Couchsurfing Japan: On Experiencing Incredible Generosity

November 25, 2013
Couchsurfing Japan: Experiencing Shoji's Generosity

It was almost midnight when we exited the subway and turned left. As our instructions directed, we set off down the dark suburban street in Kyoto.

“So we have to walk this way for 10 minutes, until we pass a 7/11 and then the house will be on our left,” I said.

“Do they mean 10 minutes of normal walking or the kind of walking you do when you’re loaded down with 20 kilograms of luggage?” questioned my husband, Amit.

Couchsurfing Japan: Experiencing Shoji's Generosity

We were on our way to the infamous Couchsurfing house. I’d found the host, Shoji while searching for hosts in Kyoto, knowing that our bank accounts would be much happier if our trip to Japan didn’t include paying for regular accommodation. Over the past six years, Shoji has hosted thousands of travellers from all over the world in a house dedicated for Couchsurfing Japan. Shoji’s profile has hundreds of testimonials saying what an incredible person he is. Many raved that he opened up an entire house to cash-strapped travellers, so I requested to stay, and Shoji accepted.

The problem was, the Couchsurfing house was not so easy to find. I’d neglected to print out the map Shoji had sent with directions.

We walked hesitantly along the sidewalk, stopping at each intersection wondering if we should go on, until we rounded a bend to find the glowing fluorescent lights of 7/11. We hurried inside to buy some supplies, and took the opportunity to ask for help with directions. Japan has an unusual address system.  They go by block numbers rather than street names. Even Japanese people take a few minutes (often 10) to interpret addresses, so we really didn’t stand a chance.

Couchsurfing Japan: On Experiencing Incredible Generosity

The 7/11 cashier asked us to wait a moment, and from a back room, the manager appeared and guided us outside without hesitation. After a short walk he pointed at a dark house, and as we looked closer we saw the joyous Couchsurfing sticker stuck to the mailbox.

After thanking the 7/11 manager with smiles, “arigattou” and polite low bows, he returned to his midnight post while we discovered that the house that had welcomed thousands before us was reluctant to let us in. A set of keys were stuck under the mailbox, but a complicated double-lock left us bewildered. After a prolonged struggle, we were finally inside.

We removed our shoes at the entrance as is done in every Japanese home, and juggled our luggage through the second sliding door and into the kitchen.

That’s when the house started talking to us.

“Please empty the bin each day.”

For two cash-strapped backpackers,Couchsurfing Japan was our best option. The experiences we had in Kyoto reaffirmed that Couchsurfing was a great choice.

“This is the best bus to take the train station”

Every single inch of the walls were covered with thousands of messages and drawings from Couchsurfers. The travelers wer from all corners of the world. Instructions were the minority though. Most of the writing contained messages of thanks.

“We cannot thank you enough Shoji for opening up this house–you embody the Couchsurfing spirit!”

“We love Kyoto! The Fushimi Inari Shrine was our favorite! Shoji is the best!”

We spent four nights in the house with talking walls, and met a number of fellow Couchsurfers over the days. One evening, Shoji arrived.  He was a man in his 50s with a wide smile and broken English. I was amazed by his generous spirit, as he told us his story. He works five jobs and his main occupation is real estate. Which explained how he ended up with an empty house.

Instead of renting it, he decided that he loved the Couchsurfing community so much that he would turn it into a house solely for travellers. He just asks everyone to place a donation in a jar to help cover the utilities and rates, along with keeping the place clean.

He just asks everyone to place a donation in a jar to help cover the utilities and rates, along with keeping the place clean.

Couchsurfing Japan: Experiencing Shoji's Generosity
Biking next to deer in Nara

Over our four days in Kyoto we explored some of Kyoto’s hundreds of temples. Our favourites were the scenic temple on the hill, Kiyomizu, and of course the Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavillion. We also loved visiting the ancient capital of Japan, Nara, located an hour from Kyoto by train. We cycled amongst the wild deer and visited the amazing giant buddha housed in the largest wooden building in the world.

Coming home to the Couchsurfing house each night after hours of walking was always an adventure and a reminder of the wonderful generosity there is to be found in the Couchsurfing community, and in Japan.

Jo Savill is an Australian living in Tel Aviv with her Israeli husband. An avid traveler, she is the community manager for CasaVersa home exchange, a new website that helps you swap your home for vacation. Couchsurfing Japan: Experiencing Shoji’s Generosity photo credits Jo Saville. 

Have traveled to Japan? How was your trip? Email us to at [email protected] for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you. Top photo by Pixabay.

About Jo Savill

4 thoughts on “Couchsurfing Japan: On Experiencing Incredible Generosity

  1. April 28, 2015

    I notice quite a number of Shoji’s couchsurfing profile. May i know which Shoji?

  2. April 19, 2014

    Hi Martino, It was a great experience. The only way to participate in Couchsurfing, and to stay at Shoji’s couchsurfing house, is to join the Couchsurfing community – There’s instructions there on how to create your profile and to request places to stay. I hope you enjoy participating in the community, it’s a great way to travel.

    We had a great time couchsurfing in Japan – we met great people and it allowed us to travel cheaply in a place where accommodation can be frightfully expensive! –Jo

  3. martino
    April 13, 2014

    SOUNDS AMAZING! i’m going to kyoto next week!
    do you have shoji’s address or anthyting to track him?
    thank you martino

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