When I first came to Japan, I had no idea what to expect from actually spending four months living at AIU. I had a general idea that I wanted to come back later to teach English, but besides studying in Japanese, I was never quite sure how to actually get any kind of relevant experience to assist in preparing to apply for such a thing.
When I heard about the Happou-chou (Happo Town) program, a program in which students could engage with students in all levels of schooling, assisting in some of their language classes, I jumped on the opportunity.
When I was first accepted into the program, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, apart from helping Japanese students with English, and a schedule of when we were going to take part in activities. The trip up to Happou from Akita takes roughly 90 minutes, passing through the quite scenic Japanese countryside.
The first day was a simple orientation at the cultural center. However, after that, we took part in cultural activities that were planned by the program: first taking part in helping harvest in a rice field, then in visiting a public bath to have the experience.
After this first day, roughly every two weeks, there would be another session during which we would return to Happou, our experience with classes spanning from a Junior High School (Grade 7-9) on my first and last class days, a Nursery School (Pre-Elementary) and an Elementary School (Grade 1-6), spanning all of the grade levels prior to High School.
Our activities at the actual schools were effectively conversation sessions with the students, interacting with them and learning a little more about Japan from speaking to them, while talking to them about the culture and traditions where the other students and I came from. My conversations were quite interesting and taught me a fair amount about Japan.
In addition to our days visiting schools, the program also arranged for a myriad of further cultural activities, which proved most interesting. We went on a hike through a beautiful trail of forest in an area called Tomeyama, a forest that has been relatively untouched for 300 years. This was quite an enjoyable experience despite the wind and rain, which gave quite an interesting view of the sea afterward.
I also had the chance to attend a home-stay with a Japanese family for one night during the semester. The couple another student and I stayed with were very warm and welcoming to their home, showing us various aspects of a traditional Japanese home, and offered us a lovely meal of kiritanpo, a hot pot traditional to Akita.
In summation, the Happou-chou program is a great experience for those who have the pleasure of taking part in that. Anyone who finds themselves with the pleasure of attending AIU, who also has an interest in gaining experience helping other students with English, and learning about the culture of Japan, then they would be well-advised to apply for this program!