Couchsurfing in Japan

Meet local people, make new friends and share cultures

 By Amber Mezbourian   May 29, 2015

Japan has a reputation as an expensive destination to visit, and it’s true that you can easily end up quickly burning through your cash if you’re not careful. With an abundance of things to see, experience, eat and buy, you’ll never be short of tempting opportunities to spend your yen. For travellers on a budget, constantly worrying about money can threaten to spoil what would otherwise be the trip of a lifetime.

However, if your plans aren’t set in stone and you don’t mind being a bit more spontaneous, there is one easy way to dramatically reduce your expenses. Couchsurfing is a global phenomenon that can be described as a ‘hospitality exchange’ website. The premise is simple: you can host travellers in your own home and also stay as a guest in someone else’s home. No money changes hands as the whole experience is based on trust, with the aim of fostering cultural exchange and building friendships around the world.

All you need to do to get started is sign up on couchsurfing.com and create a profile. It’s essential that you fill this in comprehensively and honestly, so that potential hosts can get a good idea of what you’re like. If you have friends who are already Couchsurfing members, ask them to write you a positive reference. The more complete your profile, the more likely it is that your Couchsurfing requests will be accepted.

The next step is to search for hosts in the places you hope to visit. Although some hosts may be able to take last minute guests, it’s politer to give plenty of notice when you send requests. You’ll be staying in someone’s home, not a hotel, so you need to remember that their plans may suddenly change and flexibility is key. It’s a good idea to have a backup plan just in case things fall through – although hopefully that won’t happen!

There is no ‘typical’ Couchsurfing host in Japan. Members range from Japanese university students who want to practice their English, to people who used Couchsurfing when they travelled abroad and now want to return the favour. Many hosts are foreign nationals who are working or studying in Japan, so if you’re worried about the language barrier you can just as easily stay with someone from England or America as with a local. Some people may not be able to host you but are happy to meet up for a drink and to introduce you to the area.

In terms of location, there are a lot of Couchsurfing members in major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka. Don’t necessarily expect to stay in the city centre, as many people will live further out. Be aware that members in popular destinations are likely to receive requests on a regular basis, and may be too busy to host you. If this happens, it’s worth extending your search and perhaps staying in a nearby town, which will give you the opportunity to see somewhere you wouldn’t have otherwise visited.

My personal experience of Couchsurfing in Japan has been very positive. All of the hosts I’ve stayed with were very enthusiastic about Couchsurfing’s aims, and eager to share their culture. With politeness and hospitality a big part of the Japanese psyche, you’ll probably find your hosts will go over and above what is expected of them – be that by picking you up at the station, lending you their bike, showing you around or cooking you dinner. Although no payment is expected, it’s always a nice gesture to give your host a small gift as a thank you present, or offer to make dinner one evening.

Couchsurfing is a great way to meet new people and learn more about your host’s life and culture. As a tourist, you can sometimes feel as though you’re in a bubble, disconnected from the real world. Couchsurfing gives you the chance to escape from that bubble and perhaps have a more authentic experience. If you’re looking to make friends, see a different side to Japan, be adventurous and save some money in the process, this could be the ideal option for you.

Written by Amber Mezbourian
Japan Travel Member

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Jihad Mahmoud 4 months ago
I totally agree! Couchsurfing if used appropriately, can be one amazing experience.
Michael Beltrán 10 months ago
That's such an incredibly rich and authentic experience to have and an honest way of truly experiencing traveling abroad. I definitely would love to couch surf if I ever get the opportunity to do so.
Anne Lauenroth 2 years ago
I have very fond memories of couchsurfing in Japan two years ago. My friend and I stayed with five different hosts in Tokyo, Nara, Himeji and Hikone (three Japanese, two foreigners), and we got to experience things we would never have had the chance to experience by staying at hotels. The cultural exchange is the most important aspect, I believe, which is why we want to do it again this summer even though money is not of the same importance as it was last time. We are also looking forward to meeting up with the friends we've made two years ago. Couchsurfing is a great opportunity to experience Japan from a more authentic and less touristy perspective.
Amber Mezbourian Author 2 years ago
I'm glad you also had a good experience Couchsurfing! I hope that your trip this summer is equally enjoyable. :)
Justin Velgus 2 years ago
I like this idea better than airbrb. Airbrb has people renting out their apartments, houses, etc. for a short time. This is free but more importantly, as you mention, encourages a cultural exchange.
Amber Mezbourian Author 2 years ago
I haven't tried AirBnB yet, although I have friends who've had great experiences using it in Europe. As you say, it's really a different concept to Couchsurfing. Whilst I think AirBnB is probably great if you want the chance to stay somewhere a bit different to a hotel and perhaps self-cater your meals, the focus isn't so much on meeting people, whereas with Couchsurfing a big part of it is cultural exchange. True, the accommodation may be less luxurious (although you can check the sleeping arrangements on the website prior to contacting hosts), but you'll meet some new people and hopefully get more out of the experience than just a free roof for the night.
Rashaad Jorden 2 years ago
I wonder if CouchSurfing has become more popular in Japan. When I lived in Yamagata Prefecture (July 2008 - July 2010), I got the impression that only foreigners or westernized Japanese people were on the site. I hosted four solo travelers and two couples in Japan and I had wonderful times (I often took my guests to the local onsen and Mount Haguro). I also stayed at a couple's place in Fukuoka through CouchSurfing. Although I have issues with the management of the site, I do hope more Japanese are using it.
Amber Mezbourian Author 2 years ago
I Couchsurfed with about seven hosts on various occasions in Japan, a mix of foreign residents and locals, and hosted once. It's perhaps still not as popular as in other countries (for example when I visited Taiwan I posted a public message on Couchsurfing giving the dates I'd be there and was inundated with messages from people offering to host me or show me around; Couchsurfing is really big over there!), but it's definitely possible to Couchsurf for a good portion of a 2/3 week trip to Japan. A friend of mine managed two weeks without paying for any accommodation, which is amazing when you consider what a large proportion of a travel budget is normally spent on hotels. And I think that the more people who use it, have a good experience and then spread the word, the more popular it'll get. So, everyone should give it a go. :)