Japan. The land of Samurai, Sumo wrestling, giant city destroying sea monsters, and the construction workers that rebuild once they leave. A place at once both exotic and contemporary, providing the potential traveler (that's you!) with a distinct cultural flavor while retaining the majority of the modern comforts the those in the west expect, at least provided you're under six feet tall. While "because you can" remains the best reason to go anywhere in the world, Japan has much more to offer than just the opportunity.

  • Language: The first thing to know when speaking with a Japanese person is, well, Japanese. While the country does have English signs in the bigger cities and some mandated English education in grade school, it is amongst the worst scoring countries in Asia when it comes to English speaking ability.
  • Popular Destinations: As Japan's capital and the worlds most populous metropolitan area, Tokyo has a plethora of opportunities for a traveler to experience. Outside of Tokyo, you can visit Kyoto, the capital of Japan in a more imperial time, or Mount Fuji if volcanoes are more your speed. With 6,852 islands to explore, Japan has more to offer than any article could encapsulate.
  • Cost of Living: Tokyo is often considered the most expensive place in the world to live. As with any country, this can change significantly depending on location and lifestyle.
  • Activities: Outside of the usual tourist activities of sightseeing and eating local cuisine, there are other unique opportunities that should be taken advantage of. Climbing Mount Fuji, going to a sumo match, eating sushi, shoving people on a subway, singing karaoke and bathing in a hot spring are just the tip of the iceberg.

Photo credit: clry2.

Program Types

Students have numerous opportunities to visit Japan, briefly or otherwise. Some involve actual attendance in a school and with a host family, while others are shorter and involve more travel, trading depth for breadth. Whether you want immersion or sightseeing, there is a program there for you.

  • Language Immersion: Take advantage of your time in Japan to improve your fluency in Japanese. These programs pair solid language courses with immersion in Japanese life. You'll be speaking Japanese as a part of your everyday life. For people who want to take their language skills to the next level, an immersion program is a great way to do that.
  • Culture: Spend your time in Japan experiencing the high points of Japanese culture. View classical Japanese theatre, learn about the history of Japan, and explore what daily life is like for Japanese people. These programs are great for people who want to spend more time out and experiencing Japan and less time in the classroom.

Planning Your Trips

As with any travel experience, students need to be prepared for local laws, customs, and potential pitfalls along the way. Having a few things taken care of ahead of time will go a long way towards having a fun and safe trip. Make sure to read the details of whatever program you decide to use carefully before making a decision, and to make sure you are eligible for that particular one. Additionally, a few scholarships for high school students do exist though are somewhat rare for high schoolers and for summer programs. While programs may vary in what they provide as far as transportation and housing is concerned (though most organized programs provide at least some form of lodging), there are a few universal things students should be aware of on their own.


Luckily for most high school students who decide to spend a summer in Japan, there is no visa requirement for stays less than 90 days, which likely includes most programs. If you are staying for longer than that, check out the visa information for U.S. citizens, with links for other countries.


For those who need to book their own flights to Japan, regular flights are easily found. While prices can vary, a reasonable price for a round trip from Chicago to Tokyo and back is around $1,200 to $1,500. Like all flights this depends on numerous factors including when you book the flight to how many layovers you will have. While in Japan, travel is fairly easy, particularly to different metropolitan areas. There is an extensive rail system throughout the country, so if you have the desire and time to explore outside of your program, you should be able to do so.

Top Reasons to Spend a Summer in Japan

Why should you travel abroad? Because you can. If you don't do it for the language skills you can pick up, the friends you will meet, the cultural differences you will learn and experience, do it simply for the thrill of adventure. This is not necessarily the experience for those content as a homebody, but for those with a thread of curiosity in their being, and adequate financial support, there is no reason you can't get a little taste of the world before graduating. Japan remains an Asian powerhouse, and with the rising prominence of that region as a whole on the world stage, chances are that knowing a little something about the country will come in handy someday. The opportunity is there, it's just waiting on you.

Contributed by Nick Kammers

High School Summer Abroad Programs in Japan

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