Host family, the St. Johns, and Japanese exchange student Asuka Takadate shared family experiences, foods from Japan and their sentiments on the special bond of family, friendship, love and closeness that has grown between them in a short time on the family porch during a balmy and beautiful spring Friday.
Showers of family tears were shed periodically as the close knit group discussed Takadate’s upcoming return to Hokkaido, Japan, while all sat at the table. The St. John family explained, “Asuka is like a ray of sunshine to us.”
Takadate replied in strong English and yet a soft Japanese accent, “They are awesome, just awesome, I love them.” The sentiment brought another round of tears and prompted the three young ladies of the family to go in search of comfort food sent by Asuka’s mother, Megumi Takadate, inscribed with caring messages written in Japanese and some English.
The teens returned smiling and with the care packages filled with a colorful and wide array of food assortments. They busily sifted through the many selections, and placed them on the family table for all to enjoy. Takadate commented on her good fortune to have two families.
Takadate offered members of the table an assortment to choose from that included chocolates and a deletable wafer-type cookie, father Michael described as similar to Milano cookies. Takadate said they are often enjoyed with green tea. In addition, several family members commented on their enjoyment of a candy they described similar to “lifesavers.”
Older sister Katie, and also Takadate’s classmate, said it was in fact, the Starmount foods class where she and Takadate first forged a bond before she came to live with them in November. Now, added younger sister Lindsey, “Everybody loves Asuka.”
They all giggled as they discussed family get-togethers that involved listening to music and dancing. The St. John sisters also reported that Takadate, “is a good dancer, too.”
Determined not to be left out, family dogs Max and Caesar barked in their input in support of Takadate’s visit, but showed they too felt the sadness at the thought of Takadate’s upcoming departure. Takadate showed her affection toward Caesar and Max periodically petting them while the crew took photos outside on the family farm and explained with the help of the St. John sisters, that she has a schnauzer that awaits her at home in Hokkaido.
The St. John family held up a display of cards filled with Asuka’s artwork and special notes made for each of them. The St. John family described how Takadate had explained it to be an important Japanese custom. Several read aloud her messages and then displayed their personal collection around the table with pride.
Asuka said she enjoyed sports, especially playing softball and basketball while at Starmount. St. John parents, Cathy and Michael, said they did not miss a game. In the meantime, the family remains busy planning for Takadates’ first American prom, and showed off a donated dress by another friend of Takadate.
The St. Johns described Takadate’s timely visit as being like destiny. Cathy said her comforting presence made a big difference as she stood by their side at every turn of the expected passing away of Cathy’s grandfather, whom Takadate also came to call “Papa.”
Cathy St. John said, “She sat right beside me during the family, she became a comfort to us all.”
The St. Johns discussed how Asuka recently cooked for them a “delicious” specialty made with pork and cabbage and seasoned with a special mix sent in by her mother.
Takadate described her St. Johns’ family food favorite as being emphatically Cathy’s homemade chicken stew and her favorite dessert as being the American classic, a homemade apple pie. She said one of her favorite places to eat was a local home-cooking style eatery and her absolute favorite of all is pizza.
With an emphasis that would have made many a traditional Southerner proud, Takadate said, “I like sweet tea…and Mountain Dew.”
Takadate said she is looking forward to coming back to visit but is not sure when she will be able to do so. She said she is considering attending University of Tokyo and teaching English as a profession.
Katie, who also shared the same health science class with Takadate and called it one of the hardest there is at Starmount, commented on how Takadate though not fully understanding English managed to keep up with top students and make good grades.
“She did not complain one bit,” said Katie proudly about her friend’s academic accomplishment. In fact, said the St. Johns, Takadate made good grades in all the subjects.
The St. John family and Takadate said they are looking forward to going on a cruise during spring break in Nassau. Michael St. John said it has been rewarding for him to get to fill in for the brief time, as a second father.
Wiping away a few more tears, the St. John patriarch said it was important for him that Takadate be able to fulfill her dream of swimming with the dolphins while on spring break in the Bahamas.
“I am able to make that happen and I am going to,” said Michael St. John.
The St. John family said they hoped for a time when they could visit the Takadate family in Japan.
Shaking her head with a big smile at the thought, Takadate said, “My dads are crazy.” Her father’s name in Japan is Nobuhisa Takadate.
Asuka concluded the interview by saying, “Starmount is the best school ever.”
Tanya Chilton may be reached at 336-835-1513 or on Twitter @TanyaTDC.