Trip Details

Japanese students study English in high school but the current education method rather focuses on reading and writing than on conversation. So don’t mistake them not talking to you for them not knowing English or even a lack of education. What is lacking is much more the practice in speaking. Without that practice, Japanese don’t feel comfortable speaking though.

This program aims to offer locals a platform to practice their English on their own terms. Volunteers are available at the community house in the afternoons and early evenings. Local students often stop by to study or work there for a few hours or to just hang out. That’s your chance to ask them everything you’d like to know about life in Japan and answer their questions about your home country as well. Be patient and understanding if it takes them a while to make up a complete sentence. The longer you talk, the better they will understand you. And the more locals enjoy talking to you, the more people feel animated to join.

Keep in mind that for people who hardly ever meet foreigners, you are more than just a chance to practice their English. You are an ambassador of your home country and culture. The impression you leave will shape their view on people of your country or foreigners in general.

Depending on season and weather, expect to spend about 1-4 hours of conversation per day. This could be at the community house or other places in/around Otaki. Occasionally the local kindergarten may invite you as well to practice some English pronunciation by e.g. singing songs together. Besides practising English, you will join other participants in Otaki to learn about local culture and explore the surroundings.

Aims & Objectives

  • Give locals a chance to meet foreigners. If you leave a good impression, this will help them being more self-confident and open minded when interacting with foreigners.
  • Give them a chance to practice their conversational English by talking to you.

Trip Itinerary

In a recently published English version of the Otaki tourist map, some shops and hotels are marked with a star, to indicate that the owners speak some English. Still it is a challenge to get around without speaking Japanese.

Pride plays a role in this as well. A hotel would rather refuse a booking of a foreigner, than losing face by not providing perfect service due to the language barrier. Which is not helping the village’s initiatives to attract more foreign travelers into its picturesque surroundings.

To help the village develop, two measures need to happen at the same time:

  • Villagers and local business owners need to get used to interacting with foreigners
  • Locals need to gain more confidence and practice in speaking English

Monday to Friday

  • Breakfast
  • You may occasionally be asked to join the local kindergarten group
  • Lunch
  • Cultural or outdoor activities together will all participants in Otaki
  • Be available for locals to come by for conversation
  • Dinner
  • Be available for locals to come by for conversation
  • Cultural or outdoor activities together will all participants in Otaki

Trip Accommodation

Your time in the Nagano Prefecture of Japan will be spent in a small village, amid spectacular mountains, with just about 800 residents. Otaki is wonderland of nature that hosts many guests, especially during the winter months when there is a nice coat of snow on Mt. Ontake. Japan’s second highest volcano not only is home to a ski resort, but also attracts many spiritual groups and forms of Buddhism. Mt. Ontake is surrounded by an array of different shrines and sacred places and a popular destination for pilgrims.

Accommodation & Food

While in Otaki, Nagano, Japan you will be staying in a local Homestay or our participant accommodation 10-25 minutes outside of the village by car. A standard room will be on a gender basis and 4-8 people per room. Private rooms are also available on request at an additional price.

Food Arrangements
Weekdays you will enjoy three meals a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and two on weekends, during your homestay. Meals will be local cuisine and you can expect that they will include rice and vegetables.

Three meals on a weekday and two meals on the Weekend.

The village of Otaki features an ATM, two convenience stores and a post office. These may not be in walking distance from your accommodation but you’ll have the chance to stop by there several times during the week.

Activities & Events
Monday to Friday
Besides your program you will join some cultural or outdoor activities every day. These depend on the season and local circumstances. Some examples:

  • Visit typical local neighborhood house
  • Learn about Japanese bathing culture and how Japanese shower
  • Visit a natural hot spring
  • Take a traditional bath over a fire
  • Learn about local plants and flowers
  • Go to the river and cool down
  • Learn how to make origami
  • Join a Matcha tea ceremony
  • Trek up a hill to a viewpoint. Spot animal traces on the way.
  • Learn how to make sushi
  • Dye textiles with natural colors
  • Go to Otaki’s convenience store and ATM
  • Climb up to a sacred shrine above Otaki
  • Trek on the pilgrims trail leading up into the mountains
  • Join a traditional purification ceremony under a sacred waterfall
  • Make Japanese paper
  • Practice Kendo (Japanese sword fighting)

Sights & Surroundings
Otaki is a nature lover’s paradise with many outdoor activities possible year round. Great place for skiing, snowboarding, hiking, biking and kayaking on the lake. Major points of interest include: Mt. Ontake, Shintaki Waterfall and Tanoharatenen Park.

Trip Country Info


Name: Japan
Capital: Tokyo
Language: Japanese
Currency: Japanese Yen (JPY)
Time zone: JST (UTC +9)

Japan is an East Asian island nation located in the Pacific Ocean. It is made up of 6852 islands, but the vast majority of its size and population are made up of only 4. Neighboring countries include the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, North and South Korea, the Philippines, Russia and the Northern Mariana Islands. Japan is an extremely homogenous nation with 98.5% of its 127 million person population being of Japanese descent. That being the case, Japan is a country steeped in tradition and cultural heritage. They have great respect for the past, and honor their elders. At the same time, modern Japan is a powerhouse in the region and the world. They have one of the highest levels of education in the world and many of their companies are leaders in technology. Japan’s economy is strong and they import and export goods globally, which makes them a great presence around the world.

When visiting Japan pay attention to the time of the year, because it has all four seasons. You can expect the winter to be freezing cold and the summer to be hot. Temperatures average between -10 degrees celsius in winter and 25 degrees celsius in the summer, but there can be some days that expand beyond that scope greatly. Spring and autumn are fairly mild and bring gifts of cherry blossoms and gentle breezes.

Embracing the old and the new, Japan culture is as much Geisha and it is Anime. As much Samurai and Kabuki and it is Nintendo and Karaoke. There seems to be a continued reverence for the traditions of the past and an eager expectation for things of the future. Technology is in the forefront and guiding the throngs of residents in this country, as they embrace things they appreciate about U.S. and European culture and expand it to fit their own Asian culture and lifestyles.

The tastes of Japan never cease to amaze and delight. Here you can find whatever you like, as international cuisine is everywhere. But if your goal is to sample what’s cooking in the Japanese kitchen then get your palate and your chopsticks ready. What you eat may vary by region or season, but expect everything to be fresh and delicious. Street foods like the charcoal grilled chicken skewers called Yakitori, or Okonomiyaki which are thin pancakes which come with savory fillings, can satisfy a craving or two. You also might want to check out some of the best noodles around, Soba are hearty buckwheat noodles and of course the world famous Ramen are egg noodles on a whole other level. With both, the real game changer is the broth ,which take these dishes to a whole other level. Who can visit Japan and not try Sushi? It may be rice and raw fish, but it sure is delish! If you are more of a carnivore then maybe a bit of the decadent Shabu-Shabu (meat cooked in boiling liquid) or Tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlets) will tickle your fancy! Whatever your tastes, there is something for you here! Japan is one of the best destinations for Gap Year Volunteer Programs!

Even though Japan is covered in mountains, it has a very developed train system. Connection between all bigger cities leave several times an hour and until late at night. There are bus connections too, slightly more affordable than the quite high priced trains.

When planning train or bus travel, Google Maps may not be accurate or not contain certain connections at all. Check out the app ‘NAVITIME for JapanTravel’ (Android / iOS) or similar services for more complete and correct timetables.

On the countryside, bus connections are rather infrequent, even more so on Sundays and holidays.

For intra-city travel you can count on a network of buses, trams, underground metros and of course taxis to take you from point A to B.




Participant Criteria & Requirements

Standard Requirements

Criminal Background Check

Additional Requirements

No requirements have been provided.

What's included

  • 24/7 support in case of emergencies
  • Accommodation
  • Airport Pick up
  • English speaking coordinator
  • Meals
  • Orientation

What's not included

  • Airport drop off
  • Flights
  • Travel insurance
  • Vaccination
  • Visa