Youth Exchange

My amazing Japanese journey

By Ash Rivers

Thanks to the New Zealand and Japan Lions clubs, for a month over the Christmas break I had an incredible trip to Kyoto, Japan. The Manawatu Lions Club were my sponsors.

On 15 December I left the clearing skies of New Zealand for the increasingly wintry lands of Japan. But for the trip of a lifetime, a little missed sunshine was a small price to pay. Although a little nervous, I was excited; finally arriving after an overnight flight, I met my host father at the Osaka airport and drove to my host family’s home in Uji, a town in the Kyoto prefecture well-known for its green tea.

Various Lions-organised activities ensued over the following week. I was joined in these by four other youth exchange students also staying in the Kyoto area, from Malaysia, Italy and Australia. We saw the giant Japanese salamander, drank hot green tea from vending machines (in plastic bottles), went skiing with even more youth exchange students, attended a Lions Club welcome party and experienced aspects of traditional Japanese culture such as ikebana (flower arranging) and a tea ceremony. I also attended Tatsuko, my host sister’s concert where she played the oboe. My host mother, Tomomi, took me sightseeing round Uji, including Byodoin temple.

One of the highlights of the trip was Universal Studios, Osaka. The Harry Potter (inside a giant replica of Hogwarts castle) and Jurassic Park (ending with a 26-metre drop) rides were my personal favourites.

On Christmas Day, the other Kyoto youth exchange students and I went to one of their host family’s houses. Interestingly, not only did we eat KFC, but it was home delivered! My host family took me to Osaka Aquarium later that week, where I saw the aquarium’s trade mark whale shark and ticked “see the Japanese giant spider crab” off my bucket list! On my last day with them, my host family took me to a temple in Nara famous for the hundreds of cheeky deer milling around the surrounding area

The following day, I farewelled the Sahara family and met the Kamatani family, my new hosts. I was lucky enough to see Kinkakuji, the golden temple, in the snow when it is most beautiful. My host mother, Sawako, and I went to Osaka where we saw Osaka castle. I took a photo from the top which turned out to be from the exact same place my mother took a photo when she visited Japan on the Lions trip herself at my age.

The following day, I was able to experience riding in a rickshaw to Kyomizu temple. I was lucky enough to meet a geisha, who accompanied some Lions Club members and me as we went sightseeing in Kyoto city. As I was missing my pets at home, I thoroughly enjoyed going to a cat cafe, although the cats weren’t as friendly as mine.

I had the most amazing trip, and would definitely recommend it to anyone old enough to go. I will return to Japan sometime in the future, preferably in the spring so I can see the famous Kyoto cherry blossoms.

Photos: Top - Osaka   Above - Ash with her second "host-sister".

Here are a few tips for anyone who is thinking about doing an exchange or are going on an exchange:
  • Make sure you have your camera, phone, iPad or whatever photography device you have, with you all the time. You never know what you’re going to see and you don’t want to miss a photo opportunity.
  • Have a Skype account or Viber! It is always good to have some sort of free communication app to contact friends and family to update them on your adventures!
  • Keep a diary and write in it every day. You do so much on this trip that an activity might slip your mind and you don’t want to forget a thing!
  • Have a dictionary or phrase book for the language of what they speak in the country you are visiting. Not everyone will speak English and you want to be able to communicate.

For more information visit the Youth to Travel Website







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