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Experiences in Japan
   Evangelia-Anastasia Papoutsoglou

View of Tokyo
In 2009, I was given the unique opportunity of fulfilling my long-time dream and visiting Japan, all thanks to the Japan-Europe Mutual Understanding Scholarship Program for High School Students, which was organized by the International Friendship Association of Japan and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, for 45 students from all over Europe. Now, having spent about five weeks in Japan, from June 21st to July 26th, I must say that it was a truly outstanding experience that not only lived up to my expectations, but exceeded them by far.

The Tokyo Tower and surrounding area at night
For the first week we all stayed at a hotel in the Japanese capital. Given that the vast majority of the participants in this Program had not been to Japan before, the lectures and briefing sessions we attended were very enlightening, to say the least. Many special parts of the Japanese culture were presented to us in these lectures, along with detailed explanations and advice about numerous aspects of daily life. We also had Japanese language lessons, which I believe helped everyone adapt to the new environment and successfully helped us prepare for the homestay period. In this time we had the first chance to directly experience Japan by visiting some places. We all admired the view from the Tokyo Tower, visited Asakusa and the Edo-Tokyo Museum, and went to Shibuya many times. Even strolling in the streets of Japan was a whole new experience, and the view of shops, and the lit buildings and skyscrapers at night were a breathtaking sight I will remember for a long time.

With my second host mother
The longest part of my stay in Japan was, of course, the homestay period. My designated city was Yokohama, very close to Tokyo. I consider myself very lucky to have had two host families. Both were extremely friendly and helpful, and always eager to converse with me. For those three weeks, I really felt like I had siblings. The language barrier was negligible, almost non-existent, and we had a lot of fun together. Thanks to those two families I got in direct contact with the Japanese way of life.

Kabuki theatre in Ginza, Tokyo
We all attended a Kabuki performance, wore our yukata and went to festivals, and visited the Tokyo Technology museum. More relaxing activities included sightseeing in Akihabara and Odaiba, shopping, and playing traditional Japanese games. I even had the chance to try origami and ikebana myself, and see the preparation process of Japanese meals.

Festival in Yokohama
I attended lessons at the Yokohama International Girl's Institute Suiryo High School for those three weeks. The students and teachers there made me feel welcome, as everyone seemed to want to talk with me, not only about cultural subjects, but also common points of interest. I made many presentations concerning my country and way of life, and I believe that my efforts to pass some of my ideology on to the students were highly successful.

With friends and my host sister after an English lesson
In return I was able to attend many classes that we do not take in Greece: Tea Ceremony class, home economics class, social studies class, and -my personal favorite- calligraphy class. It all was a refreshing and fun experience, during which I befriended quite a number of Japanese students. After school there were many club activities I could participate in - my favorite was badminton. A special mention deserves the Tanabata celebration at school, in which we wrote our wishes on small pieces of papers, and then hanged those on trees. I also met some more foreign exchange students from France, Australia, Thailand, and even China, with which I was able to exchange opinions.

In front of the Great Buddha in Kamakura
One week before the conclusion of the program, the European students participating grouped up to visit some more places. Our first station was Kamakura, where we visited the big Hachimangu temple, the Big Buddha, and were given some free time to walk about. It was a tranquil place, not as crowded as Tokyo, and the local temples gave it a very special feel. Next was Hakone, where we stayed for the night. We were accommodated in a traditional Japanese inn, which gave us the chance to sleep in traditional rooms, have traditional Japanese food, sing karaoke, and bathe in the hot springs. For me that was the highlight of the week.

Cruise on Ashi Lake
The following day we were shown the Ōwakudani valley, where we observed volcanic activity, and tasted the famous black eggs, cooked in the hot springs. After a short cruise on Lake Ashi and a ride on the cable car, we finally visited the Hakone Open Air museum, and returned to Tokyo. On the last day we all exchanged opinions and experiences, and had many of or cultural questions answered in the wrap-up session, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

These five weeks went by really fast. The experiences are too many to be put into words, and the emotions too strong. I feel that this program, as a cultural exchange, has met immense success, and has not only offered me precious insight into the Japanese culture and many European ones, but has also enabled me to make many friends.

The multicultural background of this program has broadened my horizons, and is something I will definitely remember for the rest of my life. I did many things in Japan, tried many new experiences and practiced my language skills, but above all I improved my understanding of the Japanese people.

I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation for being offered this unique opportunity, and congratulate everyone who contributed, as everything was perfectly thought out and organized. Now I look forward to the day I will return in Japan, and meet again with the people I got so close to.


Ministry of Foreign Affairs - with my Host Families

Nijubashi Bridge in Tokyo

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