As a kid, I used to think that to travel to a country you've never been, you had to know someone who lived there. With the advent of Airbnb, you have someone with a home waiting for you in every country on the planet. Here's a trip so outstanding, I've documented it so others can follow the same journey.
8 day Airbnb sojourn through Japan
"What is the color of the wind?", my Airbnb host and monk, Hosan, asked. The following 'journey' is being packaged together so you can experience 'colorful wind' in Japan too.
I've often dreamed of getting lost in the countryside of Japan. When a holiday break provided travel time, I booked a last minute trip on a whim. Flights and Airbnb accommodation came just 2 days in advance.
Who is this for
This journey is particularly suited for those with adventurous spirits who wish to discover more of themselves. Solo travelers, or 2 people max (a couple or really close friends). You are ok with imperfect conditions and may have a budget. You have an interest in meditation, but don't have to be religious. This is not a manicured hotel experience.
What to expect
Expect to meet great Airbnb hosts – locals in Japan who enjoy sharing their culture, homes, and neighborhoods. During moments of the journey, expect to reflect at least once, "is this really happening?". Expect to come back with a deeper understanding of Japanese way of life, and the subway system.
What to pack & how to get there
I'll tell you at the end. Read about the experience first.
Day 1 – 4: Tokyo hospitality
Hospitality arrives in different forms. With this Airbnb listing, it takes the form of a couch. Your host is Ryu and his two roommates, Shintaro and Kentaro. They are aspiring tech entrepreneurs, sharing an authentic Tokyo style apartment (note small by American standards) near the Shinagawa district of Tokyo. The shared space means there is a great deal of social interaction. You're sleeping in the living room. He'll provide a key, sheets, and fresh towels. That's nothing compared to the local insight Ryu and his roommates bestow to their guests. If you're lucky you'll get to meet Ryu's friends like Junya, Hinako, Yui, and Akinori.
Day 1 – 4 details
Listing: www.airbnb.com/rooms/847412 (offline)
Accommodation: Sofa bed
Cost: $71/night (3 nights, $233)
I happened to be there on New Year's Eve so Ryu took us to his local temple to ring the traditional bell 108 times. We then ate miso soup and drew sticks to see our fortunes for the new year. Tokyo is full of events around the year - ask Ryu if anything is going on before you book.
Ryu has an interest in design related things, so we went and checked out The Moriyama House. During the day we explored stores and cafes around Tokyo. Some are totally hidden from the street. Without Ryu I would've walked right by them. Here's a couple of the top places that I recommend:
Loopwheeler. World famous hoodies, made from a machine that exists only in Japan.
Papier Labo. Stationary store meets funky art gallery. It's about the size of a bedroom. Must see. Across the street from Loopwheeler.
Onitsuka Tiger. A Japanese original for shoes, jackets, shirts.
Isetan. A department store with 7 floors of menswear.
Bunbougu. Cafe with membership. Delicious coffee, and all kinds of Japanese pens with stationary.
Lift Etage. Far out fashion. If anything, go to check out the interior design.
Muji. They have a Muji designed pre-fabricated house inside the store worth seeing.
How to get there
Fly into Tokyo's Narita Airport (NRT).
In the airport, near the arrivals lobby is a counter to purchase train tickets to Tokyo. Ask for the 'Narita Express'. Take the Narita Express train from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station. Transfer to the 'JR Yamanote Line' and get off at the Meguro station. Transfer to a different train on the 'Tokyo Meguro Line' and get off at Fudomae station. Ryu will meet you there, and walk you to his Airbnb.
Day 4 – 8: A Monk & His Mom
Imagine waking up to the sound of trees rustling in the wind and birds singing to the sunrise. As you lay in bed, your fingers feel the reeds of the tatami mat underneath your futon, and your eyes gain focus on unidentified Japanese calligraphy across the room. The sound of footsteps passes through the hallway outside your door and you know it's time to join your host, Hosan, in the temple for a hour of silent meditation. Welcome to "Zen Retreat - Buddhist Temple, Oita".
To balance the city life, the journey took a turn to a more scenic place: the outskirts of Oita. This sleepy, industrial city on the southern coast of Japan is a short plane ride from Tokyo. About 30 minutes outside of Oita is a Buddhist temple run by a monk named Hosan. This guy will change your life. And if he doesn't, his 94 year old mother will. Together, these hosts provide the most Japanese experience one could hope for.
Your morning begins at 5:30am in the shrine area of the temple. Do not be late. Hosan will provide a place for you to sit on the tatami mat. The next 30 mins is something I won't give away, but rather you have to experience first hand. Then, at 6:00am you sit in silence, the sun isn't even up yet. The day wakes up with you as birds begin to chrip and light floats through the transparent panels of the Japanese walls.
There is no breakfast at the Zen temple. Instead the next meal is lunch, prepared by his mom at 12:00pm. The afternoon will be filled with activities. Or not. The beach is 5 mins away. There are mountain trails. There is a store in the village filled with all kinds of oddities. You can watch Korean soap operas with his mom during the day, or check your email over their wifi (you won't want to get on computers once you're here). Be sure to take a walk into the orange tree grove, and explore the wooded paths behind the pond and graveyard.
There is plenty of time to explore the mountain trails, the beach, or relax and read. Hosan may go meet with friends. Go with him. He can bring you inside temples that the public don't have access to. He will show you the customs.
If you've never been to a traditional Japanese bath, now is your chance. There are separate mens and women's baths. Going with Hosan I was able to see how it all worked an not make a fool of myself. For women, just ask Hosan the customs so you can know what to do.
Ask Hosan about the ancient ruins. If he's available, he may drive you out to them.
Hosan teaches and believes in the Nishi Health System. You will eat some of the most authentic, healthiest food in his kitchen. His mom prepares the best soba noodles, tempura, diakon, fish. Each night was feast of nutritious proportions. Dinner is at 6 or 7pm. After that the night is free, though you will probably want to go to bed earlier than in your normal life.
How to get there
Take a short 1 hour flight from Haneda Airport (HND) to Oita Airport (OIT). You can book on Japan Airlines or ANA. It'll cost about $500.
After exiting baggage claim, look for the bus counter. Buy a roundtrip ticket to Oita Station. This is the bus and train station in downtown Oita. The bus takes exactly 1 hour.
Once at Oita Station, walk from the bus area to the train station. Purchase a ticket from the kiosk to Kiosaki Station. Grab a delicious pastry in the terminal area before you board. It takes about another 20 minutes on the train. Once at Kiosaki, Hosan will be waiting to pick you up.
On the return, make sure you have your bus ticket. Check the train and bus times with Hosan. From Oita Airport, you'll fly back to Haneda. From Haneda, transfer to Narita Airport (2 hours). Here's the play-by-play.
Temple [car] – Kozaki Station (20 mins)
Kozaki Station [train] – Oita Station (30 mins)
Oita Station [bus] - Oita Airport (60 mins)
Oita Airport [plane] – Haneda Airport (90 mins)
Haneda Airport [train] – Narita Airport (120 mins)
What to pack
* Rent a wifi device at the Narita Airport. It's 1000 yen/day and worth it if you have a smart phone, laptop or tablet.
* Bath towel
* Sleeping bag (winter)
* Warm clothes (winter)
* Walking shoes
* Pants / t-shirts
* Ski hat (winter)
* Gloves (winter)
* Thermal underwear (winter)
* Credit card
* Power adapter (US plugs work fine in Japan)
· Pen & sketchbook/journal. You may be inspired to write/draw
This proved to be quite meaningful trip for me, powered by the people on Airbnb. I hope you get to experience these thoughtful hosts and see things about Japan you didn't even know existed. You don't have to spend weeks (or months) setting up a homestay. The entire thing was booked 48 hours in advance. So....what color is the wind?
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