Every country has something unique to offer and, as travellers, we always desire to discover it. We research prior to our trip because we want to know as much as possible on what activities to do, where to eat, what to buy, and how to navigate around. However, no amount of information can compensate for the knowledge and experience you’ll get from a local. That’s why when I heard of Japan Local Buddy (JLB for short) I knew that I had to try it.
JLB is a website that aims to provide travellers an opportunity to experience Japan by connecting them to locals. Note that the local guides are not hired by JLB. They simply have a big heart and they love their country that they want to showcase it to us tourists.
So, how do we sign up?
The steps are easy and I would gladly lay them down for you.
1. Fill up online “Request Form” found on their website
Go to https://localbuddy.world. You need to provide basic information about yourself such as you name, age, gender, and contact details. They will also require you to indicate when will the tour take place, how many are you in a group, your preferred language, what area in Japan do you want to explore, and what activities you want to do.
You will find out that the website is very mobile friendly and it’s easy to navigate. It will only take you less than 10 minutes to finish this step.
2. Contact via Facebook messenger.
Once you submit your request form, JLB will give you the link to their Facebook page and ask you to ping them via Messenger. This is for them to locate you in Facebook as this will be the main platform for you and your guide to communicate. If they’re able to find a volunteer, they will give you a brief introduction about him/her, along with the link to his/her profile.
3. Connect with your local guide
Once matching has been done, it’s up to you and your local guide to connect by chatting and planning through Facebook.
4. On your meetup date, enjoy your time together! No further explanation needed.
My JLB Experience
One of my objectives in Japan was definitely to meet and make friends with the locals. I’m really grateful that JLB provided a way for me to do just that.
I requested for a whole day tour to explore Tokyo by bike. I heard that biking is one of the best ways to explore this beautiful Prefecture. I wasn’t really sure that someone will be up for it since all the examples of volunteered tours I saw were tours done on foot. So you can imagine my excitement when JLB informed me that they found me a guide. Her name was Chiz.
Chiz and I decided to meet at 10 a.m. at Shin-Koiwa Station. The first thing I made sure of was that I CANNOT, by any circumstance, be late. Japanese people are known to be on time so I will not forgive myself if I’m late.
I set multiple alarms to 6 a.m. so I will have enough time to prepare. My hostel was just a 5-min walk to Nippori Station. And from there, it only takes 32 mins to go to Shin-Koiwa Station as per Google maps. Yet, I needed to give myself ample of time in case I get lost.
I arrived there more than an hour early so I had time to eat breakfast at Matsuya, a Japanese restaurant just outside the station. The machine where I placed my order was super cool. That was my first ever culture shock (Oh wait, my first culture shock was the toilet 😂).
When the time came to meet Chiz, I was honestly nervous. I have no idea what to expect and what she would think of me. But my first impression of her was, “Wow, she’s gorgeous.” I felt underdressed and self-conscious all of a sudden. I was silently rehearsing how to greet her in Japanese when I was on the train but all of those words just went out the window. All I managed to say was, “Nice to meet you too. Did you wait long?” (Ohhh godddddd, good job Charis. What the heck what was?!😥)
After a brief exchange of greetings, she started leading us to Kasai Rinkai Park. She has to go slightly ahead since she needed to navigate our way.
I had no idea where we exactly passed by. I will get lost if you ask me to retrace our path. Nevertheless, I remember passing through quiet neighbourhoods (It was so unbelievable how quiet these residential areas were), a road parallel to the highway, a gambling place, schools, and multiple pedestrian lanes.
Then Chiz led us through a jogging/cycling lane next to Edogawa River (or I think it was Edogawa river) before we arrived at Kasai Rinkai Park. It was probably the biggest park I’ve been to.
We went straight to Tokyo Sea Life Park where we spent most of our late morning looking at colorful marine life animals. I cannot name my ultimate favorite but the blue and yellow fish, the big scary purple fish, the fishes that produce blinking lights in the dark waters, and the penguins (of course!) were my highlights. The big tuna aquarium was interesting too, but I was only interested in eating them. I love tuna after all!
When we had enough, we left our bikes at Kasai Rinkai Station and rode a train going to Maihama Station.
From there, we proceeded to Ikspiari mall, which is actually a part of Disney Resort, to eat lunch at a restaurant called Kyou No Uta (饗の詩). If you read the name in Roman characters, you might think it means “Song of Today”. However, the Kanji characters represent festival and poetry, so the restaurant is actually named “Poetry of Feast” in English. (P.S. I really hope I remember the restaurant name right)
We had a mini adventure trying to look for the restaurant inside Ikspiari. So when we saw it, I think it’s safe to say that we were both more than ready to eat.
Being an absolutely lover of Japanese food, everything was delicious for me. I love the idea of getting small portions of every dish. This way, we can taste a lot without getting full too quickly. Still, I got too much matcha for dessert. I was so full after lunch that the train ride going back to Kasai Rinkai and the remaining bike ride were not enough for my tummy to digest everything.
Also, I was not able to taste matcha from Nana’s and the matcha ice cream from a vending machine. As much as I really love matcha, my stomach has limited space guys. 😭
It was scary how I ate too much in Japan, but it was also scary how I walked too much in Japan. So I’m glad to report that I did not gain weight during my Japan trip. ✌️
It was nearing the end of our tour. We headed back to Kasai Rinkai Station by train to pick up our bikes. Then we rode them going to Shin-Koiwa Station.
Chiz chose a different route this time but we still passed by the same jogging path. It was then that I got the biggest surprise that day. The sunset was so beautiful! I have no idea if Chiz planned for us to pass by that area at that certain time, but it was absolutely perfect.
We ended our tour the same place where we started. I thanked Chiz for letting me experience such a unique and wonderful way to explore Japan. She was an absolute delight, an amazing person through and through.
So Chiz, wherever you are right now, I want to say thank you. I will never forget that experience. I will treasure each memory in my heart. ありがとうございました.
Takeaways from my JLB experience
If you’re planning on signing up for JLB or any other local buddy tour system in Japan, try to take note of the following tips:
1. Know basic etiquettes in Japan
Remember, you will be in Japan with a Japanese. It’s best not to offend them or make them feel uncomfortable.
For example, I’ve read that shaking hands is not a norm in Japan. So I was advised not to extend my hand when meeting Japanese people for the first time unless they offered theirs first. Another example is to use both hands when giving a gift (Ohhh my gosh! Did I actually use both hands? I can’t remember 😱).
2. Stop excessive worrying
Okay, I had to admit, I was tense than usual. The control freak in me wanted to know every little detail of the place prior to the tour. It’s good practice when you’ll explore it on your own, but you will be in good hands with a local. It’s okay to give yourself space to relax and let go.
3. Choose an activity that will give you plenty of time to talk to your guide
I will be clear in saying that I don’t regret biking as an activity, but it didn’t really give me an opportunity to talk to Chiz as much as I want. She needed to go ahead as she was leading the way.
On our stop at the aquarium and at the restaurant, I was still too shy to ask her questions I really wanted to ask her. There were too many silent moments. I didn’t have enough momentum to break out of my shell, which leads me to point number 4.
4. Don’t be shy
Ask what you want to ask as long as they’re appropriate questions. I held back and I regretted it.