“Calling All Airbnb Travellers in Tokyo” was an email subject line guaranteed to catch my attention the night we arrived in Japan. After a nine hour flight and 90 minutes of train travel we had just checked into our tiny yet beautifully appointed Airbnb apartment in Funabori. Our host Masakatsu had given us a warm welcome and some much needed dinner. Our vacation had begun.
Our accommodation, in a three storey building on a quiet side-street, suited our needs perfectly. The kitchen was compact and well-equipped and the living room, charmingly arranged for Tea Ceremony, fitted two futons perfectly. One of the benefits of booking with Airbnb is that travellers stay in real homes in local neighbourhoods. Our traditional Japanese apartment was in a typical Tokyo suburb, with a vending machine on every corner, a 7/11 store on the main street and a train station within walking distance.
The email I received on our first night was from Wakana Ando, who works for Airbnb in Tokyo. It was a first for the online accommodation booking site – an invitation to meet up with other Airbnb travellers and an Airbnb hostess to explore Jiyugaoka, a suburb of Tokyo on the opposite side of the city from Funabori. We would never have thought of going there on our own and replied immediately; the opportunity to meet some kindred spirits and visit a different part of the city was too good to ignore.
Our hour long train journey across the city took us to the end of the Shibuya line and then on a local express train to Jiyugaoka Station where we met the rest of the group. Our 75 year old hostess, Haruko, has been an Airbnb hostess since it first started in Tokyo and has welcomed many people into her home. Her name means Spring Child and there was a spring in her step as she led us on a meandering walk away from the main streets to her favourite places in Jiyugaoka. We wandered along the indoor alleys of a local department store. We rang the bell at the small Buddhist temple after being instructed in the proper way to cleanse before praying. At La Vita, we admired the canals and posed on the little bridge. We peered through the gate of a traditional tea house set in a beautifully formed garden and we stopped to marvel at the enormous apples at a roadside fruit and vegetable stall, all the while listening to Haruko’s stories about her neighbourhood.
As we wandered, we introduced ourselves to the other members of the group. We met Katrina from Miami, who, like us had only just arrived in Tokyo, but unlike the rest of us was planning to stay and work for several months. Fellow Australians, John and Susan, were using their Airbnb apartment as a home base for three weeks while exploring Tokyo on bicycles. Our lunch destination was La Boheme, an Italian restaurant serving tasty Italian food in Japanese style. Wakana had asked us to choose from the menu prior to the day so our delicious meals were ready when we arrived. As we sat together around the table more stories emerged, from the Canadian couple who had taken six months off to explore Asia and the American photographer hoping to build a new career with his photos.
After lunch, we continued our gentle stroll until we arrived back to the train station, where Wakana and Haruko bid us farewell. We didn’t go straight back to central Tokyo though. Instead we ventured out again down the narrow streets of Jiyugaoka, this time on our own, to continue exploring. We had journeyed to the other side of Tokyo and we were going to make the most of it, thanks to that intriguing subject line from Wakana.