Study Abroad Showcase- Kevin Yuan, Japan, 2017

Traveling around Japan was one of the most breathtaking parts of my study abroad experience. I had plenty of opportunities to explore around Tokyo and to venture out to other cities and prefectures, each of which offered a unique experience that served to highlight the beauty of Japan. Each ward in the nation’s capital seemed to have a different atmosphere – from the modern feel of Roppongi, to the natural greenery of Ueno, to the upbeat tech-centered Akihabara, Tokyo itself represents a microcosm of the diverse cityscapes across Japan. Relaxing movie nights in Shinjuku, shopping sprees in Ikebukuro, traditional events and festivals in Asakusa – visiting each different area allowed a unique escape every time from the banality of daily school life. For my birthday, I participated in the Tokyo Metro Underground Mysteries campaign with a couple of my friends, searching to find and solve puzzles hidden all across the city. The campaign led us to many different areas of Tokyo, including many we hadn’t previously visited, allowing us to get a new taste of the sights the city has to offer.

But one of the things that I enjoyed a lot was exploring scenic spots outside of major cities. Lakes, forests, mountains, beaches, rivers, small towns – adventuring around was convenient and always brought out a new perspective with which to view Japan. Beyond the nation’s capital, I had the freedom to explore all around the country, spending at least a night in eight different prefectures and passing through countless more.

Over spring break in March, I spent upwards of 100 hours on trains, buses, and planes, including several 6-7 hour-long train journeys north as part of a series of long-distance rides I took with a friend as we slowly made our way to Hokkaido, the northern most prefecture of Japan. Gazing out the train windows and passing by diverse scenes zooming by, I felt amazed by the variety of outside views. From city billboards and high-rise buildings and towers, to small residential neighborhoods, to farmland, to natural mountains, snowy hills, and lakes, a look outside always seems to provide a perspective into the diverse parts and regions of Japan.

On our way to Hokkaido, we stopped at several points, each of which presented local delicacies and unique flair. In Sendai, beef tongue dishes and zunda (a special paste made from edamame soybeans) sweets ruled supreme, and its urban center contrasted nicely with the nearby natural destinations of the Akiu Great Falls, Rairaikyo Gorge, and the snowy fox paradise of Zao Fox Village. The apple-obsessed port city of Aomori offered a breathtaking view of the Tsugaru Strait separating Hokkaido from Honshu, the main island of Japan, and showcased its cultural symbol of “nebuta,” floats that are used to celebrate at one of the largest summer festivals in Japan. The brisk and snowy weather in Hakodate served as a suitable welcome into Hokkaido, and its tall mountainside observation deck overlooked a gorgeous and vast cityscape. And finally, Sapporo, as the last leg, had a city center with great food and bustling nightlife, with a huge variety of shops and parks that allowed us many things to do. While the journey itself was exhausting, every moment was spent taking in a new part of Japan which made the adventure feel extremely rewarding.

My travels in July added more unique experiences. I trekked up Mt. Fuji with two friends over one weekend, and we saw the beautiful sunrise from the summit 3776 meters above sea level – the highest point in Japan. Reaching the summit at sunrise and looking off into the distance was astounding. The moment the sun broke through the clouds, the sky glowed beautifully, illuminating all of the nature around the base of the mountain. Although the hike itself was fairly exhausting, and I didn’t get any sleep in the hut the night before, seeing the sunrise made me feel completely awake. The hike to the top felt completely rewarding, and the views during the descent made everything worthwhile as well – I couldn’t have asked for a better way to signal the end of my year-long study abroad journey.

During my last week in Japan, I took my first ever solo trip to Tottori Prefecture, a coastal region in the northwestern area of the central island. There, I visited Japan’s only desert region – the Tottori Sand Dunes – a unique sight found nowhere else in the nation and which atmosphere-wise felt like the antithesis of Mount Fuji. I also had the opportunity to visit the small towns of Hokuei Town and Iwami, both of which provided scenic views into the life of not-so-densely-populated rural areas. Traveling alone initially felt a bit daunting, but with the convenient nationwide transportation networks and the general reassuring sense of safety in all areas made everything more enjoyable and relaxing.

Studying abroad has been one of the best times of my life. In addition to instilling the spirit of adventure within me, I’ve gained new insight, achieved greater self-confidence, and learned a lot more about the world. I can’t wait to return to Japan and continue exploring new places in the future. For anyone who’s considering studying abroad, I highly encourage it!