Many of you know that I studied abroad in Kobe, Japan for 10 weeks during undergraduate. What many of you do not know is that as part of my trip I had to spend a homestay weekend with a Japanese family. Right from the get-go, the idea of staying with a bunch of strangers who didn’t speak English at all was a bit terrifying. I was afraid. Luckily, this homestay ended up being one of the highlights of my trip there. It was phenomenal.

Prior to the Homestay


Before the homestay actually started, I was pretty nervous. Not only was I nervous to spend the whole weekend with a family of strangers, I was kinda scared I’d pull a baka gaijin and really embarrass myself.

The whole rest of the trip, I was using Japanese and English about equally. I’d use Japanese mostly during the day while we were out talking to people and visiting the local university, and then at nighttime I’d speak English with my American friends back at the dorm. This weekend I’d be using Japanese non-stop.

This all seemed very intimidating to me. I wasn’t super confident in my Japanese and I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with the family so great and wouldn’t have the opportunity to get to know them so well. Plus I hadn’t had much experience talking to people that weren’t my age or younger (outside the classroom anyway) so I was nervous I might not be polite enough.

Luckily for me, all of my fears were dispelled after the very first day with the family. They were absolutely delightful.

The Family

dinnerMy homestay family consisted of two girls, one in college and one in middle school. Their parents were young and lively and they had an adorable little Italian Greyhound named Turbo. The girls’ names were Ai and Yuu. I think the father of the family was a diabolical naming mastermind. Telling my English speaking friends about my homestay with “I” and “You” brought on much hilarity and confusion.


They were a very attractive family. Even the dog was super cute. I really got along well with all of them and they were really open, friendly, and awesome. I’m sure part of this had to do with them wanting to make a good impression and show the foreigner a good time. Plus, it was only for a weekend, so I’m sure that even if they weren’t so fond of me, they would have faked it until I was out of their hair.

I got along really well with all of them and it was nowhere near the nightmare I feared it would be. I couldn’t have asked for a better family to homestay with.

Homestay Activities

ai-yuuWe did so many things! I mean, we did a lot of things during my whole trip in Kobe, but this homestay weekend was jam packed with awesome Japanese activities. I got to ride a train up a mountain and then ride a boat back down it, eat at a fancy sushi restaurant where I ate a whole fish and almost choked to death on some squid, play in the park with Turbo, and a lot of other awesome things that I’ll never forget.

Doing all of these things with my American friends would have been fun, but sharing them with the Japanese family that took me in for the weekend was special in a different way. It felt like the most Japanese thing I did over there. I really felt welcomed by them and all the stuff we did together really helped us bond. Even just doing stuff at their house was special.


One of my mistakes (baka gaijin move right here) was failing to make use of the bath in their house (I did remember to bring a gift though). Their home was really nice and offered a cool mix of modernism with traditional Japan. Unfortunately for me, the silly American, I declined to use the bath the whole time I was there and just used the shower instead. They weren’t surprised, as I was an American, but I still wish I would have taken that opportunity.

Another awesome thing that happened the very first day was what the father gave me during the first dinner. Apparently he went to the grocery earlier that day and bought a single can of Budweiser for me to have with dinner. It was hilarious, and kind of silly, but I really appreciated the gesture and it let me know that this homestay was going to be a great one.

How a Homestay Helps Your Japanese

immersion“Dude, we’re so immersed right now.”

If you’re looking for the best way to immerse yourself, homestay is a great option to consider. You’re going to be around and have to interact with Japanese people all day whether you like it or not. Even if you live in Japan, if you live by yourself, you can escape the Japanese environment and look up stuff on YouTube or whatever and gobble up some English. Ain’t nobody got time fo dat if they’re living with a Japanese family.

At homestay, you’ll be taking in and spitting out more Japanese than you’d ever thought you would. You’re not going to have anybody else there to translate or help you out when you get confused of have trouble expressing an idea. It’s super great for learning practice and I know my Japanese ability and confidence really skyrocketed after my homestay. And my homestay was only a weekend. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if my stay were longer.


However, after that one short weekend, I was pretty mentally worn out from the constant barrage of Japanese, but then again I just wasn’t used to that much exposure without some sort of break. When I came back to the dorms after the weekend and was reunited with all my American friends, it was legitimately weird speaking English again.

Homestay is a great way to throw yourself into the Japanese environment. You’ll get to do a lot of cool things, meet some awesome people, and have friends for life. I know that I’ll always have a place to stay in Japan thanks to this homestay. And even though our correspondence has been sparse this past year, I know that I’ll never forget the family or the experience. It was amazing.

If you ever have the opportunity to homestay in Japan, take it. You most definitely will not regret it.

So tell me, have any of you ever done a homestay in Japan? Was it as great as mine or was yours less than stellar? Would you be interested in doing a homestay if you haven’t already? Share your thoughts down in the comments!

  • 風神 ケルビン

    Im going to Japan Tokyo for a 5 weeks in December on my own. I am looking forward to spill out and process all the Japanese i can during this short stay. no translators, no guides…just me ^_^

  • Shane Martins

    I had a homestay in Tsushima island and it was amazing. My host dad took us out fishing, and we caught Tai. Brought it back and my host mom cut it up as sashimi for us. Still remember that 10 years later!

  • Brian

    Do you know how to get set up with a homestay? I am studying abroad in Japan soon and I would would love to have a homestay, but the university does not set up a homestay so I don’t know where to look.

  • mochilicious

    i love your story! could u tell us more about food and accommodation while u were living with the japanese family?

  • Palemka

    I know it very well, except it was English in my case. I’m Polish, and in my trip to the Netherlands I had to live with English speaking family for a week. My English was kinda bad back then, but living there gave me confidence to speak, so any conversation or oral exam is a pleasure now.

  • julie

    I lived with a Japanese family for a week last summer. It was amazing! We would sit together after dinner and talk for hours about everything from religion (I had some difficulty explaining Judaism in Japanese!) to the different cultural uses of mayonnaise (mayonnaise on vegetables?! What?!). It’s a really unique and irreplaceable experience.

    I’ll be going back to Japan next winter to spend a trimester living with a Japanese family. I can’t wait!

  • Koichi

    You look so different in the pictures of the article. I mean it relative to your profile picture at the bottom of the article.

  • John

    Haha, dude – that’s awesome. Catching your own sashimi would be really cool.

  • John

    Unfortunately I’m not sure myself as the homestay we did was set up by the university. Hopefully someone else from the community can give you some assistance. Anyone have any suggestions for Brian?

  • John

    Haha, yeah – the glasses are definitely a change. I have different glasses now from my profile picture and some scruff on my face now too, so I look different again!

  • John

    Their house was a pretty average size, in a nice and quaint little neighborhood, I stayed in the guestroom which was just a tatami room where I slept on a futon. My host mom made most meals except when we were out and about.

    We went to a nice sushi place and got some ramen at a train station, but other than that most of the food was home cooked. The mom also played a large part in strengthening my love for okonomiyaki. The homemade version she made when I was there was the absolute best I’ve had to date.

    Most meals were pretty normal Japanese stuff except for when I ate a baby octopus.

  • anonymousen

    I was once an exchange student to Japan in 2008, and part of the trip was a homestay in Taka town, Hyogo. It was not a very long one, but I do remember coming up with tons of jokes virtually every couple of minutes despite having very little knowledge in the language (good that they seemed to get most of the jokes!). A remarkable one was that whenever I wanted to say “sou-iu koto,” I would pull out a small shoyu bottle from my pocket, raise it up high and say “shoyu koto!” instead XD.

  • Shollum

    On the one hand, I’d love to have a homestay. I’m sure it’d be great fun and great for my Japanese.

    On the other hand, I have trouble staying with people I know overnight… How in the world would I manage even a weekend with people who, until then, I didn’t even know…

    One of the few things I actually don’t like about myself and it has to be such a big deal…

  • Marty

    Just one weekend? Try everyday, for 4 months @_@ I really enjoyed my homestay and my host family was great but man, did my brain hurt from the constant barrage of Japanese. I learned a ton of things that I never would have had I not done a homestay though, like explaining Spanish grammer in broken Japanese.

  • John

    Hahaha, oh man – yeah, even after just one weekend I was starting to feel my brain go insane from the Japanese overload. Did you ever get used to it? Like after the first couple weeks or so? Or was it just a lot of brain hurting all the time? Haha.

  • Mike

    I had a 2 week homestay at the end of a 3 month stay in Niihama, Ehime on Shikoku for a now defunct program called “Eagle Japan”. This was waaaaaaay back in 1993.

    The family lived on the second floor and both the mother and father ran businesses out of the ground floor.

    The homestay was a very nice change, because we had stayed the previous 10 weeks in a dormitory for unmarried male workers at a nearby Sumitomo machinery factory. That was some native livin’ there. In-the-floor squat toilets and a huge communal bath. Did our laundry on the roof. Loved those teeny tiny washing machines!

    But back to the homestay. Mom was a great cook and made me a lot of typical Japanese home cooking. I still remember her udon and unagi. She took me out to a “Western” restaurant and couldn’t stop staring at giggling at me when she witnessed the facility with which I manipulated a knife and fork! She was amazed!

    I used the heck out of their bath, BTW. They were impressed since I could stand the water as hot as they could. I had been toughened up at the dormitory. As guest, I got the bath first. ( If you’re not familiar, Japanese families don’t drain the bath until *everybody* has had a turn. They have an insulating mat that they put over it between times so It doesn’t cool off too much.)

    The father ran a sign making shop on the ground floor and showed me all his computer controlled routers. We began talking about technical things, and they conversation got around to calculus and solids of revolution. At that point I realized 2 things:

    1. My Japanese was good enough to talk about calculus! Cool.

    2. In Japan, high school graduates know a lot about maths that I only learned about in college.

    Awesome experience and your post brought back a lot of great memories. Thanks!

  • Marty

    It got easier as I learned more Japanese and got into the swing of things in Japan. The whole brain hurting thing lasted for about a month. It was a great experience. My host parents didn’t know English though. So if it wasn’t for my friends at school who I got to speak English with from time to time, I would have definitely gone crazy, I think. Haha

  • Juan Fernando Castellón

    Home made Okonomiyaki?!? I had that in Hamamatsu. That got my nostalgia going. I visited Japan for 2 weeks in 2011. Starting to plan to go again this year. I spent three days with a brother in the faith who lived in Yaizu, he spoke no English other than “Let’s go.” A mutual friend served as my tour guide through Yaizu, I would love to do that again. In Nagoya, the family I stayed with spoke Spanish and Japanese, I used both. I stayed in Tokyo with a married couple, he spoke English, Spanish and Japanese, she spoke Spanish and Japanese, Yaizu and Hamamatsu were where I used more Japanse since my friend there only spoke a very limited amount of English. It was a great experience to be surrounded by only Japanese al day. If you can do it, go for it!

  • Darcy

    I’d love to be able to have a homestay when I go to Japan… But I’ve never heard of it being done for anybody but students. (When I go, it’ll be my (college) graduation present to myself.)
    Is there any way to do a sort of homestay as an adult?

    I’ve done two homestays in high school – one in France and one in England. Both were amazing. I didn’t speak a lick of French, but being able to have a “conversation” with a child who didn’t speak English was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had.
    I’d love to have the experience of a homestay in Japan.

  • John

    You’re very brave! Best of luck to you!

  • Sili

    Really? I think it’s easier if you don’t use your mother tongue for a while at all. Switching from one to another language constantly is a bit difficult, if you’re not fluent in both.

    When I was away (student exchange, homestay, language school, whatever) I tried to avoid my language as much as possible (think I used like 10 words in one month, maybe) and after less than a week, everything was fine and I even thought in the country’s language ^^ Some people start to dream in the language after a while, when that happens, you know, you did it! ^^

    Students who were with me with the same programm and at the same level, but didn’t avoid their language had much more problems like understanding locals or finding words in conversations.

    Homestay definetely is a great opportunity to learn language and culture and of course meet new people. Plus, there’s the practical side: Relatively cheap, always someone around to help and ask and you don’t feel lonely like in a hotel or appartment.

  • MrsSpooky

    I’m planning on going in October to stay with friends, but they speak English. I will NOT refuse the use of the bath. I was considering not even dealing with the bath and just shower instead, but you convinced me. TAKE THE BATH :)

  • Ilyas

    I too had a homestay once. I too did only showering instead of using bath. Johnさn, High Five!

  • Sillysamurai

    The national 4-H youth program (a USA government leadership program sponsored by state universities ) offers global immersion cultural exchanges to several countries, including Japan. The average participant is in Middle School or High School and does a 4 week or 8 week summer homestay. USA youth ages 10 -18 can also host a Japanese youth in their home for 3-4 weeks during the summer. No cost to host. For more info: I participated in this exchange. It is well-run and you make new friends for life. You don’t need to be able to speak Japanese to participate. If your state 4-H program does not offer this, contact the main States 4-H Exchange office in Seattle and they will help you. Most states, you don’t have to be a 4-H member to participate. I wasn’t, and I both hosted and also did a homestay in Japan. It was wondeful.

  • John

    Haha, shame on the both of us. *high five*

  • John

    Awesome! Thanks for sharing the info :)

  • 田辺先生

    1977, had a 4 month homestay! We had a 2 week “immersion camp” first, which was good as I spoke THREE words of Japanese when i arrived. One of my homestay brothers spoke English, we were great friends, but he was on the busy college senior job-search, so rarely home. I accepted the bath offer my fist night and… fell asleep. As he as the only one who spoke any English, the fam sent my new brother in to awaken me. Slightly awkward! Mom had no daughters and we got along famously….. in the coming years we visited the family often, Those months were great! Our son spent a semester in Japan also, homestay, excellent time. No disrespect for your experience, John, but I highly encourage college students to find a program which has homestay the majority of the time, not just a weekend.

  • Andrew John Todd

    If it wasn’t for my first, wonderful homestay during my very first trip to Japan in ’99, I wouldn’t still be in Japan now. Our two families are still close to this day.

  • John

    lol about falling asleep in the tub. And I would definitely encourage people to at least experience some sort of homestay – but for me, I’m glad that I still had plenty of time to do my own thing with my friends and not have any “parents” to worry about me if I went out and stuff, you know? But I do think that I would have benefited (language wise especially) from having mine be longer than just a weekend, for sure.

  • MisterM2402

    Wow, they really *are* an attractive family :P

    Your Japanese ability must have been sky-high to do something like that :D I’ve been studying the language a few years now, but the prospect of living with a Japanese family is terrifying beyond belief!

  • John

    Believe me, I was really scared too! It’s not that bad though, trust me!

  • simplyshiny

    That’s so awesome, John! I always thought it would be the most amazing thing in the world to do something like that. Actually, my first opportunity to go to Japan, I had to pass up because my high school went year round, but I would have been able to able to stay with a home stay for a few days….I still kind of regret not trying to make it work….anyway, your pictures are awesome, and I’m glad you had such a good time!

  • Tiffany

    This next spring (2014) I’ll be staying in a Japanese home for 4 months while I study abroad in Sapporo. I’m extremely nervous about speaking Japanese morning, noon, and night but I do think that immersion is the best way to improve my language skills so I am truly looking forward to it!

    I hope I have as good of an experience as you did!

  • Camille

    I lived in Kobe for 8 weeks when I was 15 on an exchange program. I went to school with my host sister, and went on a few trips to surrounding cities on the weekends. Before I went, I thought my Japanese was good (I was at the top-end of my class at school), but I was shocked to find on my arrival that I understood only the utter basics of the language – I could discuss the weather and tell the time, but that was about it. It’s laughable now, but I was pretty much mute for the first week or so of my stay. Nontheless, my Japanese improved dramatically while I was there and I would silently celebrate each small milestone of improvement (having a smooth, casual conversation with a teacher at school, understanding set assignments, making a joke with your schoolfriends that isn’t just laughed at because you’re the gaijin…. you get it.) The experience also helped me get into the groove of learning a language. I put in a concious effort to learn 10 words a day (or there abouts) – 56 days later that added up to be a lot.
    I didn’t only learn standard Japanese for my school-work, but picked up a bit of Kansai dialect along the way – and I noticed that it amused the people around me when I used it (a gaijin speaking kansai-ben?!) and it helped break the ice in awkward situations. It also helps with watching a few dramas now. haha

    On my return I found a friend who was Japanese living in my area, and I visited her once a week for a cup of tea and a chat to try and keep the Japanese that I had learnt while away. I’m now studying the language at University, and can definitely say that my Japanese would be nowhere near the standard it is now had I relied solely on text-books and classes to learn the language.
    I highly reccommend a cultural exchange – whether you’re a highschool student or at university. Living with strangers is daunting at first, but within a few days these strangers become family and it makes living abroad and experiencing Japanese culture first-hand a wonderful experience.

  • Jesse Cadd

    WWoof Japan ( is another approach. You volunteer your time and work with a farm or small business, living with them in the process. We are going to do this in July at a sausage maker’s in Hokkaido. We’re hoping to do this more often, both to help with our japanese, but also to see parts of Japan we would probably never have reason to go to.

  • Janira Cordova

    I also had a homestay experience for a full year that I was studying abroad in Hyogo and must say I cannot agree with you enough! It was amazing! I was nervous at first because I knew I was going to be there for such a long time and my Japanese was nowhere near elementary level so it was a struggle the first couple of days, but after that it was great because I found myself being able to understand it more and more. I was with and older couple so they were a little more reserved and made sure to always be talking in proper Japanese so that I would be able to absorb it. By the first month of me being there I was complete used to being a part of the household there. And actually the last month I was in Japan I ended up moving to a different host family because my original family was going to be busy with some other family issues and since it was almost during finals, they thought it would be more appropriate if I was not bothered by their stuff and moved to a more comfortable setting, and even the second host family I had, which was only for a month, was amazing! I felt completely accepted into a Japanese family and even took baths at that homestay, I recommend it, it’s SUPER RELAXING! Whenever I hear people are studying abroad I always like telling them of my adventures because it really was once in a lifetime, and I know there are some people who’ve had bad experiences, but it really is a great way to improve your Japanese and learn the culture, and it doesn’t hurt to try. If not I’m sure some programs can offer you to change families or move to a dorm if the experience is THAT unpleasant. The best way to go into a host family is with an open mind ^_^

  • LisaMarie♡

    I haven’t had a homestay yet, but I would really like to do one! In a year I’m going to study Japanologie and I think about doing a homestay before this. But I am not sure, because I can’t speak Japanese yet. Do you think it would make sense, to try a homestay nevertheless?

    Greetings! :)

  • gllug

    I don’t know if that exists in Japan, but in a lot of countries, students can live at other peoples houses in exchange for doing some household chores. It’s mostly old people who have a big house and need some help, so it’s a bit different from a homestay, but at least you’re with local people. You can find that at blackboards, so I expect nowdays on the internet as well. If you could get in touch with a student from that university/town, they may be able to help you. There should be something like an association for student affairs or a representative.
    Good Luck, though I’m sure you can find a “real” homestay somewhere :)

  • Nicole Jones

    Can you do the japanese homestay outside of college?

  • John

    You sure can!

  • John

    I’m sure you’d still have a good time but it might be a bit less frustrating and more rewarding if you knew some of the language beforehand. But then again, you’ll learn plenty regardless of whether or not you have previous experience, so it’s really up to you and your comfort level!

  • matt

    yeah I really did :)) It was …..amazing

  • Ruben

    As a European guy I already did a homestay, but it was the “light” version, I did it in France instead of Japan. However like finding a Japanese company in Europe that sends employees to Japan, a homestay is a perfect method to go Japan without having to worry too much (financially, finding a place to stay,…) and you’ll get Japan really as it is !
    Very good, and maybe a better experience then a hotel ! But finding a family willing to take a foreigner in their house can be difficult I suppose ?

  • Flora

    I actually have heard some people who lived in Japan for a long time claim that eventually began to forget bits & pieces of English. Is that a common thing or depends on the person?

  • Fe

    I did a homestay in Tokyo for a week, there was 4 of us and we were all teenagers and none of us spoke Japanese! We had met the daughter before as she came to our country and her parents didn’t speak english but somehow we understood each other well and still managed to talk.
    I wanted to use the bath too! Only we were never asked too. There were so many jokes and games it was brilliant and some of their family came from Niigata to have a party for us.
    I’m so glad I had a homestay because it made the trip 10 times better.

  • LisaMarie♡

    Thanks for your answer! I am going to think about it carefully, but I think I will do it. It’s a great experience for me and like you said, I will learn much in this special time.

  • Brennan Kulp

    I will never forget my 3 month homestay in Yokohama. I had an amazing family. My Japanese improved amazingly fast. i can’t wait to go back!

  • Tora.Silver

    I really wish I could do something like this, but I practice a really strict religion, and if were to do foreign exchange or a homestay, or the like, I’d have to live with someone of that same religion. We’re worldwide, but it’s a real catch-22 because since we’ll only take in people of the same religion and for the above mentioned reason, we don’t often go on foreign exchange, none of us ever apply to be host families for programs like this. In other words, to be fully immersed in the language, I’ll have to do it on my own dime after I graduate.

  • Meme Dailan

    So cool. Something I really want to do myself. Only problem would be the food. It would be quite funny if the parents would leave to go overseas for a business meeting and you would be alone with… you know… pretty default Manga setting.

    Actually a list of tips and advices on how to behave, interact and use of facilities like their bathroom would be a good post to write.

  • mathias richter

    Thank you for nice inspiration. I feel for you since i did a homestay with a nice family once in ramsgate in britain and one in bacold philippines. I am german and have a japanese penfriend thats why i read here.

  • Riechan

    how can you find a host family?

  • John

    While I’ve not looked into it much myself, I’m sure there are programs available online that could help you out. I’m sure you’ll find something! :D

  • John

    This is about the closest post we have for that as of right now:

  • Amanda

    I did a homestay program for my junior year of high school, 2007-2008. It was just like you described, but it continued (non-stop Japanese) for 11 months! It is really, truly exhausting at first – and there are so many miscommunications – but you learn so, so fast. I was lucky to be in Hokkaido where almost no one spoke English well, so I was forced to learn Japanese quickly. Because of that, I got so acquainted with the culture and language that some people asked me if I was half-Japanese (I’m super white :P). It really is the best investment you can make if you’re going to be studying abroad!

  • kiki

    You can try :
    Two years ago, I had a homestay with them in Okinawa and it was amazing.
    Very nice host family, I could improve my level in Japanese.

  • Meme Dailan

    Thats Tofugu for you. I think Apple’s ad phrase could be used here. “There is a Tofugu article for that.” :)


  • Jacinda Wilson

    I did a 10 month exchange program back in 2007. Prior to leaving Australia we were asked if we wanted to do homestay. I actually said no because it was a month long homestay in this situation.

    Fortunately when I was in Japan (and flunking all my tests) the arranged for the host families top meet up with us (at one of their time-honoured horribly awkward meet and greet type parties). I finally agreed to stay with a host family as I was promised if it was awkward I could go back to the dorms.

    So the one month of staying with my host family (which began in August) ended up lasting through till December…. I had the best host family of all the ones (not by my choice – they chose me) A lot of the other girls got host families that were purely interested in practising their English. Mine gave me the choice and included me on their bi-annual weekend stay at Mt Fuji. My host dad had always wanted to climb Fuji san to the point he’d bought the hiking shoes, the hiking bag, the headlamps, you name it. It broke my heart when I told him my intentions of climbing Fuji and he asked me to use his stuff so if he never made it to the peak at least his stuff had (fortunately he decided to climb it a month after I had). Honestly I could continue on – but the main thing staying with my host family did… After 4 months of scraping by or flunking my Japanese tests, I started aceing them and to this day my Japanese ability remains strong even with lack of use.

    If you ever get the opportunity, DO IT!

  • Jacinda Wilson

    My mum said some of the e-mails I sent back to her from Japan were a bit gramatically interesting … :D

  • Jacinda Wilson

    Phew, glad it wasn’t just me with the brain hurting thing! Plus I fell asleep in front of the TV a few times….and that was after 4 months of having already been in Japan….

  • Divyaa

    I’m going for a weeklong homestay next week and I can’t wait! :D

  • Yuki

    Thank you for posting this,it’s really informative :D
    So I’m gonna be home staying in Tokyo for one month and I’m freaking out right now,what did you do when you don’t understand or get confused of something that the host family said??I’m really worried about that part…

  • Takeru

    How do you apply for homestay? Does it have to be done through school or uni?