Experience a Japanese Hagi Homestay with G Adventures

Japan is on many Silver Travellers’ Holiday Wish List, a country that offers spectacular scenery, exotic food and fascinating culture. But whilst there are many ways to tour its iconic sights, there is nothing quite like a homestay for getting under the skin of the country and its people.

Learning traditional skills at Hagi Homestay Enter Hagi Homestay Association, a meet-the-people tourism initiative organised through the Planeterra Foundation and now offered to international travellers through Silver Travel partner G Adventures. Shared experiences are always a priority when you travel with G Adventures, who specialise in small group tours, safaris and expeditions to more than 100 countries. And if you’re a solo traveller, you won’t be penalised either – single supplements simply don’t exist.

Hagi is a former castle town in the countryside of Yamaguchi Prefecture near the Sea of Japan coast. Capital of the powerful Mori Clan in the feudal age, Hagi has retained many of its traditional buildings, but the economic picture is bleak, the most famous local industry being the Hagiyaki Pottery. Around 50,000 people live in the town today, around half the population of the 1950s.

So the Hagi Homestay Association fulfils a vital local need. Most young people are moving away from rural areas to the city for work, which leaves an ageing society alone in traditional farming communities – not great for morale amongst the elderly, nor for economic growth.  ‘It is like we are becoming extinct,’ laments one elderly Hagi resident. 

Cookery lesson at Hagi Homestay But now Hagi Homestay is starting to make a difference by broadening the town’s tourism potential. Travellers can stay with 15 local farmers and other senior hosts who have been trained in English language skills, conversation aids for travellers, and everything they need to prepare them for welcoming Western guests. This training is provided by the Planeterra Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation which was established in 2003. As the non-profit partner of G Adventures, they fund and launch social enterprise projects designed for the tourist market.

Planeterra’s projects all fit into well-defined categories: Meals and Food, Tours and Experiences, Handicrafts, Accommodation, and Transportation. And for the Hagi Homestay project, they are working closely with the Hagi Green Hometown Tourism Association. In 2019, G Adventures brought their first travellers here to stay with Japanese farmers, experience the community and culture, and thus support elderly local people.

Hagi Community Homestay Cycling Tour courtesy of G Adventures A two-night Hagi Homestay experience features as part of G Adventures’ 11-day Back Roads of Japan tour from Tokyo to Kyoto. The small group arrives in time for a welcome ceremony from local residents and the chance to get to know their host family over dinner.

Next day, they explore rural Hagi on a guided morning cycle tour that includes examples of samurai architecture along the way. Then there’s free time to wander the quaint narrow streets and perhaps visit some of the beautiful old samurai and merchant residences that are open to the public. Spend late afternoon and dinner with your host family, before moving on after breakfast next morning.

For both guests and hosts, it can be an emotional parting. Guests are fascinated to find out about Japanese cooking and ingredients, customs, culture and lifestyle, whilst the Hagi hosts are equally interested to learn about Western equivalents. Want to master a favourite Japanese dish? Your host might teach you. Fascinated by local handicrafts or agriculture? Now’s your chance to see local people at work.  

Local costumes are very popular at Hagi Homestay The unique insight afforded to homestay travellers is easy to understand, but how do Hagi’s Silver generation benefit? Far more than you might imagine. Quite apart from an increased sense of happiness and purpose, Hagi’s older residents become more active themselves as they interact with their guests. They can see income coming in for the Hagi Ageing Homestay Association and for local businesses. And, a real bonus, by generating new economic opportunities, they now have hope that the next generation will choose to stay in their rural community and buck the current trend.    

‘I believe we can see many different worlds if we observe from perspectives that are a bit different from what we are used to,’ says Hagi Homestay Coordinator Taki Miyazaki. Visit Hagi with G-Adventures and you can judge for yourself.

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Gillian Thornton

Travel writer

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