I’m a mother of a 4 year-old boy and registered to Homestay in Japan, the biggest company that supports foreign students and travelers’ homestay accommodations. I have hosted more than ten students from around the world, and this is my experience as a host mother. Here are some tips to keep in mind when staying with a Japanese host family during your stay in Japan.
One of the most basic of basics: Japanese people take off their shoes before entering their home.
There are two major reasons for this. One is the high temperature and humidity in Japan as people want to avoid getting their room messy and dirty. Another reason is the Japanese traditional belief that a house is a sacred space.
Once upon a time, Japanese large families worshiped their ancestors as a god and there was a household Shinto altar. Therefore, people regarded stepping into the storehouse with dirt as disrespectful, which led to this custom. If you carry your luggage, do not hesitate to ask for a cloth to wipe your suitcase’s wheels before entering the room.
What surprises foreign students find the most is the way people take a bath in Japan. Usually, Japanese families take a bath every day before going to bed, which is different from what people do in other countries. Japanese houses also tend to have only one bathroom (which includes the toilet and the shower/bathtub). Apartments and homes that have a separate toilet list it as a special feature. That means that, unless you are staying at a place with more than one bathroom, you shouldn’t take too much time inside a bathroom.
After cleaning the bathroom, we pour hot water into the bathtub and automatically announced that the bath is ready. The guest will be the first to take a bath. Before entering the bathtub, do not forget to shower so you can wash your head and body beforehand The bathtub is not a place to wash and clean your body, but a place to make your body warm and relaxed. So scrubbing and exfoliating your skin in a bathtub is not okay. When you feel your body is warm enough, exit, put the bathtub cover so the heat doesn’t escape, dry your body with a towel, and tell the next person who will use the bath that you have finished. We don’t change the water so DO NOT pull the plug unless you are the last one to take a bath. Again, the whole family will share the bathroom and toilet so it’s important not to stay there for a long time.
At the dining table, you might be provided a tissue box or a hand towel to wipe your mouth. Some might regard something dirty should be hidden and put down the table but that’s not for Japanese people. If you wipe your mouth with a tissue paper, you don’t need to hide it. Just putting it on the table is enough. When you finish your meal, bring it into the trash box and bring your dishes to the kitchen. That should be helpful enough.
Thanks to what is taught in school, most of Japanese people know Muslims don’t eat pork, and that Hindus don’t eat beef. But Japan is still a very homogeneous nation, and it tends to be difficult to imagine food restrictions because of religious reasons. When I accepted a university student from Australia who was originally born in Indonesia, she said she could eat anything, but I later found out she couldn’t eat pork and beef. To her, it was obvious that she didn’t eat pork and beef, and thus felt it should not be stated. However, for most Japanese host families it is not so obvious. If you have a chance to contact the family you’ll be staying with beforehand, it’s better to state any food restrictions and allergies, otherwise they might welcome you with a big dinner full of things you don’t want to eat.
When I accepted a high school student from America, she asked me to tell her if anything she did would be considered a bad manner in Japan. Each culture has unspoken rules which can’t be understood by foreigners without talking about them.
Most Japanese host families enjoy the difference and have an open mind toward your culture. Do not hesitate to make a mistake and communicate with your family. It will be a good opportunity to know each other and learn the diversities of each culture.