Said Marilena, who has 18 years of experience running a host family and lives there with her husband and son.
She started the host family when her son was just 3-years old, and she has been enjoying interacting with guests from a wide variety of countries.
One reason we would recommend Marilena’s home is the Japanese-style rooms where you can get a glimpse of the local Japanese way of life.
It is perfect for people who are from outside Japan and want to try sleeping on a futon in a traditional Japanese tatami room. It is also ideal for anyone who wants to lie down and stretch out their arms and legs in a Japanese-style room.
The first floor is dedicated to the guests and there are two guest rooms with a size of about 10 tatami mats each. The interior of both rooms has only recently been renovated, and with Marilena’s cleaning they are really spick and span.
On the same floor, there is a toilet, sink, and mini kitchen for guests only, so guests can have a comfortable stay like at a vacation rental while enjoying doing a homestay.
On the 2nd floor, where Marilena and her family stay, there is a living room and bath that are shared between hosts and guests. Guests are welcome to make themselves at home in the living room and have a chat with Marilena and her family.
Comfortable guest room with brand-new tatami mats
Mini kitchen with a refrigerator and microwave oven for guests only
Marilena’s home is in a location approximately one hour by train from Tokyo. It is hugely popular not only with guests visiting the center of Tokyo, but also those going to Hakone, Kamakura, and Enoshima.
Marilena: Last year (2018), we submitted our notification for offering private lodging, and we have been visited by many people. We already have bookings for the period of the Tokyo Olympics in July next year (2020).
We have some repeat customers who book again and again because they like the tatami rooms. With the country’s inbound policy, the number of tourists visiting Japan has rapidly increased, and we are keenly aware that the age has changed.
What is the most common type of guests?
Marilena: There are truly a wide variety of nationalities.
Those visiting to stay overnight are mostly foreign couples or groups of friends who want to experience a Japanese tatami room or a futon while sightseeing in Hakone, Kamakura, and Enoshima. Some of our foreign guests stay with us to visit their families living in this area. Maybe 10% of the guests are Japanese.
In the last few days of Golden Week, a foreign couple working in Japan came to us saying that, ”We were tired from working in the city and wanted to relax”.
This is an area one hour from the city where you can travel around and feel as if you are on vacation. Although it is not a sightseeing spot, it is chosen as where you can experience a local stay in a quiet and peaceful location.
Japanese doll displayed in the guest room
What was the trigger for you starting a host family?
Marilena: The first trigger was that responding to a call for volunteers for a sister-city exchange program run by the city I’m living in, we welcomed a family from America to stay with us for one week during the summer holidays. The program involved participating in a summer festival while staying in a regular local home.
Following that, we had some Australian exchange students from a sister university of a Japanese university located in this city.
Why did you decide to start a host family?
Marilena: One reason is that when I experienced a homestay in the London suburbs during my student days, my host mother and host father were very good to me.
Later, when I myself got married and had a family, I first realized how magnificent Moy and Peggy were to welcome in a girl from far-East Asia. Unlike now, at the time there was the image of black-haired, black-eyed Asians, and it was an age in which some people were blatantly racist.
I would like to thank them now, but it is too late. Instead, I started to think that I would like to welcome people who love Japan, and are interested in learning about Japanese culture and learning Japanese, so that they will go home with a good impression of Japan, thinking “I am really glad I came”.
The second reason was that I wanted to show my son some people who had turned their attention to countries other than their own.
I wanted to turn his eyes towards “people who had entered the homes of Japanese people and were experiencing the Japanese lifestyle in a country different from their own”. By placing this experience of living with others in his drawer, I thought it would be useful as something he could call upon later in life.
Were you anxious at all before starting a host family?
Marilena: Not really, as I had experience of being in a homestay. The hardest part may have been persuading my family (lol).
When becoming a host myself, I first wanted to see and experience things from the perspective of a guest, so I discussed the situation with several host families who were running homestays like us, and shared information with them before having people to stay.
Actively taking onboard requests from her guests, Marilena has placed a refrigerator, microwave oven and electric kettle in the mini kitchen, as well as offering the use of two bicycles free of charge.
She has continued to enthusiastically make improvements, changing the lock on the door of the entrance, that had been difficult to open, with a key-less pin number entry system.
Explore the neighborhood with these bicycles, which you can use free of charge
Are there any memorable guests or episodes that you can recall?
Marilena: At the end of one year, we had a Taiwanese couple to stay. She was living in Germany and he was living in New York, so they were conducting a long-distance romance and meeting in our house.
I thought it was a little strange when they arrived separately, but when I heard they were meeting up at our home, I felt a sense of panic, thinking “they are meeting after such a long time. Is our house romantic enough for that moment?” (lol).
That couple stayed for four nights over the new year and left a very nice review stating that “the tatami room was really good!”.
Recently, an American man whose Japanese girlfriend was living in this city came to stay for about a week and we talked a lot about how he had met her as well as some other things.
On the final night of his stay, he said “Today, I am really nervous”. When I asked why, he confessed to me that “Today, I am going to propose to her”. It was like I was witnessing a movie scene.This made me feel happy as well, and it was one of those surprise encounters you have as a host.
So you have a lot of repeat customers?
Marilena: Yes, there are a lot. In particular, when an Australian couple visited, while talking my son mentioned that he was planning to go to Australia for a working holiday. They suggested that they meet again, and they picked my son up from the airport, helped him open his own bank account, and invited him to their home. He is now a part of their family too.
Enjoy your stay in a Japanese room!
Marilena: Japanese rooms, made out of natural paper and wood, are different from the western-style rooms you will find in a hotel. The glass and tatami, built in a way that draws on the wisdom of our ancestors for dealing with the climate in Japan, creates a space where you can truly relax.
There are fewer and fewer rooms made with the traditional tatami, with which Japanese people have lived since ancient times, so please take this opportunity to enjoy staying in our Japanese rooms, just as you stay with your own family.
I am really looking forward to your visit!
Marilena:Through NiaHomes, I have been able to return to the way I originally felt when starting a host family and want to invite more people to stay. I am really looking forward to your visit!