A foundation called AFS, which arranges for student exchange programs in Japan, recently released some startling news with regard to the number of home-stay students in Japan. Apparently, there is a huge gap between the number of foreign high school students who want to come to Japan and study and the number of Japanese families willing to put them up for at least six months. In Tokyo, where most foreign students want to stay, only 17 families are presently on the list to accept them. And throughout Japan, the number is only 295.
The number of willing host families has remained more or less constant over the years while the number of exchange students has increased. In 2007, 1,114 students came to Japan, a threefold increase from 1998. However, the pickings has become even slimmer. Next year, 354 students from Thailand alone want to come to Japan, and so far only 20 have found places to live.
You can blame this circumstance on two things; or one thing if you make the logical connection. Japanese families aren’t normally comfortable bringing strangers into their homes to stay. This reluctance is a combination of natural reticence and an acknowledgement that Japanese homes are not designed for guests in the first place. People know that and they probably think that foreign students, even fellow Asians who often live in homes that are just as cramped, wouldn’t be comfortable here.
Six months is way too long. I wouldn’t like to live with a close relative for that long, let alone a complete stranger. I do know a lot of Japanese families, usually middle-class suburbanites living in large-ish homes, who willingly accept homestay students (especially from Western countries) for a week or so at a time. They almost always find these stays enormously stressful – and not always very successful – but they almost always offer to do them again. Talk about the triumph of hope over experience!