How to be the perfect host in Tokyo as the freshman in town!

How to be the perfect host in Tokyo
Happy to see our family

Expecting our first houseguests as an expat family living in Tokyo was the equivalent of a child waiting for Christmas, carefully crafting her letter to Santa Clause and counting down the days with incredible and painful anticipation.

We simply could not wait for them to come. But, there was so much to prepare!

To make our guests’ stay feel comfortable and pleasant in a home that we were still getting to know took a bit of imagination and organisation. We wanted it to be absolutely, 100% perfect to entice our visitors to come back again and again… because our first guests were not your average ordinary people. It was Oma and Opa! The pressure was on to be the perfect hosts as the newbies on the block!

Our container had arrived from Switzerland and all of our belongings had been meticulously unpacked into the new digs. Then began the trickier task of putting everything away neatly before our first houseguests arrived.

We spent hours hanging pictures on the walls, arranging furniture and finding places for the contents in those last pesky boxes.

Once the home was more or less in order, we began to create a programme for their stay.

Just as a child fantasizes about what will be under the tree on Christmas morning, I spent hours thinking about the experiences we would have together.

Know Your Guests

As this would be Oma and Opa’s first time in Japan, they were very open to what we would see, do and experience. So, Johan and I made a list of the sites we, ourselves, most wanted to see this summer in Japan.

As easy as that was, making reservations at local hotels is much easier done in Japanese, a task that proved more difficult for us!

After unsuccessfully consulting with a concierge service and a travel agent we managed to book almost everything on our own (with a little help from our dear relocation agent, Masako). We decided to keep Tokyo as the home base and take a few short road trips throughout the three-week holiday.

✓ Itinerary completed

Know What Your Guests Will Need

Landing in Narita Airport after a long-haul flight is swift and simple, but you still have another 80 minutes in a car before you arrive in central Tokyo.

✓ Taxi booked

Most taxi drivers speak a bit of English, but communicating your destination to your driver is a talent! You are much safer having an address card with you to get where you need to go.

The address card makes life easier!

✓ Address card printed and ready

As we planned to spend a decent amount of time in Tokyo, and considering the heat and humidity this time of year, we thought that access to a swimming pool would be key.

✓ Temporary memberships to the Tokyo American Club attained

Prepare Your Guests

It’s hot here. Really hot.

✓ Message to Oma and Opa to bring their coolest garb!

Prepare Your Home

Our Tokyo pad is not small by city standards, but of course is still an apartment. It took some rearranging to make it “guest-friendly”.

✓ Guest bedroom and bathroom prepared

As many times as my in-laws have stayed with us, Johan and I always joke that they are an asset, not a liability. They are incredibly self-sufficient and often end up doing the shopping, cooking, cleaning up and even the laundry when they visit. But, this time, we wanted to treat them as real guests.

✓ Refrigerator stocked

✓ Fresh flowers in the bedroom

✓ Extra toiletries in the bathroom

✓ Access to their newspapers daily

Go With the Flow – Relax!

We have one rule when we have guests in the house – just relax!

I am terrible at this. I am a constant worrier, over-planner and perfectionist. This is a disastrous recipe when you are hosting guests. In the best attempt to make them feel comfy and at home, often my fretting gets in the way.

Hence we have the rule to not over-schedule and to let the days roll-on naturally. No easy task for me!

Oma & the girls in Nakameguro in front of the quintessential Tokyo icon - the vending machine!
Oma & the girls in Nakameguro in front of the quintessential Tokyo icon – the vending machine!

Checklist in-hand, the preparation for our VIPs was natural and fun for us. It gave us a reason to get our things in order more quickly.

We are used to having houseguests. In London, in Zürich, in the mountains, we have often lodged our friends and family. Likewise, we have been guests in others’ homes.

But, the trip of Johan’s parents seemed so much more important than that. It felt like a chance to take stock of all we have gained through this move.

This was an opportunity to see where we were at, after our landing in Tokyo. It felt like a reality check. How have we integrated? Do we know our surroundings? Do we speak a little Japanese? Are we happy?

It was the opportunity to reflect a bit in the mirror of your family.

So, I was wrong. It is not the planning and the forethought that matters. Johan and I want very much to share our new life with our families. We feel incredibly excited and eager. And that makes this visit special.

Here we are, just over a week since Oma and Opa arrived. And I realise, that what is making this trip memorable is the new experiences we are having together as a family.

Getting up early Saturday morning, packing the car, eating sandwiches for breakfast along the way, stopping at a roadside rest area, getting caught in traffic, wondering what the speed limit is…..???

  • Booking Opa what I thought was a pedicure at a fancy beauty salon – only to find out that I actually arranged him a waxing.
  • Oma’s jaunt to Mikimoto to browse at a strand of black pearls, thinking that they were less expensive in Japan…and then realising that they were more expensive than a new car.
  • Answering my mobile phone and trying to communicate in Japanese that I would come on Sunday to pick up it up…..and the children rolling with laughter because I had effectively conveyed that “I am Sunday”.

In many ways everything is familiar. We fall into the same old roles, as we would have done on any holiday. Only this time, the backdrop is our new home in Japan.

I guess that is the thing about family. No matter how grown up we are, we happily remain in familiar roles and revert to them easily when parents are around. Even as adults living as expats in a foreign land.

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