Ultimate Guide to Homestays in Japan

By The Japan Switch Team | January 8th, 2024 

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    When planning your trip abroad, deciding on accommodation is one of the biggest steps, one that deserves adequate consideration and planning. Good accommodation can really brighten up a trip, while an inappropriate choice can really mar an otherwise lovely adventure, so do choose your next accommodation with care.

    If traveling out this way in future, choosing a homestay in Japan may be the ideal option for you. Below, we look at what homestays are, how they work, what you need to know about them, as well as throw around some Japanese homestay providers we simply love for your consideration.

    This article is a part of our extensive series on Learning about Japan through Online Japanese Lessons at Japan Switch.


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    What is a homestay in Japan?

    As the name suggests, a homestay in Japan ditches the more traditional hotel or inn in favor of lodging with an actual Japanese host family during your holiday. Obviously, specifics will vary from accommodation to accommodation, but that just adds to the charm of the Japanese homestay experience – no two homestays can ever be the same.

    If opting for a homestay, we advise you to only use certified, professional homestay programs. As with everything else on the Internet, you want to make sure you employ caution, since not every individual out there advertising a homestay in Japan deserves your trust.

    Is a homestay in Japan safe?

    Yes. Provided that you go through a certified homestay program, homestays are no less safe than, say, an AirBnB experience. In many cases, these are families that have been hosting tourists regularly for months, or even years, in many cases, and you have nothing to worry about.

    Obviously, there are some safe practices for when choosing your homestay, which we’ll be talking about later, but generally, a homestay in Japan is nothing to worry about.

    Travelers with suitcases heading for a homestay in Japan


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    What is a homestay in Japan?

    Sure, at first glance, a homestay will probably lack the luxury or the more sumptuous allure of some hotels or holiday apartments. And surely, if that luxury is a primary concern for you and a non-negotiable in a trip, then perhaps a homestay in Japan is not for you.

    Choosing a homestay for your upcoming visit to Japan, however, does carry a myriad of benefits, however.

    1. A homestay in Japan offers priceless cultural immersion

    By far the best reason to choose a homestay for your next trip is the unparalleled cultural experience you’ll be getting. You know how every traveler claims they want to see the non-touristy spots, and live like a local? Well, with a homestay in Japan, you actually can. Living with a Japanese host family, you will get to experience what life is like in Tokyo or Kyoto, or wherever you’re going, for locals.

    Living with a host family will take you off the beaten path in every regard: food, schedule, transportation, attractions, etc.

    Using a hotel room as your home base when exploring a new city can be great, but at the end of the day, there’s still that element of seclusion from the local population. When using a homestay, you get to experience local dishes in a veritable home setting (as opposed to a faux-traditional restaurant), and that certainly adds to the charm. Moreover, you get to discover new places that only the locals know about, which are often different from those “off-the-beaten-path gems” you find advertised on Instagram, or tourist websites.

    Living with a host family will also give you a different perspective on the more common tourist attractions, transport, as well as local entertainment and outings. Many host families will invite their guests to join them at more local-oriented outings, or to delve into the town’s specific pastimes.

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    2. It’s a fantastic way to improve your Japanese

    Of course, a knowledge of the language isn’t mandatory when planning a trip to Japan. However, many tourists will use their visit to Japan to also hone their speaking skills. Maybe you’ve been studying Japanese for three years, or maybe you just took it up a month ago, in anticipation of your upcoming trip. Either way, a homestay in Japan is by far your best choice for improving your ability to communicate and learn how people really speak.

    No doubt, you’ve heard many people say that merely traveling to Japan and experiencing quite a different culture from yours will be enough of a language exchange. And while for some people, that’s true, many tourists tend to stick to the more tourist-y path: they visit popular attraction points, go to restaurants, gift shops, etc., all places where Japanese natives expect tourists, so will more likely address you in English.

    Pro Tip: If you’re looking forward to practicing your Japanese while in Japan, patience and an open mind will go a long way. However, keep in mind that when purchasing tickets for a crowded tourist attraction or ordering some yakitori at a street vendor, isn’t typically the best place to do it. The crowd can put a lot of pressure on you, and it’s unlikely that you’ll get more than a smile and a “very well done, sir!” (if any acknowledgement at all).

    With a homestay in Japan, on the other hand, you’ll get to practice your Japanese on a daily basis with someone who is well-prepared for it, and with whom you have more chances of actually carrying a full-on conversation. They likely speak English or your native tongue and may welcome the opportunity to speak in your language, too.

    3. You get a proper education in Japanese cuisine

    We’ll get to talking more about what’s included in a Japanese homestay in just a moment, but most of them typically feature some type of meal-combo (commonly, both breakfast and dinner are included, though some homestays in Japan offer a simple just-breakfast option).

    That alone is going to offer you a more nuanced understanding of Japanese cooking, as the host family is likely to prepare personal favorites, regional dishes, and other lesser-known types of foods that might not make it on the restaurant menus.

    Depending on your host family, you may even be able to get some actual lessons in cooking traditional dishes (either at a cost, or as a welcoming token from the family).


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    4. Homestays are a great way to explore Japan on a budget

    While money shouldn’t be a guiding factor in your trip, it does play a significant role in planning your itinerary. As you might already know, Japan (particularly the big cities like Tokyo or Kyoto) can get quite crowded and quite expensive, especially during the spring (cherry blossom season) or around various yearly festivals and events.

    During those periods, hotel prices have a tendency to soar, which might blight your trip to Japan. Similarly, if you’re looking to spend as much time in Japan on as small a budget as you can manage, hotel accommodation might not be a practical solution. Spending a month at a hotel can really break the bank, leaving you little cash on hand for actual visiting. So staying with a local host family can be a good way to spend more time in Japan for less money.

    5. It’s a great way to build connections

    By far one of the biggest reasons that we like to travel are the human connections we make along the way. A big part of the attraction of hostels, or other communal accommodations, is that they allow travelers to make new friends.

    A homestay in Japan work in a similar fashion, in the sense that some homestay guests develop relationships that spread out across months or even decades with their host family. Moreover, homestays can give you more control over the people you interact with (as safety is a valid concern when staying in certain hostels or other shared accommodations).

    Obviously, you may already know some people in the city you’re visiting, or encounter them through organized tourism agencies, language exchange or other social apps. However, none will rival the sort of relationships that’s built in having dinner with someone day in, day out over your entire holiday.

    For that reason, we particularly recommend homestays for solo travelers looking for a flourishing social rapport during their travels.

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    But... are there any downsides to a homestay in Japan?

    If you ask us, a homestay in Japan carries a slew of benefits for tourists choosing that option. However, as we saw earlier, choosing the right accommodation for you is a make-or-break factor of any trip, and homestays are certainly not for everyone.

    Homestays are fairly communal

    It’s kind of implied that you’ll have to interact with others for quite a bit. Obviously, you’re not joined at the hip or anything, but staying with a host family will demand some basic courtesy rules to apply, in that you’ll have to socialize, as well as share many areas of the house (typically, only the bedroom is private in a homestay).

    If that’s something you’re not comfortable with, homestays might not be a good idea. Whether you’re someone who needs a lot of privacy and alone time, or if you’re traveling as a couple, and sharing your meals with your host family might take away some of the romance of your trip, you might be better satisfied at a hotel.

    Accommodation might not be available in the hottest tourist districts

    Generally, the bigger tourist areas will pretty much be taken up by hotels, AirBnBs, inns, and other professional accommodation options. Also, since these neighborhoods tend to be a lot pricier, it’s likely that locals will live farther away from them.

    Now, many homestayers find the relative distance from touristic objectives a small drawback in exchange for the priceless cultural immersion they’re getting, but maybe you wouldn’t. Make sure you consider this aspect, especially if you’re planning a short trip across only a few days, and might find the distance from attractions an inconvenience.

    Homestay in Japan - farmstay on a strawberry farm

    What types of homestays in Japan are available?

    Aside from the fairly straightforward tourist homestay, you may wish to experiment with other off-the-beaten-path accommodation choices. Traditional homestays are available for tourists, and are typically priced per night – we’ll talk about prices soon – but another option for homestays involves free accommodation in exchange for lending a hand to either the family you’re staying with, or the local community.

    Farm Stays

    As in many other countries, travelers to Japan can benefit from free accommodation with a host family in exchange for help on the family farm. The tasks you’ll be asked to perform may involve:

    • Harvesting
    • Tending to livestock
    • Tilling and looking after the fields
    • Pruning trees
    • Cutting wood, etc.

    Obviously, for the best experience during your homestay in Japan, make sure you discuss all the tasks beforehand, just so you don’t sign up for anything you’re not comfortable doing. Many farm stays offer room and board in return for this help, and depending on the host family may also throw in cooking, cultural, or language lessons.

    This can be a great way to experience a more rural Japanese existence, as well as give you a chance to explore smaller Japanese towns and villages that might not make it on the big must-see tourist itineraries.

    Some host families involved in homestay projects may also throw in transportation to a nearby big city so that the guest can explore some more popular tourist attractions in their time off.

    As with the other homestays, farm stays can be a great way to form lasting connections, as well as explore the world on a budget.

    Student Stays

    Certain organizations (typically language exchange programs) also offer Japanese homestays to students (both college-age and under 18s), as part of their cultural immersion program.

    Obviously, since these involve young people and minors, in some cases, the families are carefully screened and the program is a little more rigorous/scheduled. While the host family will typically organize some cultural field trips and activities, the students will also be monitored and asked to attend events organized by the language exchange organization.


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    Getting started with a homestay in Japan: 
    What's included? How much?

    Of course, each homestay will have its own minor variations and unique points. As such it’s advisable that you make sure you have a clear understanding of what is and isn’t included before booking to avoid disappointment.

    Typically, a homestay in Japan will include a private bedroom. Often, the bedroom will be in a traditional Japanese style (e.g. a futon-type bed on a tatami floor, topped with a couple of blankets). Most homestays throw in towels and linens free of charge.

    While some homestays may also include a private bathroom for the guest, that’s not really common. In most cases, the guest will have to share the kitchen, bathroom, and other common living areas with the host family.

    As we mentioned before, many Japanese homestay options include a meal-plan, with the most common option being breakfast and dinner provided by the host family, while the guest is free to make their own arrangements for lunch. While some homestays also offer an only-breakfast option, that’s not necessarily a good choice. Generally, paying for meals at your homestay will turn out much cheaper than paying for a restaurant (particularly in the more tourist-heavy areas of the city). Also, sharing the final meal of the day with your host family is a great way to connect, share, build a relationship, and just learn unique, interesting little tidbits about the places you visited that day.

    Also, most homestays will give the guest access to common household items like a washing machine, hair dryer, ironing set, sewing, and so on. So, if you opt for a home stay, you’re likely to have everything you’d typically have in your own home, as far as base necessities go.

    How much does a homestay in Japan cost?

    The cost of your homestay will be influenced by a few different aspects, such as the organization you’re booking through, the number of nights you’ll be spending, and the amenities provided. Since no two homestays are exactly the same, it’s likely that pricier homestays will either be better-located or offer more amenities (such as a private bathroom, transportation, etc.).

    Pro Tip: Make sure you inquire about costs before you book or lock in anything. It might seem obvious, but a surprising amount of travelers have faced unpleasantries while traveling abroad simply because they didn’t inquire about the finer details of the homestay arrangement. So don't be shy and ask upfront, to avoid any misunderstandings and enjoy your time in Japan.

    According to Your Home in Japan which offers Japanese homestays to tourists and students, the price of a homestay with them is, as follows:

    • 1 - 30 nights: 5200 Yen/night (¥5200 = $36)
    • 31 - 60 nights: 4700 Yen/night (¥4700 = $32.50)
    • 61 - 180 nights: 4100 Yen/night (¥4100 = $28.50)
    • 181+ nights: 4000 Yen/night (¥4000 = $27.70)

    Bear in mind that this excludes the 10% additional tax. This is the option with both dinner and breakfast included.

    Homestays may require additional fees during high seasons, like cherry blossom season in spring, or over the Christmas holidays (this is one of those things to ask about before booking!). 


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    Woman standing out the front of a house for a homestay in Japan

    How to Choose a Homestay in Japan

    Obviously, choosing a homestay in Japan should imply a fair bit of diligence on your part. After all, safety ought to be the name of the game (as in all other tourist endeavors), so below we’ll look at a few general rules to keep in mind, as well as some organizations/projects/websites that offer homestays.

    1. Be safe. Always trust your gut.

    Only go through certified providers, not just individual families offering homestays online, as this has a higher chance of fraud. Reach out to your potential host, and interact with them for a bit. And if your gut is telling you something’s off with this potential host, always trust that.
    In some cases, it might not be that they’re trying to scam you in some way, but your first impression of them is a good indicator of how you’ll get on during your stay. And obviously, you shouldn’t be staying with someone who gives you a bad vibe.

    2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

    Of the homestay facilitator, you’ll want to ask all the questions to make sure they have their act in good order, are lawful, and so on. Of the host family, likewise, don’t be afraid to ask your questions. Sometimes, tourists will refrain for fear of sounding rude or pushy. But this is your safety and your holiday that’s at stake, so it’s your right to ask all the questions you need.

    3. Check reviews.

    Both for the website you’re booking through, and for the family themselves, if possible. Most of these websites we mention below check and screen host families quite rigorously already, but nothing beats some input from a fellow traveler.

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    Homestay in Japan: Providers to Start With

    We already mentioned Your Home in Japan – a trusted housing facilitator run by long-time Japan traveler John Asplund, in collaboration with DreamStudies. Your Home in Japan doesn’t charge you a fee for putting you in contact with reliable host families, and has been in business for many years.

    Another great option is Homestay in Japan – with English customer support, they offer lengthy orientation (and in-person orientation for those traveling for more than 2 weeks). They have a solid reputation, and offer a great slew of options (smoker/non-smoker; with/without children; with/without pets, etc.) for selecting the perfect homestay.

    For those interested in staying on a Japanese farm, in exchange for work, check out Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). As the name suggests, their aim is to connect farm families looking for help with travelers looking for an authentic experience.

    Finally, for students looking for a language exchange program to Japan, the Labo International Exchange Foundation connects young students from America, Australia, and New Zealand with Japanese families with a child of the same sex, and roughly the same age.

    To a lesser extent, we would also recommend websites like AirBnB or Homestay.com. While AirBnB is not exclusively a homestay provider, they do offer shared accommodation options similar to a traditional homestay. Provided that you choose with care and read the reviews, this may be a good way for you to find a homestay while visiting Japan.

    Opinions on Homestay.com seem to be divided, with some people heartily recommending them, while others are more reserved. Likewise, if you do your due diligence, you may find a satisfying stay here as well.


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    Group of friends enjoying a homestay in Japan

    Final Thoughts: Is a Homestay in Japan
    right for you?

    Hopefully, having read our above guide to homestays in Japan, you now have a better understanding of what these entail, as well as whether or not a homestay in Japan is up your alley or not. While homestays can be a great opportunity for cultural immersion and budget travel, you shouldn’t choose one simply to save a few bucks!

    Whichever you choose, enjoy your holiday in Japan!

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