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Japan´s location has had a profound influence on the country’s history which has been alternation of periods of closure and openness. Japan isolated itself from the revaluation during the Edo period, just over 250 years. From the late 1800s and until 1945 Japan was developed from a small isolated country on the Pacific edge of the mightiest empire in East Asia. Japan is the world’s third largest economy, and is a trendsetter both in terms of culture, fashion and technology. Japanese culture is widely known for its traditional arts as well as its contemporary pop culture. Many foreigners find Japanese culture very attractive much due to a mix of a refined cuisine, different social customs and sophisticated performing and visual arts. It is still possible to see women in kimonos walking down the street and sumo wrestlers battling it out the ring. The second largest city in the world is Tokyo, the capital of Japan. Approximately 45 % of the total population is concentrated in Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya. Nearly 80 % of the population lives in urban areas. Japan’s population is 99 % homogeneous, with only a small number of Koreans, Chinese, and native Ainu. Religions do not play a big role in the everyday life of Japanese people. Japanese religion is a mix of Shinto and Buddhism. Shinto is the older religion of traditional Japan and Buddhism is the more recent imported faith. Japanese culture has been influenced by both of these religions. Most Japanese are not very religious but more superstitious.
Japanese is the only official language spoken in Japan. However, English is the only foreign language which all Japanese must learn so many of them are able to understand English to a certain extent. Japanese is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. The country has four clear seasons which they are very proud of. To experience the cherry blossoms in spring and the autumn leaves are a beautiful sight. As in all big countries the climate varies though considerably depending on the region and season. Summer is usually very hot and humid. The rainy season last for a month and starts in mid-July. The winters are often mild, spring and autumn are usually sunny with warm temperatures but not too hot. Ten percent of the land area is covered by residential and industrial areas while the rest, two thirds are covered by mountains, hills and forest. Japan is home to many animals – brown bears in Hokkaido, tropical snakes in Okinawa, monkey throughout the country except Hokkaido, cranes, deer, foxes and raccoons. The Japanese cuisine is one of Japan’s greatest attractions. Takoyaki, sushi, sashimi, and tempura are only a small part of the wide variety of interesting and delicious food you can experience in Japan. Japanese food is as cultivate as any of the great cuisines of the world. A few details that set Japanese cuisine apart from other cuisines are its focus on using quality ingredients, particular seasonality, and impeccable presentation. The traditional Japanese food is famous around the world for being the healthiest.
The host families are carefully selected. The area representatives are required to visit the host families personally to discuss each host family’s expectations and prepare them for the responsibilities of a successful hosting. Through the whole year, the area representatives will keep in close contact with the host families and the students, to ensure that everyone has a good experience and understands the nature of cultural differences. Even though the host families in Japan are open to the acceptance of other cultures it is the student’s responsibility to fit in with the host family, not the other way around. It is important to bear in mind that not many host families speak English. In some cases, our exchange student will have a host sister or brother though who might be able to speak a little English. Students go to school by bus, train and subway and the distance varies. Students should be prepared that it takes up to an hour and a half to go to school. While living in a Japanese family, the students get the chance to taste the real Japanese food. The students are encouraged to introduce their countries’ food culture too. Apart from forks and knives, the students will experience using chopsticks in Japan. Western influenced restaurants are becoming more and more common these days. Students therefore still have the chance to have Western food when they miss it. During the whole year, students will celebrate the Japanese holidays with the host family, such as the Japanese Shogatsu New Year. The New Year vacations are, according to tradition, the best time to thank the Gods (kami) who look after the harvest and to welcome the ancestral spirits who protect the family. Vacations include New Year’s, the biggest celebration of the year, when almost all businesses close and people visit shrines and relatives (January 1 to 3).
There are both public and private high schools in Japan. The Japanese high school year begins in April. There are two-three semesters each year depending on the school. The summer holiday runs from around the 20th of July to end of August. The winter holiday begins around the 23rd of December and ends around the 7th of January. High school consists of Grade10–12. Exchange students can only apply for full academic school year. Exchange students usually go to school from Monday to Friday. Some private schools have lessons on Saturday’s as well. They arrive at school at 8 o’clock in the morning. The courses finish at 3:30 pm. They will have courses together with Japanese students and are expected to try their best to follow the courses. There are usually six periods of classes during a day. Each session is normally about 50 minutes. For Japanese students different subjects are offered at the schools, both compulsory and elective. It is up to the schools to decide which subjects exchange students can attend. For Japanese students, Japanese, English, Math, History, Geography, Chemistry, Biology, Computer Science, Physics and PE are compulsory subjects and Art, Music, Calligraphy and some other subjects are example of elective subjects. In the afternoon exchange students are recommended to attend extra-curricular activities after school. They can also attend a sport club. This is a great opportunity for exchange students to make new friends. At some schools they organize Japanese classes for foreign students but this is not something to expect. Almost all schools have their own uniforms. It varies from school to school. Sometimes students do not need to wear the uniform every day but in some schools uniform is mandatory. The exchange students will be shown where to buy the uniform before school starts. A neat appearance is expected at all the times. Girls are not allowed to wear makeup and piercings. Punctuality is required for both Japanese students and exchange students. Most of the schools have canteens on the campus but students bring lunch from home. Students always have the lunch at school since they are not allowed to go home. Both teachers and students are friendly. Students do not use teachers’ first name at school. Normally, they say “Sensei” “Teacher”. Speaking English is not a requirement for Japanese teachers at school. Exchange students should not expect many teachers speak English. We highly encourage exchange students to communicate in Japanese as much as possible, which will improve their Japanese proficiency quickly.
It will be a big challenge to learn Japanese, a language which is completely different from Western languages. A “Japanese Preparation Course” will be organized for all students at the beginning of the academic year. This preparation course is included in the price. During this course the students will have Japanese lessons. Besides language lessons, the students will cover some interesting topics on Japanese culture together with Japanese University students who speaks English. Some interesting activities will also be arranged. This course is great fun for the students. After the Preparation Course, the students will move to the host families, often in another city, to start the exchange experience. There are many interesting places worth visiting in an exciting and unique country as Japan. During the exchange year the students will have the opportunity to visit many interesting places. Information about excursions in Japan will be given to the students during the year in Japan.
Welcome to Japan!