This past summer, I was given the life-changing opportunity of visiting the fascinating city of Tokyo, Japan. I went with ten other teens from my area as part of an exchange program with the Mobile Ichihara Sister City Association. We stayed for ten days with host families in a charming town just outside of Tokyo called Ichihara, and we engaged in numerous activities that were both fun and culturally enlightening. I'd like to share with you some of the highlights of my trip that, if you should find yourself lucky enough to travel to Japan, you simply cannot miss.
Let's start with one of the most important aspects of any trip: food. I sampled a wide variety of Japanese cuisine, and the large majority of it was delicious. Some of the best meals I had were prepared by my own host family, so I would strongly recommend, if at all possible, trying to find a way to get a home-cooked meal. Among my favorite dishes were fried pork dumplings called gyoza, a noodle soup called udon, and anything fried in a crunchy tempura batter! As for dining out, the most fun and unique experience I had was eating at a shabu-shabu restaurant, where you get to boil thinly siced meat, noodles, and vegetables in a hot broth yourself before slathering them all with the sauce of your choice and pairing with rice. Delicious! Also, I'm personally a sushi fan, but nigiri-style sushi (rice topped with a piece of raw fish) is not for the faint of heart. Only sample this if you're a hard-core sushi lover. Lastly, avoid pickled plums at all costs. Trust me.
Now for the attractions. If you have the chance, you should definitely give zazen a try. It's a traditional Japanese form of meditation, and I found it to be a very culturally enlightening and relaxing experience. The beautiful temples and surrounding scenery allow you to truly clear your mind and get in touch with nature.
This next one may sound a little mundane, but I would recommend going shopping at a typical Japanese grocery store. It's a really neat experience because you don't expect to find so many different and exotic items. While you're at it, stop by a mall, too. Some of the best shopping I've ever found was in Japan, and for any young fashionistas out there, Axes Femme is the place to go.
Also, nothing can compare to a Japanese arcade; you absolutely must visit one. One of our group's favorite activities was taking pictures in a Japanese photo booth, or Purikura. It's a unique experience that your whole family will love.
As for your standard Japanese staples, Tokyo Tower is a must-see, as are Meiji-Jingu Temple and Asakusa. Another hot shopping destination is the Harajuku district, where you're sure to see some interesting ensembles. Simply walking down the streets of Tokyo is a unique experience in and of itself.
All in all, my ten days in Japan were some of the best days of my life. It was an experience that opened my eyes, broadened my horizons, and transformed my perspective. I made lifelong friends, created wonderful memories, and had the time of my life. I would recommend visiting Ichihara and Tokyo, Japan, to anyone.
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