Couchsurfing in Kyoto

 photo ichigo daifuku_zpsgsnzzyhl.jpg(ichigo daifuku for a couchsurfing host)

I reopened my couchsurfing account to see what I could get in the way of free accommodation on my trip to Kyoto.

The first step was to fill up my profile, post pictures and score a few references. This helped hosts determine that I was a real person with good intentions instead of an axe murderer. I looked for the same things when browsing host profiles. Once I found a promising host, I messaged them my surfing request, explained when I would be in the city, and why I thought we’d have a good time (this may have involved bribery with Jeju chocolate). I envisioned getting three total hosts so that I could get a good survey of the couchsurfing experience, but would’ve been happy if I could even score one.

It was in the aftermath of my first rejection, that sinking weird feeling like you’ve done something wrong or failed or been judged unworthy even when none of it is true, that I realized that finding a couchsurfing host in Kyoto was going to be awfully like dating. It was going to take a lot of requests and a lot of no’s to get even one yes. But that one yes would be all I needed for the magic to begin.

I started chatting with my Couchsurfing Ambassdor friend, Miles, and he encouraged me to keep going. He estimated that for a popular tourist destination like Kyoto, it would take about 15-20 requests to find someone. We created a rejection game. My goal for the game was to get 15-20 rejections while Miles held me accountable and cheered me on. It made getting a NO a good thing, instead of a blow to my ego.

In the end, I made 11 total requests and received five no’s. (Note: I lost my rejection game.) There were three non-answers and two maybe’s. One maybe eventually became a yes so that I had a total of two. As a bonus (because this is how the universe works), I was later messaged by a host who invited me to stay with him. He hit a lot of the qualities I was looking for in a couchsurfing host, so I was only too happy to include him in my schedule. I was able to stay with three hosts in Kyoto like I had envisioned.

Now, I was initially reluctant to couchsurf with men for safety reasons. But Miles stood up for the fact that some people really did just want the intercultural exchange and the experience of being a host. He said to check the references and to trust my instinct. My hosts in Kyoto were a diverse group of men my own age. One was a student who enjoyed cooking and his home was a constant inflow and outflow of couchsurfers cooking and eating and having a great time. Another was a (mostly) Filipino-American teaching English in the area who loved Disneyland. The last was an aspiring movie director who lived in the sticks between Kyoto and Nara, getting ready to make a big move to Tokyo. All of them had that same couchsurfing spirit: that generosity, openness, and kindness that is the pure magic of being a human being. They fed me, gave me recommendations of places to see (and maps on how to get there), even concocted the cheapest route back to the Kansai International Airport (it took three different train systems). I was only too happy to spoil them with small desserts and a bit of ukulele.

Another gift of the couchsurfing community was being able to connect with fellow travelers who were traveling through the same area. I messaged one such lady who was an American on the tail end of teaching for two years in China. We were able to meet for a couple of days to see sights, trade stories and just laugh as we navigated the various complexities of Japan: geographical, lingual and cultural.

This blog is about love and so far couchsurfing has proven one of the most beautiful demonstrations of love there is. I was left touched, moved, and inspired by my experiences in Kyoto. I can’t wait to set myself up as a host in DC and to give back to this amazing community.

[This post was originally published on March 8, 2015. It has been backdated for the sake of tidier, chronological organization.]

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