Saitama Prefecture has started accepting applications from local residents who wish to offer homestays to families of foreign athletes that will compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, becoming the first such local government to launch the initiative for the coming games.

The homestay project in the prefecture, where the Olympic basketball, soccer, golf and shooting events are to take place, is intended to help the families of athletes and others involved in the games secure lodging while offering opportunities for all to get to know Japanese culture and enjoy home cuisine.

Recruitment started Friday, and Saitama authorities will accept applications via mail or fax until the end of November.

Applicants must be residents of the prefecture, located north of Tokyo, and are asked to provide at least two meals a day to their guests. Up to three guests can stay with each host family for a maximum of three nights, according to the Saitama Prefecture website.

Homes of the host families will be open to visitors from July 20, 2020, four days before the Olympics are scheduled to start, until Sept. 11, five days after the final day of the Paralympics.

The local government believes the homestay program will be useful as families of foreign athletes “might not be able to book a place to stay,” given that athletes are not elected to represent their countries until right before the games begin, said Yuichi Saito, division chief of the Olympics and Paralympics Division at Saitama Prefecture.

“We also began thinking that it would be a great experience for visitors to stay at the homes of local residents in Saitama, and the idea snowballed from there,” he said. The local government plans to accept up to about 500 visitors under the program.

It has not yet been decided whether the guests will be charged a fee for their stay, according to Saito.

The guidelines for applicants encourages host families to not only deepen friendship with their guests by cheering on their countries’ athletes, but also to introduce local tourist attractions, food and cultural events so that the foreign visitors will become “fans” of the prefecture.

Visitors are likely to apply for the homestay program via the national Olympic and Paralympic committees and other entities of their respective countries, according to the prefecture.

“The Olympics and Paralympics is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most people. Given that it’s such a rare opportunity, I’m hoping that people can get involved in all sorts of ways … and I think this host family opportunity is one unique way of getting involved,” Saito added.

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