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My experience in Japan

I feel very grateful to have been selected by the Japanese Embassy in Athens to participate, on behalf of Greece, in the Study Tour of Japan for European Youth 2004. The programme organised by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs was an introduction to Japan that covered more than a typical first-time visit, combining sightseeing, plenty of educational events, hands-on workshops for traditional arts, and the opportunity to stay with Japanese host families. This was a fantastic experience and a unique opportunity to appreciate a variety of different aspects of Japanese culture, history, traditions and life within only two weeks.


The programme started in Tokyo with an orientation session at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, followed by a tour of the Japanese Parliament (called the Diet'!) and lunch at the ruling LDP party headquarters to discuss current politics in Japan. Then a greatly enjoyable Ikebana workshop gave us the chance to watch beautiful creations by the Ikebana teacher and have our first hands-on experience.

Starting off early the following morning we were taken to see what the sumo wrestlers' training is like, a most amazing experience, especially since we were literally sitting less than two metres from the training ring!

A visit to Asakusa afterwards, well known for its impressive Senso-ji temple, the oldest one in Tokyo, and the nearby shrine, gave us the chance to see and experience some of the rituals associated with temple and shrine visits. It was also nice to walk around the shopping street and browse the numerous handicraft and food stalls.

The Edo Tokyo Museum presenting the different periods in the history of Tokyo was also very interesting and the cultural introduction in Tokyo wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Kabuki theatre; our evening there included watching a performance and then staying for a flower bento dinner.

For me though, one of the most interesting aspects of our stay in Tokyo was visiting technology-related companies. I was impressed to see Sanwa Denki, a manufacturing company assembling electronic parts for high-tech engineering. It was nice that the Director warmly welcomed us, gave us an interesting presentation and a tour of the company and then honestly discussed with us about working conditions in Japan.

I was also fascinated by the visit to the new Panasonic Centre in Tokyo. I found exciting the display of Panasonic's latest products and services and especially the demonstration of how Panasonic envisages everyday life using innovative networking technologies. It was also great when one of the Panasonic representatives took me around to their 'Dinosaur Factory' exhibition and gave me a demonstration of the portable guides used to enhance the visitors' experience, which particularly interested me with regard to my work. We also visited the NHK broadcasting corporation and watched an impressive demonstration of their HDTV technology through an astonishingly crisp clip shot in Antarctica.


From Tokyo we flew out to visit Hiroshima. The sight of the surviving building after the A-bombing in Hiroshima, the excellently presented Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the talk by a survivor of the A-bombing touched us all. Hiroshima is a very nice modern city, with loads of green countryside around, and each one of us looked forward to meeting our host family with whom we were going to stay for a full day.

Esther, the Dutch participant, and I were very ucky to stay with the Shigetake family, in a huge house in the countryside, with a fantastic garden. The family knew very well how to look after their guests, and we had a great time with them.

We actually did and experienced so much with them within just 24 hours: shopping in a Japanese supermarket, cooking typical Japanese food, sleeping on the tatami in a Japanese style room, visiting a religious festival on the mountain and the countryside, trying on kimonos. It was a memorable experience of everyday life and a fantastic opportunity to bond with the family. We were sad to leave them at the end of our stay.

Kyoto and Nara

The following morning we boarded the shinkansen -bullet train- for our trip to Kyoto. In Kyoto we first visited the Heian shrine and were very lucky to see a traditional Japanese wedding procession. Then we tried our skills at making Japanese sweets; at the end of the workshop we were offered a cup of green tea to wash down our creations. Even more enjoyable and interesting was the following day's calligraphy workshop. it was great to try a traditional art unknown to most Europeans but very interesting and challenging at the same time.

The rest of our sightseeing in Kyoto and then in Nara was unfortunately ruined by the typhoon that hit the area... But even in that weather, struggling with the heavy rain and the umbrellas, in soaked shoes and trousers, we kept on, and it was definitely worth it. The temples and gardens of Kyoto were truly beautiful, and so representative of everyone's images of Japan. The Imperial Palace, the Nijo shogun castle with its amazingly constructed nightingale floors that warned the shogun of any intruders, and Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavillion were all fantastic.

The same goes to the old wooden temples in Nara: Horyuji and Todaiji housing the impressively huge Buddha statue. In Nara, we had the chance to stay at a traditional ryokan pension, situated in a beautiful setting by the river, relax in a hot spring bath, dress in yukatas and have the experience of a fine Japanese dinner with amazingly elaborate and tasty dishes.

Spending time together with the rest of the group and our guides in the warm atmosphere of the ryokan was great, and I have regretted that I was too tired to follow the group to the nearby karaoke place- everyone said it was great fun singing together. Before heading back to Tokyo, the following morning we visited the very busy Kyomizudera temple and strolled around the shopping street to buy traditional Kyoto sweets and tsukemono pickles.

Back in Tokyo

For the final days of the programme, on our way from Tokyo station to the hotel that evening, I eventually realised that it was this vibrant city, its buildings, lights, colourful displays, and millions of people rushing in the streets after work, that I was deeply impressed by.

The following day we visited the International Christian University and had discussion sessions with Japanese students to exchange our views and get to know each other's way of thinking.

The students gave us also karate and tea ceremony demonstrations. In the evening, a farewell party organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave us the chance to meet again and chat informally with everyone we had met so far during the programme.

On our last night in Tokyo, the taiko drummers of the Nagisa community impressed us with the warmth of their hospitality and their kindness. After a memorable concert ?during which they kept on with their drumming, incredibly undisturbed by an 5.8 R earthquake. they offered us traditional robes and invited us to try drumming with them which was great fun. A fantastic buffet dinner full of delicious home made food and a farewell ceremony concluded the evening and our programme in Japan.

Meeting Japanese friends

Off programme hours, the trip to Japan gave me the chance to eventually meet my penpal Yumi who kindly came over to Kyoto and took me for dinner to a nice sushi bar. It was also great to meet my friend Jun who, during the little time we had free from the programme in Tokyo, kindly showed me and Eleftheria more of the modern side of Japan ? dinner in nice places in Ebisu and Ginza, karaoke and drinks at Shibuya, Saturday shopping and lunch at Ginza.

Overall it was a very full programme, even exhausting at times!-, very interesting and very enjoyable, which certainly deepened my understanding and further developed my interest in Japan and helped me initiate friendly relationships with Japanese people.

Everything I wrote in my essay that would interest me in Japan was covered and even exceeded. Our guides and the very interesting people that formed the group contributed to creating a warm and lively atmosphere that along with the very comfortable accommodation and delicious food arranged for us made me feel that I would happily stay longer.

I came back with loads of photos, 2 photo cds as presents, loads of my very much loved Japanese sweets, pickles, cute handcraft creations, pretty stationery and as much as I could buy in the 2 hours I spent in Muji, one of my ever favourite stores. And above all, I came back with the impressions of a unique experience, determined to keep up with my Japanese language classes and go back for a longer stay.

Katerina Moutogianni,
Digital Applications Specialist, Hellenic Ministry of Culture. 2004 Study Tour of Japan - Group A participant

('Ολες οι φωτογραφίες παραχωρήθηκαν ευγενικά από την συγγραφέα)
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