Nagomi Visit is a non-profit organization founded in 2011, whose central purpose is to promote cultural understanding through home cooking. The NPO arranges situations where people from all over the world can connect with Japanese host families and share their lives over lunch and dinner at home.
Nagomi Visit’s Chief Operating Officer Alisa Sanada is a Japanese-American, who was born and grew up in the U.S. Her unique background and identity led her to be part of the organization, she explained. “I want to bring different types of people together, making them realize that everyone has a different background. And in the end, I hope they will realize we are all the same humans.”
Sanada came to Japan 10 years ago on a study abroad program at Waseda University. During her one-year home-stay with a Japanese family, she developed her desire for the world to experience and get to know the real Japan, which spurred her to come back to Japan after graduation.
Sanada says that Nagomi Visit signifies a new type of travel. She often receives comments from visitors that they are tired of visiting temples and looking for something much deeper. Visiting Japanese people at home and sharing a meal with them is one of the best ways for visitors to experience daily life in Japan.
However, it is hard for a visitor from overseas to randomly meet Japanese people and say, “Hey, can I visit your home?” -- especially because of the language barrier. “We would like that to organically happen but it just doesn’t happen. So we arrange the situation as a program that goes beyond language barriers.”
A Japanese proverb says, “Onaji kama no meshi wo kuu” (Eating rice out of the same pot) can be a good way to psychologically connect people from different cultures. “The process of eating sort of naturally forces people to physically sit down and actually interact with each other,” Sanada said. In this sense, “the word ‘Nagomi’ defines what we really are. The simplest definition would be ‘Japan’ while it also means ‘to be friends.’”
Nagomi Visit not only provides tourists with a new way of travel but also provides the hosts with some advantages that cannot be normally experienced if they stay in Japan.
“We have been asked some funny questions by Japanese hosts, such as ‘Can foreigners sit at a kotatsu?’ or ‘Can they use chopsticks?’” said Sanada. “But after hosting several times, they start to see them as human beings and stop talking about stereotypes. They start to know ‘how to talk,’ so to speak.”
Another advantage for hosts is that they will get to know and appreciate their own culture as something interesting and special. “One host family said that their visitors asked them what is the red little thing on ‘ojizosan’and they couldn’t answer. Then they did their research and realized that they don’t know such little things about their own culture.,” said Sanada.
Also, Japanese people have again begun to realize that washoku is something special that they can be proud of after it was designated a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in December. Although unfortunately little about this is known abroad, Sanada expects more Japanese people to get motivated to become hosts for Nagomi Visit.
“The definition of washoku for UNESCO would be slightly different from the definition of Nagomi Visit,” Sanada said. “It may include curry, ‘katsu,’ all kinds of washoku eaten normally in Japanese households and influenced by Western and Asian food.”
Washoku seems to be changing these days, but Sanada said Nagomi Visit will keep evolving based on the proverb, “Onaji kama no meshi wo kuu,” which never changes.
For more information, visit www.nagomivisit.com or www.facebook.com/nagomivisit© Japan Today