If there’s one thing I love more than eating, it’s travelling! 🛫 It’s so exciting getting to experience another culture and seeing how different or similar things are to your own home city.

Japan has always been my top destination to visit and early last year I was finally given the opportunity to travel there through the JENESYS 2015 exchange program. And it was an all expenses paid for trip! I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start off my first trip to Japan 😍✨

The Program

JENESYS 2015 was the Japanese Government’s flagship youth exchange program which offered a study tour to Japan from 26 January to 3 February 2016 for 75 Australian university students. The theme for my program was “Japanese Culture and Japanese Language”.

The objectives of this program was to:

  • promote mutual trust and understanding among the peoples of Japan and the Asia-Pacific region, and to build a basis for future friendship and cooperation.
  • And to promote a global understanding of Japan’s society, history, diverse culture, politics, and diplomatic relations.

I’m not too sure if it runs every year but it was on again last year and applications were open around Oct 2016. Check the website of the Japanese Consulate (or Embassy if you’re in Canberra) of your capital city regularly for more details! That’s where the program details and application form will be posted. I think it’s also a good idea to join University Japanese cultural societies on Facebook- that’s how I heard about this program.

Experiencing Japan

During the trip we were divided into 3 groups, sorted by the prefecture we would go to. I was in the Yamaguchi group and the other groups went to Hiroshima or Nagasaki. We spent 4.5 days in Tokyo and 3.5 days in Yamaguchi – we went from Tokyo to Yamaguchi and then back to Tokyo. We did so many things I’m just going to focus on what stood out for me!

Tokyo

I think one of the most exciting things for me during the program was going to Diver City Tokyo Plaza in Odaiba! 😂 Since the theme was on culture and language I knew we wouldn’t have many chances to shop so I got most of my beauty and makeup items during this day lol.  It was also really cool to see the giant Gundam up close!

Team Yamaguchi!

We also had a calligraphy lesson before we flew to Yamaguchi. I still can’t write kanji nicely despite having to do calligraphy multiple times in Japanese and Chinese classes.. maybe one day I’ll become better 😭 It was very soothing watching the instructor write the characters and at the end we wrote a poem on a huge sheet and each character was written by someone different. They also gave us a fan to write a character on which made a nice souvenir.

Yamaguchi

I wasn’t sure what to expect when going to Yamaguchi as it was my first time hearing about the prefecture and googling didn’t really give much information besides scenic spots. It’s definitely a big contrast from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and was also much colder. But so beautiful! We got to visit the Akiyoshidai Plateau and got to learn about the history of the area. Unfortunately it was cloudy so we couldn’t see much but it was still beautiful to see all the fog covering everything. Afterwards we went to the Akiyoshido Cave and we got to see all the limestone caverns and formations. I think it’s always breathtaking and mysterious to enter and explore a cave, it’s amazing to see how things have formed over centuries.

One of my most memorable experiences of my program was experiencing home stay where another girl and myself stayed for the night. The family we got were so friendly and made us feel so welcome even though we were with them for such a short time. We also got to meet their niece and her friend (I think they were around 12?) and they played games with us to practice their English. Our host mother also cooked a lot of delicious food for us and even let us try some homemade umechu!

Another activity I really enjoyed was making soba noodles. It was a tough process! Even though we kneaded the dough in groups, I still found it tiring haha. But it’s always nice to eat food which you’ve made isn’t it?

We also got to visit Yamaguchi University where some of the students gave us a mini tour of their campus. It was such a big and spacious campus and it was cool to see all the club rooms. I think it’s cool to see that they have dedicated club rooms whereas at my uni we usually just book tutorial rooms to hold events. 

And Back to Tokyo

In our first day back in Tokyo we went to the Ajinomoto Fatory. I had no idea that they’re known for their umami seasoning which is MSG 😯  It was really cool to see the behind the scenes and learn about the company. I had fun trying to make bonito flakes and we got to try what miso soup tastes like without the flavouring and then with the seasoning. Such a big difference!

On our final day we got to visit Akihabara! We only had 2 hours to explore but I also ended up buying a lot of things (and exchanging my emergency money into yen HAHAHA). We spent quite a lot of time in Bookoff coz I was helping friends find Studio Ghibli books in Japanese and I ended up getting Yokai Watch 2 for like $15 yipee! and then we went to check out gachapon to get rid of our coins.

And of course what would this trip be without a trip to Animate? I may have panicked as I saw we had little time left and ended up shoving whatever I saw into my basket.. But hey it’s cheaper then buying online right? I was just so happy to see Ensemble Stars merch and I ended up buying things for my itabag (but that’s for another post).

My Thoughts and Reflection

I had the most amazing time and I’m so glad that my first experience of Japan was through this program. Even though I was only there for 8 days, I created many memories and got to experience a lot of new things. The great thing about a program like this is that you get to go to places you wouldn’t have thought of visiting and experiencing things like home stay.
If you’re currently university student, I highly encourage that you apply for this program. I think it’s a great opportunity, especially if you have never been to Japan before, and you also get to meet new people.

Obviously I’ve left out some things since I can’t blog about every little thing but if you have any questions please leave a comment below and I’ll be glad to reply.

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