Getting the Most out of a Visit from Home

Living in Japan, especially in a central city like Hikone, puts you in a good position to travel. It’s a well-connected area, and studying abroad there gives you a good opportunity to see the country. It’s also a good opportunity for people in your life to spend their vacation abroad with you, their on-demand tour guide.

It can be a lot of fun to show friends and family around your adopted hometown, go on new adventures, and catch up on what’s going on back home. And as cool as Japan is, they’re really there to see you. However, it can also be draining to be a 24-hour translator, so here are some strategies to make the experience a good one.

A middle-aged couple stands together holding hands in front of an image of Hikonyan.
Make sure to introduce your folks to the local mascot!

First of all, both of you need to be involved in the planning process. Your friend may be tempted to let you make the plans, since you know Japan better; or you may be tempted to let them choose everything, since their time is more limited. Both are true, but you need to strike a compromise between them. Neither of you should feel dragged around by the other, and you should use the opportunity to see more than just old favorites.

Ask your visitor to come up with a list of things they want to do and see, and come up with some yourself. Then together, you should sort through the lists and pick out the activities you really want to pursue. Pay attention to location—you know Tokyo and Osaka are pretty far apart, but your mother who think ninjas are made-up might not. You may not be able to hit everything on the list, but that’s just another reason to make a return trip!

When you’re searching for accommodations, be aware of your group. Your parents may want to experience a traditional Japanese inn, but if you’re traveling on a budget with friends, a hostel can be a fun, affordable choice. It can be hard to book some places, especially if their site is all in Japanese, but there are also English websites that list a lot of properties. And when you make a reservation, see if you can find one close to a train line. You probably won’t have a rental car, like we’re used to while traveling in the states.

A sister and brother sit together on a rock, looking out over a winter garden.
Explore new places with family

Before your friend leaves on their adventure, it might be a good idea to give them a little bit of Japanese coaching. They will definitely be able to manage, due to the number of English signs and guidance in Japan, but it’ll help them feel a little less lost. Plus, just being able to say “arigatou” and “sumimasen” will go a long way. It’ll also take some of the burden of communication off of you.

Even if your visitor knows some Japanese, your study abroad experience means that you probably know more, and in many situations they will default to you. It feels cool at first to be their guide and translator, and it is good practice. But when every little interaction becomes your responsibility, you start to feel like a babysitter, except that the baby wants to know how much a beer costs and you’re trying to speak two languages at once.

If they don’t speak any Japanese, it’ll be easy to impress them with your skill. However, that may lead to them to make requests like “ask him what his tattoo means,” and you’re left explaining that you don’t know the word for “tattoo,” and that he may be in the yakuza. So, as hard as it is, there are times when you have to let go. You can say no to that elaborate conversation with a stranger. They can order their own ice cream by pointing at the picture. You’ll still be relied upon for important communications, but with a better balance, you’ll be more free to enjoy yourself.

An English and Japanese menu for a grilled chicken yakitori restaurant.
There’s often an English menu option

At the end of the day, and the end of the trip, you’ll mostly feel lucky that your friends or family were able to visit at all. With luck, you’ll be appreciating that more often than not, but even the best of friends can get snappy in a stressful situation like international travel. It’s okay to take a break from sightseeing to just spend time together and remember why you missed each other so much in the first place. It’s even okay to split up for a little while and have some time to yourself.

You aren’t a tour guide; you’re a friend, or a family member, or a partner, and you should get to relax during your vacation. If you’ve been studying abroad, it’s a welcome break from classes and homework. And, despite how exciting and unique traveling Japan is, the real point of these trips is to enjoy each other’s company.

By Bridget Hanchek

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