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Saturday, Sept. 11, 2004

JAPAN LITE

Want to be royalty? Try a home stay


When it comes to hospitality, the Japanese are champions. In Japan, hospitality is like an Olympic sport and requires rigorous cross training in fields such as politeness, modesty, unconditional giving and overall self-sacrifice. There is no better display of this hospitality than in the Japanese home stay, which it appears that most Japanese people have taken a college course in.

If you're a "gaijin," by all means arrange a home stay for yourself in Japan, because it is the closest thing you'll ever get to royalty in your life. You'll be waited on, fussed over, given the best seat at the table, the most delicious selection of food and the biggest portion. You'll be the first into the bath at night, even before the father, and your every request, no matter how big, will be painstakingly attended to. This is because the houseguest is all important. In the case of a house fire, the Japanese would get the guests out first, then jump into the fire themselves.

When I first came to Japan, I came as a college student on a one-month tour of Japan. We each had two home stays, a weekend stay and a four-day stay. Here are just a few of the "incredible home stay stories" that were told among our group.

One girl said that when she arrived at her host family's house, her host brother was videotaping her as soon as she walked through the door. The videotaping never stopped throughout her stay. He videotaped her eating meals and sightseeing, and with every person she met along the way. It was quite embarrassing for her, as she could never let down her guard. But her host family insisted the video was for "good memory of home stay." At the end of the weekend, not only did they give her the videotape, but they sent it to her home in the U.S. by express mail so it wouldn't take up space in her suitcase.

Another girl was enjoying her stay at her host family's house when suddenly the doorbell rang. When the host mother opened the door, there was a delivery man standing there holding a fancy square box with handles. The box had a plastic window, so she could see what was inside: a melon with a ribbon tied around the stem. The delivery man, wearing white gloves, very carefully extracted the melon from the box. The whole family oohed and ahed at the sight of this exquisite, um, melon. "Such absurd behavior!" thought the home-stay girl. What could possibly be so awe-inspiring about a melon dressed up like a poodle? It was only later that she found out that in her honor, as a special treat, the family had ordered this Yubari melon, one of the highest-quality melons in Japan, with a cost of over 10,000 yen.

Perhaps one of the best stories that shows the Japanese concern for the guest is my own. I arrived at my host family's house with a cold. No big deal, just a common head cold. But my home-stay family was so worried about my health, they filled me up with cold medicine, and that night put me in a futon in the tatami mat room. Unbeknownst to me, they had closed the storm windows around my room so I wouldn't be awakened by the slightest morning light. As you can imagine, it was the longest night of my life -- waking up every six hours or so thinking, "It's not morning yet?" When I finally got up and went out to the living room, the family was all eating dinner. "What's going on?" I asked, still shaking off the effects of the cold medicine. "We wanted to make sure you got enough rest," they said. I had slept the entire weekend!

Get "Amy's Guidebook to Japan: What the Other Guidebooks Won't Tell You" at the One Dollar Bookstore at the Web site www.mooooshop.com/ MooooBooks/order/index.htm


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