Homestay programs are commonplace in Japan today. Language learners spend a month or a few in a Japanese home, a real world alternative to Kanji flashcards and Genki textbooks. But perhaps more important than the fluency boost, a homestay is an opportunity for foreigners to experience and learn about everyday Japanese culture firsthand. Non-profit Nagomi Visit has taken this long-term model for cultural exchange and shrunk it down to an evening.
A “home visit” rather than a homestay, the program connects international tourists and foreign residents with a local Japanese family. No Japanese is required—all hosts have some level of English speaking ability—the goal is simply to learn about everyday Japan over a home-cooked meal.
Since its founding in 2011, Nagomi Visit has facilitated over 4,000 of these intimate dinners. And with 750 volunteer hosts, gaikokujin can take part in the service in every corner of the country, from Sapporo to Okinawa.
The average visit begins at either 12pm (lunch) or 6pm (dinner) with a meet up at the nearest train station. After a short walk to the host’s home, guests will spend a few hours with the family, chatting, preparing food and finally sitting down to a regional Japanese-style meal. After dinner, the families’ children may play together or adults may get to know one another over a few glasses of nihonshu. While home visits are officially one-time affairs, the hope is that guests will stay in touch with their hosts or even come back for a return visit.
All visits have a flat rate of ¥3,500, but these fees are purely to handle the nonprofit’s operating costs and cover food expenses for host families. “Everything about us and how we run is about building friendships, not business transactions,” writes Megumi Kusunoki, Founder and CEO of Nagomi Visit.
Their efforts to showcase the best in Japanese hospitality have been so successful that Nagomi Visit was awarded the Japan Foundation Prize for Global Partnership this year. And the organization continues to grow as more and more tourists enter the country in the lead up to the 2020 Olympics.
You can easily schedule your own home visit at Nagomi Visit’s website. Take advantage of this unique opportunity for foreigners to experience a part of Japan away from tourist hotbeds and outside the expat bubble. Taking the Japanese idiom “onaji kama no meshi o kuu” (“eating rice out of the same pot”) to heart, Nagomi Visit hopes to facilitate casual cultural exchanges with warm hospitality and a home-cooked meal.