Japan: Language and Cultural Traditions

Learn or expand your Japanese through this language- and culture-focused summer abroad program for high school students.

Study Japanese, live with a host family, and explore the cultural and historical sights of Tokyo, Sapporo, and Kyoto on this immersive high school summer abroad program. While in Sapporo, receive 30–35 hours of formal language instruction—provided at three language levels—in small-group, interactive formats. Practice reading and writing hiragana and kanji with Japanese teachers. Participate in language exchanges with local students while practicing communication skills for everyday life in Japan and your upcoming homestay. Take time to sample local delicacies, order gyoza and sushi at local restaurants, explore Japan’s natural beauty, and learn about the indigenous Ainu culture of Hokkaido. Visit the homes of local college students to learn about Japanese home life and cook together.

You will further enhance your Japanese and deepen your understanding of culture and family life in Japan through the program’s homestay. Learn to cook homemade soba noodles or to roll your own sushi with your host parents, and hang out with your host siblings. Take advantage of opportunities to learn the art of Japanese flower arrangement or the tea ceremony. Activities during this time could also include visiting a local school, practicing Zen meditation, or participating in a traditional festival.

Your exploration through Japan continues as you spend several days exploring the temples, markets, and shrines of ancient Kyoto. Hike to Nij┼Ź Castle, home to the ancient imperial court, and visit the golden-walled Kinkaku-ji temple. The program begins and ends in Tokyo, where you and your group will explore the famous sites, museums, and diverse neighborhoods of one of the world’s most populous cities.

Language Certificate: At the conclusion of this program, participants will earn a language certificate noting how many hours of language classes they completed.

Orientation: Tokyo, 3 days
Homestay: Bihoro, Nanae, Tomakomai, or Otaru,* 7–9 days
Other Accommodations: Hotels, hostels, pensions, and/or temple stay

* Homestay locations can vary.

Days 1–3

Orientation in Tokyo

  • Learn about the history and culture of Japan
  • Get to know other members of your group during activities and group discussions
  • Visit famous sites and museums throughout the city
  • Explore diverse neighborhoods, navigate the city using public transportation, and sample Japanese cuisine

During the orientation period, you and your group will stay in a centrally located hotel.

Days 4–12

Thematic Focus in Sapporo

  • Become immersed in Japanese language and culture
  • Attend interactive small-group language classes
  • Learn about the indigenous Ainu culture, meet with local college students, hike Maruyama, and sample local delicacies
  • Participate in a Japanese cooking workshop and visit a local anime studio

During this period, you and your group will stay at a nonprofit center.

Days 13–22


  • Become fully immersed in the daily life of a Japanese family and community
  • Do activities with your host family
  • Explore your host community and the surrounding area with your group
  • Visit local schools, experience onsen (hot springs), and practice Japanese calligraphy

During this period, you will stay in the home of a family. Sample host communities: Bihoro, Nanae, Tomakomai, Otaru

Days 23–28

Excursion to Kyoto

  • Explore the ancient city of Kyoto
  • Visit local temples, shop in bustling street markets, see pristine Japanese gardens, and experience the traditional art and architecture of Kyoto

During this excursion, you and your group will stay in a hotel.

Day 29

Program Reflection and Wrap-up in Tokyo

  • Reflect with your group on your experiences during the program

During the reflection period, you and your group will stay in a centrally located hotel.

Day 30


Please note: This itinerary is only a sample and is subject to change. Because of factors such as group size and availability of in-country offerings such as festivals, your experience — including sites visited and the number of days spent in each location — may differ somewhat from the one presented above.

These are leader bios from summer 2014.

Allison Barnes

Allie is a veteran leader, having had two wonderful experiences co-leading the Japan: Language and Cultural Traditions program. A native of Indianapolis, Indiana, Allie Barnes graduated from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, with a BA in art and minors in Japanese studies and theater arts. She spent her junior year studying at Waseda University while living with a host family in Tokyo, Japan. After college, she spent a year serving at a high school in Sitka, Alaska, as an AmeriCorps volunteer. She then worked as a professional photographer at a family studio. As of fall 2014, Allie is working on her master’s in international education at SIT Graduate Institute.

Allie jumps at the chance to travel; besides her trips to Japan, she has also traveled to South Korea, France, Italy, Canada, Jamaica, and Mexico. Allie also loves to swim, dance, rock climb, hike, or just park on the couch with a good book or TV show.

Joshua Moore

A Kentucky native, Josh Moore graduated from Centre College in 2010 with a BA in political science and philosophy. From 2010 to 2012, Josh taught English to Japanese elementary and junior high school students in the small town of Isen. Upon returning to the US, he began work as a project manager at the Japan-America Society of Kentucky, where he planned events to better connect communities in Japan and Kentucky. Josh also has a passion for volunteering in his community, and he has worked closely with the local sister cities commission and a primate rescue center. In fall 2014, Josh moved to the Northeast to tackle a new challenge: he is now a first-year law student at Boston College. In his spare time (of which he has woefully little while in law school), Josh enjoys reading, cycling, and practicing martial arts.

Nicholas Plimpton

Nicholas PlimptonHailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Nick Plimpton graduated from Kenyon College in 2006 with a BA in history and a minor in Japanese. After spending his junior year at Waseda University in Tokyo, Nick longed to return to Japan after graduation. He therefore applied, and was accepted to, the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, and from 2006 to 2008, Nick taught English on Aguni Island, a community of 800 people, in Okinawa, Japan.

When Nick returned to the US, he began his medical education, completing his prerequisites at the University of Minnesota, and obtaining an MA in medical sciences at Boston University. After leading an Experiment program to Japan in summer 2014, Nick headed to Florida, where he is currently a first-year medical student at the University of South Florida. Nick is a lifelong traveler, having been all over the US, as well as to Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, Canada, and East Asia. In addition to his love for travel, Nick loves to run, camp, hike, read, canoe, and play saxophone.

Emma Stadele

Emma grew up in a small mountain town called Nederland in Colorado, where her childhood consisted of frolicking through the mountains and imagining far-off destinations. She graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2013 with a BA in psychology, and during her college years she enjoyed being an extremely nerdy developmental psychology research assistant. Emma has always been on a mission to see the world and has traveled to Copan Ruinas, Honduras, where she taught English; Juarez, Mexico, where she built houses; Akita, Japan, where she studied abroad; and Tokyo, Japan, where she taught English and lived with a host family.

Besides globetrotting, Emma loves running, hiking, re-reading Harry Potter, listening to good music, obsessively watching My Neighbor Totoro, eating Azuki bean paste, and hanging out with her adorable dog Edea. A two-time Experiment leader to Japan, Emma is currently teaching, saving up for graduate school, and plotting her next travel adventures.

I learned so many things. I learned that you can’t fully enjoy the experience of being in a foreign country if you’re not open-minded. You must be open and willing to try whatever is thrown your way because you could miss out on a once in a lifetime experience.

I think the language training was the most helpful part of the trip. I came here with no knowledge of Japanese and now I can actually read some of the hiragama and katakama. My sensei was also just wonderful and incredibly nice. I also loved the language portion we had and [the] teacher’s assistants. They helped with our conversation skills and were always fun to spend time with.

Lizett Gutierrez, Chinquapin School

My host family experience, in my mind, could not have been any better. My host family took me in as one of their own! I usually was watching/ playing with the kids, but I also helped around the house when asked. I learned that the world is just as curious as I thought. By that I mean it was a back and forth learning experience. As I cleared misconceptions, I learned more about culture. As I practiced my Japanese, I fortified the bonds of mutual exchange.

Francesca Carletto-Leon, Woodrow Wilson Senior High School