The first part of our 6-week trip through Asia is a 3-week tour through Japan. We managed to get a “stopover” on the way to Malaysia for about an extra $125 (on a $440 ticket from Philadelphia to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia). I had never been to Japan and the American Airlines agent said we could stay three weeks – so I thought we would see as much as possible. If you are going that far, especially with a 5-year old, you may as well make the most of it. My husband lived in Japan for several years and recommended several stops.
I opted for a couple of nights in Tokyo and found a family in Tokyo (Chiba) on Couchsurfing. I have been “couchsurfing” before and I have had hundreds of guests myself over the years. I think it is a great way to really know the people and the culture. I understand that in Japan houses are generally smaller than in America and that it would be more difficult to find a place for the two of us. I contacted a lot of people but only got two positive responses. One was with a lovely retired couple who had some great references, the other with a single older man who had no references. I went with the former.
From the start the couple was eager to help me coordinate the logistics of my stay – which is greatly appreciated in a land so foreign to me. Couchsurfing by definition is supposed to be free but they asked if we contribute about $35 a night and they would cover meals, wi-fi and laundry (and of course housing).
“Tobi” and “Judy” were so great and hospitable and they spoke English very well. They offered to get us from the train station – they live in Chibo, a bit out of the center of Tokyo. I didn’t mind most of the time. The only real “hassle” was that I had to pay for one last ride to their station “Taiwaideira” – even though I had a JR (Japan Rail) pass. My host recommended I purchase the JR Pass – you must be a foreigner and have to buy it before you enter Japan. It was seamlessly sent to my house within days of purchase. It is definitely worth it if you plan on going to a couple of places, particularly on the Shinkansen (thigh speed train).
We had a typical Japanese room with tatami with a bit of a mattress and warm covers. It was a large size room and there was a bathroom we shared down the hall. They separate their toilet from the rest of the bathroom which is a good thing. Something also important you should know is that Japanese houses tend to be cold in winter. I couldn’t believe how cold. Maybe I should have brought a space heater. They close off almost every room of the house. It was a lovely house in a residential neighborhood, almost peaceful except slight sound of traffic and whoosh of train.
We arrived late afternoon and our hosts offered to take us to a local bath house. It’s not an onsen because it’s not a natural spring source. They are very typical of Japanese life and we loved it! You remove shoes upon entering the building (get in some serious trouble if don’t) then enter a locker room to scrub down. You sit on little plastic stools and scrub, scrub, scrub. You take your naked self and sit in one of the many hot tubs (or cold). Some had jets, some didn’t. There was even one outside – the water was very hot and the air cold. Afterward they have a little cafe area and even stretching mats (kind of cool). We had a great experience thanks to our hosts!
Our hosts also prepared some wonderful meals for us. We had a very typical Japanese style breakfast with rice, vegetables and fried garlic pork. I though I couldn’t stomach garlic for breakfast but it was very tasty. They also served a delicious dinner with fish, fried oysters with fresh yuzu sauce and a hot and tasty soup. My husband would be so happy.
Our hosts offered to keep our warm weather luggage (we are headed to beach weather later) and we planned to go back next stay again before departing Japan. Judy drew a nice big bath for us, she helped coordinate our accomodation in Nagano and even helped us get discount Disney passes!
They drove us to the train station and helped us on our way to Sapporo. It really is nice to have friends!