Spending time with a homestay family is one of the best cultural immersion experiences you can have while traveling or studying in Japan. Whether you’re studying abroad for a semester, or exploring Japan for a few weeks, be sure to take a weekend and live with a Japanese family.
Japanese people are some of the kindest individuals in the world. They love introducing the world to their vibrant culture, and sharing their homes with travellers from all over the globe. Japan is also one of the safest countries in the world, making it the perfect opportunity to live with locals.
That said, Japan also has a strong culture that can be intimidating and at times difficult to navigate for foreigners. To be a good homestay guest there are many important things you need to know.
Tips for staying with a homestay family in Japan
1. Take Off Your Shoes Indoors!
Japanese people never wear shoes inside their home. When you enter a Japanese household, there will usually be a designated place by the door to put your shoes. Once you’ve removed your shoes, there will typically be house slippers you will wear while inside. The only exceptions are rooms with straw mat floors, in which case you’ll go barefoot.
The bathroom will have separate slippers from the main room. When you enter the bathroom, be sure to put on these designated slippers. Definitely don’t forget to take these slippers off when leaving the bathroom either! It’s one of the worst etiquette mistakes you can make while traveling in Japan.
2. Don’t Forget a Gift
Even if you pay your host for the experience of a homestay, you should still be sure to bring a small gift. The best gifts are small, inexpensive tokens that represent your home country.
If you’re from Australia, bring a mini stuffed koala. Are you from London? Buy a Big Ben keychain. You can even bring a few candy bars, specialty treats (like coffee or tea), or postcards from your home country. If you know there will be kids, bring something small and special for them. If you’re from the U.S., consider bringing a baseball cap from your home baseball team. The Japanese LOVE baseball!
Food and drinks can be fun as well. For example, why not bring pancake mix and maple syrup to give your host family a true “taste” of your home country?
3. Expect to Be Busy
The Japanese don’t take the responsibility of a homestay lightly. Expect to be constantly entertained from the moment you walk in the door. Your family will most likely be very excited to introduce you to their city and Japanese culture. They may take you around town, to a nice restaurant or even hiking outside the city.
Embrace the attention and their eagerness to share — after all, one of the best aspects of living with a homestay family is the ability to explore Japan with your host and listen to what they have to share about their culture.
You may be exhausted and overwhelmed by the attention and activities, but you’ll be sure to have fond memories when you leave. Just be sure to take part in all the activities and at least try to eat any food they offer you!
4. If You Speak Japanese, Push Yourself to Practice
While some homestays speak English, others do not — which is fantastic if you’re there to learn Japanese abroad. No matter what your level, try to push yourself to spend a weekend with a family that doesn’t speak English. It may be intimidating to fully immerse yourself in the language, but you should definitely give it a try.
Japanese people are always excited to share their language with others, and they will most likely be amazed you can speak any of the language at all. Even if you don’t speak any Japanese, try to pick up a few Japanese phrases before you arrive. You’ll be sure to impress your hosts!
5. Don’t Shower in the Bathtub
In Japan, you’ll often find there’s a shower head outside the bathtub. Do NOT use the shower head to wash yourself inside the tub! In Japan, bathtubs are meant to be used after you have washed your body. Typically the whole family uses the same bathwater for a soak. Don’t worry as these technologically advanced tubs have heaters to keep the water warm!
As a guest, you’ll most likely be asked to take the first bath, usually before dinner. To show respect to your family, take them up on their offer. Just be sure to wash yourself very thoroughly before you enter the tub, because the rest of your family will be washing in the same water after you!