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Yujiro Hamada, 77, is typical of a rising number of middle-aged and elderly Japanese who have rejected more common overseas package tours in favor of extended stays abroad.

People in their late 50s and older are increasingly interested in staying with host families while doing volunteer work or studying the local language, according to travel agents.

Hamada, from Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, stayed with a host family for three weeks on his trip to New Zealand in winter 1999.

“I used to make frequent overseas trips, but never learned how people in the places I visited lived,” he said.

He said he decided to make his first home-stay trip to New Zealand in the hope that he could learn a lot from living with a host family.

Travel agency JTB Inc. said the number of middle-aged and elderly people wishing to go on language study tours abroad rose 1.5 times from 1999 to 2000. Many people cited a desire to establish ties with foreigners of their own generation.

Since the start of this year, travel agents have increased numbers of extended-stay package tours. According to industry analysts, the popularity of such trips indicates the high interest that people nearing retirement age have in living abroad.

During his stay in New Zealand, Hamada stayed in the home of a couple in their 70s. He had visited many countries previously, but admitted his English ability was poor.

To establish friendships with his hosts and their neighbors in a way that would transcend the language barrier, Hamada took a squeegee with him to voluntarily wash windows. He first cleaned the windows of his host family’s neighbor and made himself familiar with the people in the neighborhood.

Hamada also demonstrated his skill in playing with a “kendama,” showing how to place the ball on the cup or the handle’s sharp edge to catch the ball.

He mostly relied on gestures to communicate with his friends in New Zealand.

“I belong to the generation that received its education before World War II,” he said. “It was very significant for me to change my awareness of the world and to get to know about people abroad and their lives.

“One of the things I learned was the spirit of helping each other. The memory of a long-stay trip deepens as time goes by. I feel the place I stayed (in New Zealand) is my second hometown.”

To meet the growing demand for long-stay tours abroad, JTB now offers programs that emphasize giving travelers the feel of how the people in the places they visit live. Other travel agencies are also coming up with similar programs.

The Longstay Foundation, a Tokyo-based group that helps arrange extended stays overseas, also said long visits abroad have been growing in popularity among people approaching retirement age.

Photojournalist Miwako Sawada said places with good climates or beautiful scenery are not the only desirable spots for Japanese seeking to relocate after they retire.

If they are interested in culture, “they should stay in New York for a while and enjoy stage plays or an opera,” said Sawada, a longtime U.S. resident who just wrote a book on finding pleasure abroad.

Sawada said one benefit of staying in another country is that a person can look at himself or herself and Japan more objectively.

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