Learning Japanese in Tokyo with a Local Host

Learning Japanese is no mean feat by anyone's standards, so I have to raise a hat to our featured guest today, Thomas! With an impressive goal of immersing himself in Tokyo to learn Japanese, he figured the perfect place to do just that was by staying with a local to practice, and of course, be corrected. Thomas stayed with super host Yuriko in a lovely suburb close to the city called Machiya. I asked him a few questions about his time in Tokyo, and it sounds like he had the true Japanese experience, have a read of his travel story.

Q Tell us about your homestay experience.

I've stayed in hotels before, and I always know what to expect: a desk, an elevator, a room that smells like new car smell, and if I stay with others, fighting for the furthest bed away from the bathroom.  The homestay was a different experience.

During the homestay, I was able to live in Japan and be part of a Japanese family routine.  Wake up early and get ready for the day. Go upstairs and experience an authentic Japanese breakfast.  Like one that people really eat every day.  Then I get to have 親(parents) that ask me how I am doing, what I will do today, what I did yesterday. You know, like actual parents would do!

Tempura set for dinner, Tokyo

I got to experience all of the other things I would have missed in a hotel that caters to regular tourists.  Like the Japanese toilet.  Apparently it is a custom to always sit on the toilet seat (even guys).  The shower that has a detachable head and a chair.  Taking off shoes before entering the house.

For the full immersion experience, I wanted to be as deep into the culture as possible and the hotel scene wouldn't have been enough. The homestay experience was perfect!

Q What did you do in Tokyo ?

I am currently a student with a goal for Japanese fluency so of course I need to have a thorough experience while seeing the sights of Tokyo.

My favourite place in Tokyo was Akihabara.  I didn't really consider myself to be an Otaku(geek) before I got here, but I did love it.  They had lit up buildings as far as the eye could see.  Huge anime styled ads on the building that were multiple stories tall.  Tons of shops all crammed into the many floors of the buildings.  And, although I didn't go to one, there must have been a maid cafe on every corner because they were passing out flyers everywhere. I was overwhelmed by the pure fanaticism and flurries of passersby - definitely my favorite place.

Thomas in Akihabara, Tokyo

My next favorite place was the Buddhist shrine in Asakusa.  It is a huge shrine with tons of small shops around selling all sorts of Omiyage (souvenirs) that cater to everyone's tastes.  There are lots of shops selling all kinds of varieties of Mochi (sweet rice ball) and Taiyaki (fried fish-shaped cakes, not actual fish) and the park behind the shrine is filled with even more shrines! There is also an amusement park for children nearby and Tokyo's Skytree in the background makes all of the pictures extra awesome.

I don't know if there was any part of Tokyo I didn't like.  Every section felt themed in a way and was all very different, kind of like a city version of Disney World.  They had Akihabara: tech geek land, Asakusa: Buddhist Amusement Park, Ginza: Sacs Fifth Ave land, Harajuku: ritzy mall/flea market land, and Ueno: Imperial city land.  It was all very surreal making me feel like a kid again.  It is very different from what I am used to in America, and I would be glad to go again.

Q Any tips or advice for other travellers?

Top tip: figure out how to navigate fast.  I was using google maps for the first half of my trip, and I must have lost so much time getting lost.  Not only did Google Maps mess up quite a lot on spots and bus stop locations but it was very hard not being able to read the street signs. Numbers above mean time it takes to get there, and no numbers above means "this does not go there."

In an own cafe in Tokyo

Awesome place: Go to an owl cafe. It was 2000円, but it was worth it. I went to one in Ginza, and all of the owls had fun names like Prada or Louis Vuitton. Take lots of pictures!

Q How was your experience with your host?

Homestay hosts in Tokyo

Thomas's homestay hosts Yuriko and Jin.

After my experience from my host, I feel a better grasp on the Japanese language which is nice considering it was priority number one on my to-do list.  I feel a lot better conversing, but I do know that I still have a long way to go.  Many times I had to pull out my google translate on my phone for difficult words that I still can't remember how to say, like volcanic ash or jealous.

You might not be planning on becoming fluent, but we still recommend the immersive Japanese experience!

And we have homestay's all over Tokyo for just that.

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