Homestaying in Japan
Doing a homestay in Japan, or any country for that matter is an excellent way of experiencing the local culture and day-to-day life in a way that is not possible as a tourist. I had the opportunity to experience daily life in Japan with a host family in rural Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who showed me daily life on a farm and in the suburbs.
Whilst the stays were short (3 days each) I learnt more in those 3 days than I could have learned travelling around by myself, and I highly recommend anyone interested in learning more about Japanese life to consider applying.
While I was staying on the farm in Kita-Hiroshima, I was fortunate enough to be welcomed into the home of Masao and Fumiko, an elderly couple who had lived here most of their lives farming rice. Their house was well off the beaten tourist track, and during my stay I was able to experience the daily routine of harvesting rice, taking it to the washing station, cooking meals and eating together.
We showed each other photos and videos of our families and hometowns and had a genuinely intimate cultural exchange. They spoke no English either, so I was forced to use my Japanese which, at the time, was less than stellar, but it definitely improved my language ability.
What to expect while on your homestay
If you choose to participate in a structured homestay program, you can expect to have your own bedroom and to have your meals given by the family. Usually, you will sleep on bamboo tatami mats on a futon; so remember to remove your shoes prior to stepping onto the tatami, and fold the futon neatly in the morning.
Your hosts will probably welcome any offers to assist with housework, such as cooking, cleaning, taking the rubbish out or playing with the kids. My host family also had a traditional Japanese-style bath, and I was shown how to use it properly. Make the most of these opportunities to practice your Japanese and really immerse yourself into the day-to-day culture.
If you’re ever unsure of anything, it’s important to ask, even using a Translating app if you need to. There are some pretty significant cultural differences between a Western house and a Japanese house, so if you accidentally make a mistake or cause offence, just apologise and remember for next time. As a foreigner, you’ll probably be cut a bit of slack but it’s important that we don’t ruin it for people who will come after us.
With any luck, your hosts may become your lifelong friends!
HOW TO FIND A HOMESTAY
Homestay.com is a widely reputed website for finding homestays. Set the search for your specific part of Japan and choose from a variety of hosts. The hosts are reviewed by former guests, and the website is set up like Airbnb, which makes it easy to access with a focus on safety. The prices per night are usually less than a hotel room, with the added benefit of having company in a real, lived-in home.
Airbnb is another viable choice for a homestay. Many hosts list their personal house on the site, allowing guests to stay in one of their rooms while the rest of the house is lived in by the host. These listings are often cheaper than renting a whole hotel room/apartment to yourself. Make sure you specifically look for listings where the host stays in the same house.
WWOOF Japan. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and is an organisation that facilitates volunteering on farms around the world in exchange for room and board. The Japan branch features many listings of farmers looking for foreign help, often in places that are fairly off the beaten track. This is a great opportunity to live in a small Japanese locality, assist a family with meaningful farm work, and bond in a way that is rarely possible otherwise. The only fee is a yearly WWOOF membership of 5,500 yen, which allows unlimited access to listings anywhere in Japan.
Homestay in Japan is another organisation with extremely positive reviews. Particularly pertinent during the COVID-19 pandemic is their Online Homestay program. There are three types of Online Homestays on offer: one is the Japanese Language Course, where the host will run a daily Japanese language class, family interactions and a choice between a 30-minute city walking tour or cooking lesson.
The second option is the Communication Course, where you and the host will video chat online, meet the host’s family and then participate in either the walking tour or cooking lesson.
The third option is called Online Experience, and for a yearly 2000 yen membership you can register for Japanese chat sessions, songwriting sessions, live-streamed city walking tours, cooking lessons and origami lessons.
These are all viable and well-reputed homestay options, and, even if only for a few days, they are an excellent way to further deepen your experience in Japan.
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