Nagomi Visit at The Minato International Dialogue 2014 "A heart of Omotenashi" and International Cultural Exchange"
Nagomi Visit’s founder and CEO (right) was a part of a panel last weekend discussing the importance of grassroots international exchange. This was a rewarding way for our organization to share how much we value cultural exchange that goes beyond the surface.
A big arigato to those involved in making this happen! We truly hope more people get to know why we started this organization and continue to run it.
Being yourself is key at a Nagomi Visit. The host has already read about you through the request you sent, and excited to meet you so there is actually nothing to worry about. Just figure out how to get to your host’s place using Google Maps, or your hosts can definitely help. Make sure to get there on time and be hungry.
However, since this may be your first time going to a Japanese home, you might be a little bit nervous being out of your element so here are a few tips to prepare yourself for your big day.
1. Contact your host before the Nagomi Visit
Email or use your messaging app to contact your host before the Nagomi Visit. Getting to know your host before meeting always makes the Nagomi Visit experience more meaningful for everyone. Check in with them to figure out directions but also, don’t forget to simply share how excited you are to meet them. Communication is key to an enjoyable Nagomi Visit
When preparing an emergency contact
Inform yourself of free wifi services available all across Japan. Buy a sim card for your phone in case there is no wifi available nearby. You can also rent phones or wifi routers at the airport. Make sure you provide the host with an emergency contact number or messaging app account that goes directly to you and not your travel agent.
2. Come hungry
Though the hosts are not put under pressure to cook any more than what they can manage during their busy schedules, many are very eager to go the extra mile so you will be able to get a full experience. So make sure to come hungry not only so you won’t miss out on all the delicious food but as a host, a clean plate is just always nice to see.
3. Be on time
Remember that punctuality is important. Unless a host recommends otherwise, take the train instead of buses or taxis when meeting your host since trains are almost always on time. Keep in mind that trains depart and arrive exactly on the minute their schedules promise, so if your host recommends you get on the train that departs at 17:23 it will most likely depart exactly at that time so make sure to arrive before that so you can get on that train.
4. Say hajimemashite! (hah-gee-may-mah-she-tay) with a smile when you meet your host at the station
It means “nice to meet you” and is a greeting used when you meet someone for the first time. Saying a greeting in Japanese might help to break the ice. Don’t worry if you pronounce the phrase incorrectly, it’s the thought that counts.
5. Refer to the host profile to strike a conversation
The walk from the station to your host’s home is your first opportunity to talk with your host. This might be a good time to refer to the host’s profile to strike a conversation so make sure to read the “Your Nagomi Visit booking is complete!” email you got from us before the Nagomi Visit.
6. Practice the art of taking off your shoes
You may already take off your shoes at the front door in your own home but give the Japanese-way a try. When you enter your host’s home, you may notice that the room’s floor level is higher than the entrance level. The trick is to try your best to place your feet on the floor level right after you take your shoes instead of the entrance level. It might be hard to balance yourself so placing your bags on the floor level before taking off your shoes will help. If your host happens to have slippers prepared, then slip them on. Some travel guides talk about bare feet not being acceptable unless you are a close friend but don’t worry too much about these sorts of details as you are hopefully going to become good friends with your host. What is important is to enter your host’s home with respect and clean feet!
7. Ask if your host needs help
Some hosts might feel it’s rude to have you help as you are their guest, but if you are interested in seeing how they are preparing the food, just ask and most likely your host will be delighted to share.
8. Bring some props to foster conversation
A few digital photos of your hometown, work, hobbies, or local cuisine will make for great conversation. Remember that the host really wants to get to know you so don’t be shy about sharing because that is what a Nagomi Visit is all about.
9. Say itadakimasu before you start eating
Before you start eating, your host will most likely signal you to say in unison, itadakimasu (ee-tah-dah-key-mahss) which means “thank you for the food.”
10. Remember a few rules of etiquette while eating
There is no specific order to eat
Unless you are eating a full course meal at a restaurant, most of the time there is no specific order in which you need to eat your food. Yes sometimes it might be better to try more flavorful or fattier foods last but this has more to do with keeping your taste buds sensitive to the distinct flavors than etiquette. Another example might be when you are making food at the table which happens a lot in Japanese cuisine, like hot pot for instance. The order in which you put the various ingredients has more to do with starting with the ones that take more time to cook. However, the one exception is the shime or finish. Rice or noodles always usually goes in last in the remaining broth so you can fully enjoy the amazing bowl of umami flavor.
Pick up your bowl to eat
If your host has prepared rice and miso soup, remember to try and pick those bowls up with one hand and eat with your chopsticks in the other hand. Sipping is okay when it comes to miso soup but when eating rice, use the chopsticks to bring the rice towards your mouth. Don’t worry too much because the rice will be sticky enough for this to be surprisingly easy. Don’t pick up the other plates or bowls.
A lot of guides say not to take food from the communal plate with your own chopsticks but this actually depends on the host so just ask. You can also tell if they have serving utensils already prepared. If you want to try an advance way, then flip your chopsticks around and try using the top end to pick up the food from the communal plates.
Yes you may have read somewhere to not pass food from chopstick to chopstick, and to not stick your chopsticks upright in your bowl of rice, but don’t get too stressed out with all the rules. Just Hungry has a great post about the details so if you want to learn more, read through everything before your Nagomi Visit. Just remember, the visit itself is a time of learning too so the host won’t be offended if you make any mistakes. Just do your best.
11.Slip in this one Japanese word while eating
Just remember, oishii (oy-she)! If you think something is delicious, just say it.
12. Say gochiso-sama deshita once everyone has finished eating
When you see that everyone is full and has stopped eating, saying gochiso-sama deshita (goh-chee-soh-sah-mah-day-shee-tah) and for the advanced, adding a oishi katta desu to express how delicious the food was will make your host smile!
13. Gifts are of course great but not a requirement
You probably read somewhere in your guide that gift-giving is important in Japanese culture and although that is true, remember on a Nagomi Visit none of our hosts are expecting you to shower them with gifts. They are excited to meet you so your stories and your photos are already a gift. However that said, if you do want to bring a gift, though there are certain rules of etiquette you may have heard of such as chrysanthemum are only for funerals, on a Nagomi Visit it is more important that you put extra thought into the gift so don’t worry so much about offending your host. Any treats from your hometown, or you may think of something that your host might like after reading their profile.
14. Don’t hesitate to ask questions
Your Nagomi Visit is your chance to ask questions. Jot down all your observations or questions if you know you will forget. They may not know the answer but it will always be a good conversation starter and you both might learn something from the experience.
15. Have fun
This one is a no-brainer but wanted to remind you just in case. Yes, etiquette is always good but coming to the Nagomi Visit ready to communicate, listen, and share is probably more important so get ready and have fun!
If you ever have any questions or concerns feel free to contact your host or the Nagomi Visit team anytime!
Next month on October 25th Nagomi Visit’s founder and CEO will be a panelist speaking about cultural exchange in an event sponsored by Minato City, one of the most international wards in central Tokyo.
With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics coming up and the Japanese government’s plan to double the number of annual tourist coming to Japan to 20 million, Nagomi Visit is seen as a crucial component in bringing understanding between Japan and the world.
More information in English can be found in the Minato Monthly newsletter. For details in Japanese check out the Minato City website.
Matsumoto is Nagomi Visit’s third most popular area, especially being in close proximity to the Japanese Alps, Hakuba, and Shirakawago.
What are things to do in Matsumoto? We asked our Matsumoto hosts their favorite spots in their hometown.
1. Daio Wasabi Farm
This a great place for Nagomi Visit foodies who really want to know what real wasabi looks and tastes like. It is far from the green mound of goop you may have seen in restaurants. It is the real thing and it tastes fresh. Oh, and you can buy some too.
If you are adventurous ask where you can get wasabi leaves. They have fresh ones on sale but if you aren’t able to cook the leaves then find pickled ones to try in the shop.
2. Nawate-dori Street
On a Nagomi Visit you will be able to experience what a modern residential or shopping street is like on your way to your host’s home so going to Nawate-dori Street would be a great way to find out what Japan was like in another era with it's retro buildings. For those interested in architecture, this is a great place for inspiration. Make sure to keep an eye out for details like the retro fonts on shop signs.
Going to a local temple or shrine is a definite must for those going on a Nagomi Visit and Tokoji Temple would be a great place to start. You will finally be able to experience the true serenity you should feel when visiting a temple without all the tourist crowds. Make sure to look for the giant orange geta sandals for a moment of prayer.
4. Japanese Alps
Don’t forget to look up and see the Japanese Alps in the backdrop. You may be on the way to the Alps but just imagine yourself surrounded by rice fields visiting your Nagomi Visit host’s home and seeing the mountains. It can’t get more local than that.
5. Matsumoto Castle
Being one of the most recommended castles in Japan, there is no reason not to miss this beautiful landmark. For those going on a Nagomi Visit in Matsumoto during the spring and fall, the spring cherry blossoms and the fall foliage is a must.
Here are 8 ways to travel like a local in Japan, Nagomi Visit-style.
1. Take the trains
Yes, there are taxis in Japan but the train is not only convenient, on time, but safe. It might be intimidating at first especially when trying to navigate but your Nagomi Visit host or the team can help with directions so not to worry. Of course a friendly train conductor or fellow commuter will sure to be able to assist. Once you get on the right trains it is time to start people watching! As a Nagomi Visit guest you have the opportunity to ask questions directly to the locals themselves so make sure to share your observations with your host and maybe you might gain a bit of insight into Japanese culture.
2. Walk around residential areas
You will for sure do this if you go on a Nagomi Visit but make sure to pay attention while you are walking to your host’s place. You might spot a hidden gem like a small temple or shrine.
3. Learn a few Japanese words
No one is expecting you to be fluent. Just a few friendly words will go a long way like a simple thank you, Arigato gozaimasu. For a Nagomi Visitor, add on a few like hajimemashite (nice to meet you), when you are meeting your host for the first time at the station. Or oishii desu to say the food is delicious or gochiso sama deshita (thank you for the meal) after you have finished eating.
4. Go to a neighborhood supermarket
You will get to see the real world of Japanese food beyond sushi, tempura, yakitori, and ramen. Ask your Nagomi Visit host if you can stop by a nearby by supermarket with them before or after your visit. This is a great way to see a slice of Japanese life and of course to learn more about real Japanese food.
5. Go to the corner convenient store
A convenient store is also a fun place to visit before or after a Nagomi Visit. This is especially true if you were lost in the aisles in your previous visit there. Now your host might be able to explain to you what some things are so you will be less intimidated to try!
6. Make time to visit a small neighborhood event
Just ask your host if there is anything going on nearby and they may be able to direct you to something or have time to join you. Whether it is enjoying the cherry blossoms at a nearby park, or participating in a small local matsuri festival during the summer, you will be able to experience these very Japanese traditions without the tourist crowd.
7. Go sing at a local karaoke box
Even though you are not singing in front of a random audience like a karaoke bar, going into a karaoke box takes a little courage. If you happen to have some karaoke loving hosts they might be able to guide you through the process and maybe even teach you some Japanese songs.
8. Visit places besides Tokyo or Kyoto
Tokyo and Kyoto are not to be missed of course but if you really want to get to know Japan make sure to visit other areas. Remember there are Nagomi Visit hosts in various parts of Japan. Recent popular areas include Matsumoto or Nagano which is near Hakuba, and Hiroshima. Make sure to check out the Nagomi Visit host map.
The answer is, all over Japan. The pull down menu on the booking page will show you all the areas Nagomi Visit hosts are available.
The following map which is linked under the pull down menu on the same booking page will help to see the locations visually. Some popular destinations are Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, areas close to Hakuba-mura such as Matsumoto and Nagano, Hiroshima, and more. The Nagomi family keeps on growing every day so make sure to keep on checking the list!
A nice long feature article was written about Nagomi Visit in today’s (August 13th, 2014) Mainichi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest newspapers. What was amazing about the article was not only was it very long and extremely noticeable to those reading the newspaper today since it filled half a page with color pictures, but the hosts and guests interview quotes that were include in the article really explained how Nagomi Visit is about creating a sense of connection between people beyond all the cultural difference you see on the surface.
The guests in the interview mentions how although on the surface we may look different, when you are given the opportunity to really sit down and eat together, you start to understand that all of us regardless of what country we are from are essentially part of the same human race.
The hosts in the interview also talk about how great an opportunity Nagomi Visit is in that it allows them to realize there is a whole world out there of interesting people and since for many it is their chance to hone their language skills, it gives many the confidence they need to communicate in this global world we live in.
Arigato Mainichi Shimbun for this amazing article.
Here is the English translation that Mainichi Shimbun provided. Unfortunately I think the translator was pressed for time so the writing is a bit on the dry side so the tone of the article is lost but it does give you a general idea of what the article was about. Those interested in reading the article in Japanese, here is a screenshot of the easier to read online version.
Not to worry. Here is a brief recap!
The BBC travel show that features Nagomi Visit starts off by talking about how traditional Japanese food recently got UNESCO heritage status and begins to share a little about Japanese food joints that locals go to. This is sort of a segue that leads to the part about Nagomi Visit. “It is not quite the same as eating at a real Japanese home” the TV presenter tells the viewer.
Though it seems like only people in the UK can see the whole 30 min show online on the BBC iPlayer website unless you have BBC World at home, but fortunately there is a 5 min clip which pretty much covers the whole Nagomi Visit part so you are in luck!
What was great about this coverage was that though brief, you can visually understand how a Nagomi Visit works from start to finish.
The Chief Operating Officer of Nagomi Visit was also there to talk a bit about what Nagomi Visit is all about.
Here are just a few fun behind the scenes photos. Though a few were a bit nervous, everyone was excited for sure!
Arigato again for this wonderful experience but the excitement actually doesn't stop here! More good news is to come within a few short weeks :)
On April 19th 2014 03:30 GMT, Nagomi Visit will be on BBC World News The Travel Show.
Check out their website for a preview of the show or click here to see TV Schedules so you can set your DVRs or watch!
You will see Nagomi Visit already featured in their online clip starting from 1 minute 48 seconds to the end of the clip.
It is hard not to do the cliché thing and get overwhelmingly excited about this and to want to thank everyone involved in making this happen. But more than ever, it is moments like these that allow us to remember all those friends, family, hosts, and guests who believed in us from the beginning. We would not be here without you.
Arigato and be sure to check out the full 30 mins of the show on TV or once it's online :)
This is an ongoing list of places we think are good alternatives to go shopping for souvenirs who are looking for something a bit different than obvious answers like Kappabashi Street, though we do like Kama Asa Shoten.
1. Wise Wise Tools (Mid Town, Roppongi Station)
At Wise Wise Tools, you will find traditional dinner and kitchenware in their store in Mid Town Galleria 3F in Roppongi. There are other stores on the same floor that sell traditional Japanese items of various price ranges so be sure to check the area out. Though there will be a few things where you would be too scared to check the price tag such as inside The Cover Nippon, at least you will be away from anything kitsch. Don't forget the other floors too like the basement where you will find Sake shop Fukumitsuya, Toraya, and Kayanoya where are food places for a foodie since you will be able to buy great sake, confectioneries, and good quality dashi stock.
At the D47 Design Travel Store on the 8th floor of the Hikarie building in Shibuya, you will find food, dinnerware, kitchenware from all 47 prefectures in Japan. The store is small so make sure to also check out the 5th floor where you will find U.Q. and CLASKA Gallery & Shop "DO" on the 4th floor for more household goods, and the basement floors of the Hikarie building where there is a upscale Meidi-ya supermarket. Another place to check out while you are in the Shibuya area would be Tokyu Foodshow also near the JR Shibuya Station where you will find a great supermarket in the basement where you might be able to grab some groceries like gourmet soy sauces, miso paste, and more. On the same floor is Wayoshu where they sell sake, and for those who are looking for good mirin, here is your place.
At Kitte just outside of Tokyo Station you will find many stores such as Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten, CLASKA Gallery & Shop "DO" among other places on the 4th floor that sell a variety of household goods that put a modern twist to traditional Japanese kitchenware and more. There are also other recommended stores such as Floyd on the 3rd floor, Spiral Market on the 1st floor and confectionery stores on the first and basement.
Near 2k540, a line of boutiques under railway tracks, you will find Chabara Aki-oka Marche, a whole store dedicated to featuring foods from all over Japan.
5. Katakana (Jiyugaoka Station)
Katakana is not exactly a place to find foodie related stuff but if you like home accessories, design, this is a fun place to check out too. Plus the neighborhood is one step outside of your typical tourist route and into residential areas so it's a nice place to explore. Don't forget to stop by the many confectionery stores you will see on the streets like Feve near the station.