Tatami Surfing: A timeshare by JETs for JETs!

This article originally featured in the November 2019 issue of Connect.

Abbie Philpott (Nagasaki) and Monica Aguilar-Scion (Okinawa)

Have you ever wanted to travel through Japan and around the world without spending anything on lodging? Although Japan is in Asia, usually known for cheap accommodation, it is one of the most expensive Asian countries to travel in. This is where Tatami Timeshare comes in to help with free lodging! As in, completely free! An added bonus of choosing this type of lodging is that you are able to get very localised recommendations straight from the horse’s mouth. If this sounds appealing to you, you need look no further than the AJET’s Tatami Timeshare, or TT for short.

The catch is that you must also be willing to put your place up on the Tatami Timeshare Google Map, state how many people you can accommodate and your living situation. Additionally, it’s helpful to include transport options—more on that later. You must also be a current or former JET Program participant. If you are a little nervous about couch-surfing in Japan, you can feel a little more reassured that all participants have been vetted by the JET Program, and thus have gone through various security checks. After you’ve added your pin on the map, you’re ready to go tatami-surfing. So how you do add your pin on the map?

How to Join TT

Photo: Megan Luedtke
Photo: Megan Luedtke

Have you ever wanted to travel through Japan and around the world without spending anything on lodging? Although Japan is in Asia, usually known for cheap accommodation, it is one of the most expensive Asian countries to travel in. This is where Tatami Timeshare comes in to help with free lodging! As in, completely free! An added bonus of choosing this type of lodging is that you are able to get very localised recommendations straight from the horse’s mouth. If this sounds appealing to you, you need look no further than the AJET’s Tatami Timeshare, or TT for short.

The catch is that you must also be willing to put your place up on the Tatami Timeshare Google Map, state how many people you can accommodate and your living situation. Additionally, it’s helpful to include transport options—more on that later. You must also be a current or former JET Program participant. If you are a little nervous about couch-surfing in Japan, you can feel a little more reassured that all participants have been vetted by the JET Program, and thus have gone through various security checks. After you’ve added your pin on the map, you’re ready to go tatami-surfing. So how you do add your pin on the map?

Abbie’s Experience Using TT

I have used TT a few times, most recently in early October. Two friends and I managed to get tickets to the New Zealand versus Canada rugby match in Oita. As soon as we had the tickets secured, we set about looking for accommodation for the night as the game had a 7:15 p.m. kick-off. All we could find was eye-wateringly expensive hotels that we really couldn’t afford after spending big yennies on the match tickets. Not wanting to travel over four hours back to Nagasaki or sleep in my tiny kei car, I decided to try my luck on TT.

Luckily, I found a lovely Oita ALT named Robert who was more than willing to let me and my two friends stay for the night. Even better, he is also a rugby fan and was volunteering for the World Cup, so an excellent source of information too. Thanks to him, we were able to enjoy our short time in Oita, save a lot of money, learn some inside knowledge about Oita and make a new connection. All advantages of using TT.

There can be issues if you are not organised. We had some drama getting to Robert’s house, because of poor planning on my part. Due to delays in leaving the stadium, we missed the last train to Robert’s town. While we were figuring that out, I didn’t keep Robert up to date and tell him we were going to arrive much later than intended. It was while waiting for a taxi at midnight that I realised I didn’t know Robert’s address! He didn’t answer any messages for about thirty minutes because he had accidentally fallen asleep (it was a school night and very late) and so we spent those thirty minutes brainstorming what to do and trying not to panic. Luckily, he woke up and immediately sent us his address and was still very friendly, kind and willing to let us stay, even though we didn’t turn up at his door until 1:30 a.m. (Thanks Robert!)

Monica’s Experience As A TT Host

Since becoming a member of AJET’s Tatami Timeshare, my family and I have had the unique experience of hosting eight JET travelers since March of this year. I live in Okinawa with my husband, Jonathan, and 4-year-old son, Tristan, in the only landlocked town of Haebaru. Living only five minutes away from the capital of Naha, we have gotten many a request through TT.

I first heard about Tatami Timeshare at the 2018 Tokyo Orientation when another Hawai’i ALT mentioned that there was a dedicated and entirely online lodging group limited only to JET program participants (current and past). I was fascinated with the idea and thought,

“Why not host other JETs, make new friends, and in return also have lodging for free when we travel throughout Japan and across the globe?”

With that in mind, I asked my husband if he was also interested in joining TT—he agreed, and here we are!

Through Tatami Timeshare, we have established friendships that I’m positive will last a lifetime. Thus far, we’ve hosted JETs from America, Australia, Canada, Northern Ireland, the UK, and Singapore. Not only do we meet new people, but it is an amazing opportunity and experience to learn about each other’s JET placement and home culture(s). On a side note, most JETs who have stayed with us usually stay for a couple of days to a week.

We once had three people utilizing TT at our home at the same time and it was interesting to hear four different English accents (American, Australian, British, and Irish) in our 3LDK apartment. Everyone who has stayed with us has become family to us. In the Okinawan dialect, Uchinaaguchi, there is a phrase that perfectly portrays this relationship, it is “ichariba chode”—which means once we have met, even though by chance, we are brothers and sisters. “Ichariba chode” is also similar to the Hawaiian word for family which is “ohana.”

Author’s Tips:

Abbie

So in order to make the best of your TT experience, and not be like me, here are some of my top tips:

  • Ask if they have bedding and are willing to let you use it
  • Ask about the transport to their place and when the last trains are etc.
  • If you’re driving, ask where you can park
  • Get a contact number
  • Make sure to keep your host up to date about your plans, especially when you will be arriving

Also, while not a requirement, I would highly recommend bringing a small gift! TT hosts are saving you money and going out of their way to accommodate you, giving a gift can show your appreciation and is also an easy way to share some the culture of your area with them. I like to give my hosts some Castella cake, a Nagasaki specialty.

Remember TT is not a hotel service, be polite and respectful, don’t make too much noise and leave the accommodation as tidy as you found it. Follow these simple tips and using TT will be an enjoyable experience for you and your host.

Monica

I have some tips for those who are considering joining Tatami Timeshare.

The first tip is to check your email regularly. If not, you may have missed an opportunity to host someone. This happened to me when I had some storage data issues, but it worked out after buying more space, so it’s also important to make sure that your email inbox is not completely out of space or nearing it.

The second tip is to make a spare key to give to your guests if you’re comfortable enough. We usually give our guests a key to our apartment which makes it easier for them to go in and out (especially if they are leaving before sunrise or coming back around midnight). JET Program participants have been thoroughly background-checked so we feel pretty safe doing this.

The third tip is to make a list of recommendations to give them, which can include any popular tourist spots or places to experience the local culture and traditional food. I usually give this list to them the day they arrive or email them the recommendations beforehand. I also let our guests know about the transportation options in Okinawa. I live about a three minutes walk to the nearest bus stop; however, the bus here is the slowest option and it is much easier to get around by car in Okinawa; so I always recommend renting a car.

Lastly, the fourth tip is to give your guests your address, phone number, and other pertinent information, like when you’ll be available to initially meet. I also ask if they need a ride from the airport since I live around 17- minute drive away. With these tips in mind, I think it will help you to further enjoy your time being a TT host!

When we decide to end our time in Japan and return home to Hawai’i, or wherever we are off to next, it is our plan to continue hosting people through Tatami Timeshare. It’s been such a wonderful experience! We hope to see you soon!

Monica Aguilar-Scion is a second-year ALT originally from Mililani, Hawai’i, and is currently living with her family in Haebaru, Okinawa. She teaches at two senior high schools and a special needs school in the southern part of the main island of Okinawa-Honto. She graduated from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and a Minor in Music. It has been her dream since high school to live and work in Japan through the JET Program and she is forever grateful to be given the opportunity to live and work in Okinawa. She plays the viola in the Okinawa Symphony Orchestra and is currently learning eisa (an Okinawan folk dance) with the Okinawa City International Association (OCIA) and the sanshin (an Okinawan string instrument) at the Well Culture School in Naha. When she’s not busy with work, she enjoys exploring Okinawa, mainland Japan, and the neighboring Asian countries with her family and friends.

Abbie is a fifth-year British ALT working at two junior high schools in Minami Shimabara, a small inaka town in Nagasaki. She enjoys hosting other ALTs and showing off her area’s beautiful beaches, relaxing onsens, scenic hikes and yummy food. You can find her details on the TT map.