Charles Full Japan Experience
Hello everyone and thank you so much for stopping by my page! I would love to tell you all about my life changing trip to Japan.
Let’s start with how I got to take part in this amazing trip and opportunity. I first heard about the Kakehashi Exchange program at school through a friend. I was immediately interested in this once in a lifetime trip to Japan and asked him where I could get the forms to sign up and he responded by telling me that all the forms were in the counselor’s office. The application involved writing about yourself,how you interact with the community, and about why you would like to have the opportunity to participate in the program. I turned in my paper work on Sunday and by Friday I received call telling me that I had been selected to take the trip to Japan through the Kakehashi Exchange project. As soon as I got off the phone I was just ecstatic, sprinting downstairs to tell my parents. It all happened so quickly I hardly had time to process what this would mean to me.
On day one we embarked on our trip to Japan, taking off from Seattle and landing in Tokyo. Once I got off the plane, I was slightly worried about how far away from home I was but that emotion was drowned by the thrill of being in a completely new country. While we were on the bus we admired and pointed at every small difference that we could find between the U.S. and Japan thinking, “Wow that’s a creative way to solve that problem.” Upon arrival at the hotel we were given a roommate, a key, and a ‘food box’ that had traditional Japanese food. My roommate was John Elder, a fellow student at Mountlake Terrace High School. We went to our room and opened our food boxes. I am an admittedly “picky eater”, and I have never eaten Japanese food, but being the brave soul that I am :), tried at least half the items in the food box. That night we had free time so we walk to the nearest train station, struggled to read the Japanese map for 15 or 20 minutes, and eventually figured out that a green JR line train would take us to Shibuya Crossing. Once at Shibuya Crossing we walked across the famous multi-directional crosswalk a couple times and then were drawn to the beautiful lanterns like moths to light. We took videos of the enormous crowd and pictures in front of the glowing lanterns. We then wandered deeper into the market area connected to Shibuya Crossing. We had a ton of fun in Shibuya Crossing and it wouldn’t be the last time we would be there.
Our second day started off at the first North America Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs where we listened to a keynote lecture on Japanese history and future plans. After the lecture was completed, one of the presenters asked if there were any questions, to which John and I looked at each other and almost giggled out loud because we knew that if anyone would ask the first question, it would be Eugene (a fellow student from Mountlake Terrace High School). Lo and behold, Eugene rose his hand. After departing the keynote lecture we were bussed to the EDO-Tokyo Museum. In the museum there were antique replicas and miniature models which were all very cool and interesting to look at and read about. My favorite part of the museum had to be the miniature models, which had hundreds of little figures set up along the ancient streets. Right after the museum we were bussed to the Asakusa Temple. This temple was built because fisherman in the area had once retrieved Buddha statue tangled in their nets, and had determined that it was a sign, so they decided to build a temple on this site.. We got back to the hotel at 8:30 that evening. With a 10:00PM curfew, we had limited time, so we quickly researched what stores we wanted to hit up and what time they closed. We sprinted to the nearest train station which included Shibuya Crossing as a stop, which is where we wanted to go explore. Once there we scrambled to figure out our orientation on Google Maps and made our way to the Bape store 15 minutes before it closed. Everyone bought their desired merchandise and felt like our adventure was a mighty success.
On day 3 we traveled by plane to Hokkaido, which is the northernmost island of Japan. Not only where we thrilled to go to Hokkaido but we were all amazed that it took less than 5 minutes to get through security; Japan is incredibly safe. Upon arrival in Hokkaido we traveled directly to the Houkouji Temple. While there we learned about the native religion of Japan and how it accepts all other religions and beliefs. We then learned how to perform Zazen, a type of meditation which attempts to balance mind and body. While at the temple we also learned some calligraphy using correct technique. Once we had gotten slightly better at calligraphy we were told to look at a phrase in the newspaper and try our best to copy it. Once you felt like you had perfected your phrase you were told to copy the phrase onto a thin piece of wood so that you could take it home, I only did one word, “flower”. Later that night we were given more free time and much to our delight, we discovered a nearby arcade. So a bunch of us went across the street, spent some of our Yen on arcade tokens, and went to town on arcade games. Mario Kart was my favorite because I was able to play with the friend next to me.
On the morning of day 5 we were bused to the Historical Village of Hokkaido and were given a tour from one of the employees. She told us about every building including the old train station and the old town hall, which was modeled after American architecture with a big dome and flag on the top of the building. We toured a traditional fisherman’s lodge, learning how it was operated. It was interesting that the women slept in a separate area from the men and pulled the ladder up during the night, assumedly for protection. Each of the men had only about a 3 by 8 foot living space in the lodge. Overall it was a super cool experience and it was very interesting to learn about the roots of Hokkaido. During the second half of the day we traveled to Hokusei Gakuen University High School, this was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Upon arrival at the high school, we were led inside, given a letter and asked to replace our shoes with slippers. Our letters determined our groups, each group consisted of both Japanese and American high school students. Once in our respective groups we introduced ourselves. It was impressive that most of the Japanese kids spoke some English. The Japanese students names were Yuta, Koko, and Emi, the American students were Charles (myself), Jenny, Mikaela, and Seraiah. We then were given a tour of the school, which was surprisingly large, and learned that all the students must wear uniforms. Next, we came back together in the larger group and were given a presentation about Japanese youth culture as well as the culture specific to their school. After the presentation was over we were introduced to three games. The first game was a test of how well you could use chopsticks to move beans from one cup to the other; I don’t mean to brag here but I moved 14 beans. Then we played a well-known game, Telephone, with a twist playing it with two Japanese phrases and two English phrases to see which group could get closest to the original phrase. The third game was a traditional Japanese game, which is set up on a small paper stage. Each person gets one paper animal to stand on the stage, and then players tap the stage with your fingers, attempting to knock over the other person’s paper animal. I was selected to go up front and play another group. In that round I chose a new strategy and didn’t touch the stage for the first 10 or 15 seconds. I was doing fine, unfortunately the first time that I touched the stagemy paper animal fell over. After our visit we boarded the bus and as we drove away it seemed like the entire school was standing outside waving to us. We all waved back knowing that we had made great friends. That night we were rushed to the meeting place where we were to meet our Homestay families.I was very nervous to meet mine (Ken and Kiki). In the end I had nothing to worry about, they were super nice people and made me feel at home in their house. I was paired with another student, Calvin.
On day six we had the whole day to spend with Ken and Kiki. After waking up, we took a walk with Ken through the woods behind his house, and he told us about the farmland on the other side of the woods, and the school next to the farmland. Afterword we ate breakfast which consisted of rice and salmon. After breakfast Ken and Kiki wanted to show us around the city of Hokkaido. They took us to the Hokkaido shrine and then the Modern Art Museum, which to me seemed funny because the artwork was quite old, not what I thought of as “modern”, such as ancient Samurai armor and an exhibit of thirty-six views of Mount Fuji. Calvin and I were then treated to ramen for lunch. Being a picky eater, I only ate the noodles and pork , leaving all the vegetables. Observing this behavior, my homestay family thought it was hilarious and giggled at me. For dinner Ken and Kiki served us sōmen noodles, which are traditionally served by sliding the noodles down a noodle slide, for which we had to use chopsticks to try to catch them, which we were predictably not very good at.. This was a super cool and unique experience that I got to partake in thanks to my homestay family.
Day 7 and it’s our final day with our homestay family. That morning we went for another peaceful walk in the same woods. After breakfast Ken and Kiki drove us to where a farewell party was arranged for all the kids and families. The host families and their assigned kids were giving the opportunity to share their individual experiences with the rest of the audience. We (the kids) performed a song, “September” for our host families, which although not very well done, I think the all enjoyed. After the party was over and the host families left, Calvin and I got one more chance to say goodbye because we accidentally left the JICE cell phone Ken’s car so they drove back to returned it. We gave them one last hug and final good bye and told them that we loved our time spent with them.
Our final official task was a preparation meeting for our group’s action plan for a presentation to to JICE, the organization that sponsored this incredible trip. We ended up deciding to make this website to spread our information about our trip.
On day eight we flew back to Tokyo and then transported to JICE to give our presentation on our action plan. Later that day we went to a shopping mall and were each given $20 in coupons to spend on food. My friends and I pooled our money to save on our main dinner so that we could buy lots of candy and ice cream later. After getting loaded up on these treats,we were taken to the hotel and from there some of us went to Shibuya Crossing one more time. This time we were on the hunt for anime stores; Aaron bought a couple of figures, I bought a few Yu-Gi-Oh cards as well as most of my gifts for friends at home. Once everyone was done with the anime stores we went searching for the orange soda that John found in a vending machine on our first day in Japan, but forgot where the vending machine was located. We tried to backtrack to where he thought the vending machine was for 20 minutes and eventually found this fabled vending machine, and John got his orange soda.
On our last day, day 9, we went to the Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo. My friends and I walked to the shrine to make a traditional a wish. We also admired the architecture and the gateways that you had to walk through to get there. With the limited time left we turned our attention to one more anime figurine shop that was close by and quickly made our way there where our group of four spent about $470. We then had to get back to the bus, drive to the airport, and embark on our plane home.
Overall this was a life-changing and once in a lifetime journey where I learned so much about Japanese culture, its people, and history. I would highly advise anyone that has the chance to make their way to Japan and experience every wonderful part.