Sussing out the 'local' places has never been easier with the advent of social media. Yet getting that true 'local' feeling isn't easy when you're a tourist – unless you have a little help from the locals themselves. And what better way to immerse yourself in a local experience than through your tastebuds? That's exactly where Nagomi Visit comes in.
Founded back in 2011, Nagomi Visit is a programme that matches tourists with Japanese residents all across the country and lets them dine together at the local's family home. Touted as a 'home visit' rather than a 'homestay', the average visit lasts just three hours or so, making for a very easy and hassle-free way to connect with people who actually live in Japan and experience their way of life.
The name shows this too: 'Nagomi' is an alternative reading of the kanji 和, which refers to all things Japanese, yet can also mean 'bring together'. Make a verb (nagomu or nagomi) out of it, and it refers to the feelings you have when spending time with good friends – precisely the feeling which Nagomi Visit hopes to evoke. It's been such a success so far that they've managed to organise over 4,000 home visits all across the country, and they were even awarded a Prize for Global Citizenship by the Japan Foundation.
So how does it work? You sign up in advance (two weeks or more is considered best) online, and you'll be matched with a few locals who live an hour maximum from your selected location. You'll have the opportunity to contact them and figure out which one would be the best match for you.
On the day itself, you'll meet them around noon (for lunch) or 6pm (for dinner) at their nearest station. Once at their home, you'll get to help out with the dinner prep and sit down with the family for a proper Japanese home-cooked meal. After dinner, you can get to know the family and trade stories about life in Japan and in other countries.
Unlike homestays, you don't have to be a solo traveller to experience a Nagomi Visit; a group of friends or an entire family is encouraged to sign up too. And with hosts living anywhere from rural Hokkaido to central Tokyo or tropical Okinawa, you'll be sure to find one in a place you'd like to visit.
The best part? No one's in this for the money. It's a mere ¥3,500 per person, and that only goes to ingredients and keeping the NPO running. As Nagomi Visit puts it, 'we build friendships, not business transactions'; the hosts are truly interested in interacting with non-Japanese people and exchanging ideas with them.
For those concerned about language barriers, don't worry: all hosts have at least some conversational English skills, although they'll probably be delighted if you want to practice your Japanese too.
Interested? Find more information and book your own home visit through their website.
Photos courtesy of Nagomi Visit