Destin’s ISE Experiences in Japan

Japanese and American Flags
Fireworks Festival in Japan
Fireworks at Japanese Fireworks Festival

By Destin

My Exchange Program in Japan (Part 1)
My First Hanabi Taikai

Hello! My name is Destin and I am currently participating in an ISE exchange program in Japan. I would like to share the experience so far!

One of the main things I knew I wanted to do once I was in Japan was to attend a fireworks festival. I’ve seen them in dramas and anime since I was a kid and always thought the displays were stunning! So it was no surprise that when summer rolled around and I was invited to one in Mito, I jumped at the opportunity!

I ended up going to the festival wearing a Yukata, a traditional summer kimono, and walking from the station to the grounds where the festival was being held. The walk was about 30 minutes and it sure was hot! However, the conversations my friends and I had while walking made it an overall enjoyable walk. Plus, there are convenience stores everywhere here, so we stopped to get ice cream halfway through which helped with the heat!

Once at the festival, it was packed with people. At some points, we could barely walk and had no idea where we were actually headed. In order to secure a good spot to watch the fireworks, we skipped the food and scaled a small hill. To our delight, when we arrived to the top there was barely anyone there! We ended up sitting on the grass and had a great view of the fireworks. The fireworks themselves lasted around an hour, but apparently, they used to set them off for longer. It’s just this year they had a smaller budget for some reason. Still, the experience was nothing short of a dream.

After the fireworks, we went around for food, but with the high prices and limited selection, we decided it would be best to walk to a nearby McDonald’s and end the night there. All in all, I had a blast and I definitely recommend attending a fireworks festival if you ever visit Japan in the summer whether it be as a tourist or an exchange student.

Japanese Floral Arrangement

By Destin

My Exchange Program in Japan (Part 2)
Club Activities

Club culture is very big in Japan. Similar to American high schools, all Japanese high schools have clubs. Where they differ from American clubs however, is in their intensity. Of course, more casual clubs exist where the members only meet once or twice a week. In Japan, most sports clubs meet every day all year round. Weekday meets are usually 2 1/2 hours after school, and weekend meets are 4 hours. I never participated in any high school sports in America, but I do believe there were seasons and off-times. At least for my high school here in Japan, there really isn’t any off time and the students generally take clubs very seriously. Another difference between American and Japanese club activities is that in America, while many students do take part in a club, there are still many that don’t. But in Japan, the majority of the students attend after school clubs. Now given that school here is from around 8am to around 4pm, this means that most students here don’t leave the school until around 7pm! Crazy, right?

As of now, I am in two clubs: soft tennis and tea ceremony. One nice thing is that soft tennis isn’t held on Fridays which is unique. Tea ceremony is on Friday so I end up having to stay at school anyway, but it’s less tiring so it still feels like a break.

Normally, I love the intensity and hanging out with my friends everyday, but as it becomes summer, I will say soft tennis also becomes more and more unbearable. It’s fun to be with friends, but Japanese summers are extremely rough, especially for someone who only really experienced Seattle summers. Overall though, I recommend joining a sports club if you come to Japan! It’s a great way to bond with classmates and it gives you more time to develop your language skills outside of school!

Baseball in Japan
Baseball in Japan

By Destin

My Exchange Program in Japan (Part 3)
Baseball Cheer

During my time at Katsuta School, I was given the opportunity to participate in my school’s baseball cheer. At first, I thought this event was unique to Katsuta, however this cheer event has been a tradition all over Japan for years. While I knew baseball was huge in Japan, I had no idea that this sort of event was a thing, so I was incredibly excited to experience it for the first time.

That being said, once I actually arrived at the game to watch I realized there was one big issue — the heat. It was so hot. It was so hot that a classmate walked around with a hose mister spraying everyone. However, despite the sweltering Japanese summer heat, I was still able to have a good time! One super cool thing I didn’t realize about baseball cheer too is that everyone takes it seriously! So as expected, the “pro cheer team” (as I like to call them) stood in front of all of the bleachers and led the cheer. Some of them wore gakuran to fit the classic cheer vibe which I find incredibly admirable because I would have flatlined because of how hot it was. But what surprised me was that everyone in the crowd was just as enthusiastic as the cheer team and there were very few, if any, students who didn’t participate. What added to the surprise was that there was a full brass band playing the cheer songs! There seemed to have been set cheers for each player. I also noticed other schools doing the same dances and songs as our school. I think there must be a list of classics somewhere that gets decided on before the games.

We ended up winning and the next game was scheduled on a school day so everyone got to skip classes. Overall, a fun experience! I would love to go again one day if given the opportunity!

Japanese Sweets
Japanese Sweets

By Destin

My Exchange Program in Japan (Part 4)
Sweets Buffet
The other day I went to a sweets buffet with my host family that was hosted at a hotel by Mito Station. Originally, I was supposed to go as part of the program with the program staff. Unfortunately, a few days before we were scheduled to go, I caught a cold and was unable to go. Upon hearing this and knowing how much I like sweets, my host family decided they would take me separately once I got better. Eventually, we were all able to go together!

We ended up arriving at around 3pm on a weekday over the summer holiday. It was a beautiful, high-end hotel. The buffet room looked a little too fancy to be a buffet room which was funny. Nonetheless, we all sat down, and after getting our plates we started going in for the sweets. There were probably around 10 types of sweets of all varieties — all bite-sized and carefully decorated. They also had some salad, savory cheese balls, and fries. This was a nice way to balance the sweetness and allow for one to eat more without getting sick of the sweetness. Aside from normal foods and sweets, they also served smoothies, Japanese shaved ice, and more traditional beverages like coffee and tea.

After eating for around an hour, we headed out extremely satisfied! Though we weren’t there for long, I feel like it was a very successful day as everyone was able to eat a ton. Also, given that the cost for each person was around $17.00, I think it was a good deal too!

I’m so glad I was still able to go despite getting sick and missing the initial date! I recommend the sweets buffet to anyone in the area who has a sweet tooth and a little bit of extra time!

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