The largest city in the world, with a population of more than 37 million in its greater metropolitan area, Tokyo is filled with boundless possibilities.
The Japanese capital thrums night and day in the central areas around Shibuya and Shinjuku, although the Imperial Palace Gardens and the hip area of Kichijoji offer a calmer alternative to the at times relentless pace.
A homestay is the ideal way to see some of Tokyo’s underexplored neighbourhoods and quieter back streets. Toshiro and Tanya’s home, in Setagaya, is just a 15-minute bus ride from the buzz of Shibuya, but in a residential area that few tourists visit.
For those who want to be in the middle of the action, Kumi’s downtown apartment is perfect. There’s easy access to Asakusa and Ueno, with subway stops within easy walking distance. The private room is in the traditional style, with a futon and tatami mats.
Homestay hosts Toshiro and Tanya
In the mountains
Japan isn’t just about neon-lit cities and endless skyscrapers. The mountains north of Tokyo offer the perfect escape for those who want fresh air and beautiful countryside to go along with a fun city break.
Mai’s home in Kobuchizawa sleeps three in one family room. There’s a beautiful art village that’s well worth exploring, plus the chance to pull on your hiking boots and take a stroll through the nearby forests and mountains.
Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, is home to the country’s most beautiful temples, with 2000 Buddhist and Shinto shrines dotted throughout the city.
Kiyomizu-dera, with its wooden veranda, and the gold leaf Kinkaku-ji, are must-sees. But it’s also worth taking time to explore some of the less popular places of worship.
That’s where Sassa’s home, just outside of the centre of the city, comes in. As well as being close to Kinkaku-ji, guests can wander to the beautiful Kamigamo-jinja and Ryoanji temples. The host even offers traditional tea ceremonies and sushi rolling classes on request.
Those who prefer being in the heart of Kyoto should head for Michi’s in Okazaki, an area international visitors often overlook. Recently refurbished, guests have their own floor to make their own. The Hosomi Museum and stunning Daimonji temple are both close by.
Surrounded by mountains and criss-crossed by busy highways, Osaka is the futuristic Japan that so often captures the imagination. Dotonbori, with its neon signs and basement bars, is everyone’s first stop. The food in this area is legendary, from stand-up ramen joints to top-notch okonomiyaki and takoyaki spots along the main drag.
Culture buffs should head for Osaka Castle and the surprisingly fascinating Museum of Housing and Living, which recreates the look and feel of the city’s old streets.
Nakano’s house has space for six adults and is just a quick train ride south of the bustling downtown area. There’s free bike hire for exploring the local area, as well as a kitchen for cooking a quick bite before heading out to indulge in Osaka’s legendary nightlife.