Our major goal on this trip is to meet other people and learn about their cultures and what makes them unique. We are members of the perfect organization to help us connect to locals, www.couchsurfing.org. This online group is 3 million people around the world who are willing to exchange information, meet you for coffee or even welcome you into their homes for a time. All in the spirit of goodwill and for the love of adventure and new people.
Japan is one of the tougher countries to find a couch to “surf”. It really goes against their culture to invite a stranger into their home, even if they are part of a community and have lots of good references. So we struggled for a bit to find someone to willing to host us. The few adventurous Japanese CouchSurfers out there are slammed with requests from travelers like us. So we were extremely fortunate when we were invited into the home of Megumi and her family.
Living about a 30 minute train ride from the historic city of Nara, it was a perfect location to visit both the smaller cities and countryside of Japan. Their home is similar to Milwaukee living, with three-bedroom homes built right next to each other, with little or no yard. Parks and shopping areas are within walking distance.
Megumi’s family is typical Japanese, with a full-time working Dad, a part-time working mom (to pay for health insurance) and two, elementary school aged kids. Two cars in the garage, plenty of shoes in the entry way and lots of toys and playthings. They are also very atypical Japanese, in that the mom and two kids speak English extremely well and want to learn more. They are working on creating a life that has a balance of Japanese and western culture. Many moms are curiuos about Megumi’s approach and ask her lots of questions.
We enjoyed our time with the family immensely. We shared fantastic meals together….everyone cooks! We played cards games, charades and Angry Birds on the computer. Much fun was had during the how to tie a necktie lesson. Koji, the dad, had to step in, as Ken’s twice a year tie wearing experience was not sufficient. We even got outside, learned to J-Board and watched the kids ride their unicycles. Tzubasa, the 8- year old boy, showed off his soccer skills. He prefers this sport over Japan’s favorite, baseball.. Nazuna, the 10 year-old girl, had a homework assignment to track the full moon. Ken dashed over to the 100 Yen Store with the kids to buy binoculars. Nazuna and Karen went to the second story porch every hour to track the changes of the moon.
Megumi showed off her tour guiding skills by driving us around the countryside, showing us some historic tombs, rocks and other lovely sites. She even shared her favorite local snack, Takoyaki, which are savory dough balls with octopus pieces. This version was put into a snack shell with sauce and crisped rice. With all that we learned from her, I encouraged her to start her own tour business!
While most CouchSurfing experiences are good, this one was exceptional. We hope to stay in touch with the family for a long time. Perhaps help them with their goal of learning more American English as well. English books are hard to find in Japan, so I hope to find the first two Harry Potter books in Australia and ship them. Do you have any recommendations for books that are good for a ten-year old to read? Are you interested in sending some books to Japan for Nazuna? Drop us an email and let’s talk.