There are many accommodation choices available when moving to Japan but one of the most immersive experiences is to stay with a Japanese host family, generally known as a homestay. It’s an excellent alternative to traditional accommodation options and one many people don’t realise is an option.

Life with a host family

Living with a Japanese host family is a great way to fully understand the culture of Japan and to practice your new language skills after a busy day studying.

With most host families you’ll have your own room and be fed by the family. It’s worth spending time getting to know them and the way they live. They may take you out on day trips and teach you about Japanese way of life. Your Host Family will look out for you and you’ll soon feel like you have a home away from home.

It’s important to remember, however, that you’re a guest in your host’s home, so learn the rules and make sure you stick by them. Respect is important in Japan and rightly so; they’ve taken you in and given you a chance to really immerse yourself in the culture, an opportunity that you wouldn’t get elsewhere.

As you might expect, simple things like helping with the chores, clearing the table after dinner and taking out the rubbish and recycling are expected and appreciated.

Every family around the world has their own way of doing things. It’s important to remember this and respect your host family’s rules and ways of doing things. If you’re unsure, ask, and if you make a mistake, apologise and try to learn for the next time.

Suitcase with passport

What should I bring?

As you’ll be staying in a family home, you don’t need to bring as much as you would if you were to stay in a share house. There are a few essentials that it’s worth remembering before you set off.

  • Passport and tickets – These go without saying, you won’t be able to get into the country without them.
  • Cash in yen and a credit card – While your host family will look after you and feed you, it’s important to remember that you won’t have an allowance like you might at home. Japan is still very cash orientated as a society, so you should always keep some on you to get around.
  • Toiletries – Again, it’s important to remember you’re a guest, so bringing your own shampoo and other toiletries demonstrates consideration in that you don’t wish to use all your host’s supplies.
  • Medicine – You will need to arrange to take any medicines that you need with you. It can be difficult to obtain your medicine in Japan so make sure you take some with you and bring a copy of your prescription. Depending on how much and what type of medication you need, you may have to apply for special permission. Talk to your host family and make sure they understand if there’s anything you specifically need as they may be able to help you.
  • Electronics – You will want to take your own phone and your laptop. Most importantly, you will want to take an adapter or two so you can still use them.
  • Souvenirs – Bring a gift for your host family. This is a common thing to do in Japan and will show your appreciation to the family. It’s also a good way to share some of your own culture if you bring something from your home country.
  • Pictures – Not just to help keep homesickness at bay but it can also be a good way to start a conversation with your host family.

Things to remember

Once you’ve arrived there are a few things to remember to help you settle into your new home with your Japanese host family.

  • When you move to Japan and have received your residence card (if you are a long-term visa holder), you’ll still need to register your address at the local ward office within two weeks of moving in.
  • Remember to fold your futon. This is quite a specific thing but very important. You will most likely be lucky enough to sleep in a traditional Japanese futon on a tatami floor in your host family’s home. If you don’t fold away your futon every day the tatami can become moldy and you may have to pay for a replacement. If you don’t know how, just ask! Nobody will blame you for not knowing.
  • Spend time with the family. It can be a daunting experience to live with new people but making sure you spend time with the family will not only help you fit in better and feel at home, but you’ll quickly improve your Japanese language skills too. While many families speak a bit of English, there are some who don’t, so do your best to learn and practice with them.
  • Learn the rules. We’ve mentioned this already but it’s worth repeating. From taking out the garbage, to washing the dishes or doing the laundry. The family may also have a curfew or have certain expectations about your behaviour. Ask about what is expected and respect these rules. Your family will appreciate it and it will help you understand Japanese life.
  • Throw yourself into the experience. Learn about Japanese lifestyle, familiarise yourself with the home and how things are done. It’s a good opportunity to understand the differences between your culture and theirs.

It’s a very different type of accommodation but possibly one of the best ways to get a fully immersive experience of Japan and the Japanese lifestyle. It will not only help you feel like you have a home away from home, you’ll be able to practice your language skills and really throw yourself into the whole experience. Many people who have opted for a homestay have made bonds for life, and keep in touch even after leaving Japan!

For more tips about life in Japan keep following our Go! Go! Nihon blog.