。ほんとうの家族みたいでした。



This is in the polite register with a personal touch. This focuses on the feelings – the student’s heart felt personal feelings about the stay.

d)     いろいろありがとうございました。


This is polite and brief more like the end of a business relationship than a homestay. Because it its generality (iroiro) it lacks any specific detail and could sound bland. The student however could be someone of few words and this may suit families of few words.

e)     このうち、すごくよかった。どうもありがとう。


The student who chooses to say his/her farewell in familiar uchi style most likely wants to leave feeling close and not distant, but the Kobayashis for example would most likely have expected a more formal closing statement and a bow to finish the experience. This could have said by a child or have been said to someone of the student’s own age.