Thursday, June 21st, the "Music day" in France, was the beginning of a long journey that was going to change my life: my first trip to Japan.
By the time I write these lines (Aug. 26th, 2010), more than 3 years have passed, and I still consider that journey as my richest experience among all my trips, in terms of human relations and human life.
We start in South of France at the end of the afternoon of the first day of summer, celebration day in France, with a big mountain bagpack.
But before starting this long travel, let see how I ended up travelling to Japan.
What is Japan for most of the kids like me, born in the 80s in France? Dragon Ball, City Hunter, Saint Seiya, Hokuto no Ken... in one two words : Club Dorothe...
The Japanese animations. We all grew up with these masterpieces, and it's our first link to the country of the Rising Sun that Dorothee managed to share with us with brio.
Well, of course that's when we are young, but it really is the first door to the Japanese culture: manga/anime.
With the Internet boom and the agressive ADSL prices in France, watching Japanese animations became easier and easier and was even very common at the end of the 90s / beginning of the 21st century.
As a good junior geek, I was also part of this phenomenum and kept watching japanese animations on Internet even though some horrible persons dare rewmoving Club Dorothee from the French TV.
The Japanese animations --m'ont alors donn envie-- to know more about that country, its culture, and I started to search on Internet information about it and I started to apprecate more and more that culture so different from ours.
Time passed, and when I entereda French Engineering School, I finally had the opportunity to learn a bit about the Japanese languge and culture.
I followed a class during one year, but as it's in an engineering school, it was only one hour per week and definitely not the class everybody was granting time on.
Anyway, it was a good way to learn the culture from a Japanese professor and the basics of the Japanese language (Japanese culture and language being in a close relation).
Then, in my school, during the first summer, we have choice between staying in France and work as an intern for a company, or go abroad and have any kind of experience.You bet I chose the late one and went to Japan! I decided to do volunteer work in Japan for about 3 months.
I ended up doing volunteer work after talking with my professor, Menini-sensei, about the fact I wanted to go to Japan.
She actually introduced me the "WWOOF", a kind of international volunteer program.
The principle is easy: you work for a family, and that family provides you food and accomodation.
I spent all April to plan my trip.
The only thing you need to do is to subscribe to the website, for $40 (WWOOF Japan), and you get access to the list of families in Japan that participate in the program.
The list provides quite a lot of information, including (but not restricted to) the contact of the family (email/phone), their activity (and what you will have to do), their location, the number of volunteers they accept at the same time, and if they speak English or other languages.
Then I started to select the families I wanted to visit, over all Japan from Hokkaido to Shikoku.
The only --crucial-- point was that they have minimum knowledge of English, because I couldn't speak a single Japanese word by then, except telling my name and counting...
I looked for families that could at least reply to me e-mails in English.
Fortunately, many of them in the list could speak English, or at list were marked as.
I then contacted by e-mail many of them, and, --at my big surprise--, almost all of them replied positively within a week!
I was really surprised because first I thought I will not have answers for a... long time (or forever...), and secondly because they were very flexible for the dates.
The summer holidays being about 2 months and a half, and as I got many positive replies, I had enough to visit a different family every month!
So I searched on Internet (Hyperdia) how to commute between each family and confirmed with each and every family the departure and arrival times.
Most families come directly to the train stations to pick you up so I bought 2 JR Pass (21 days each) to cover most of my travel expenses.
JR Pass is really a good deal if you plan to travel a lot, or wide distances. It's also very convenient because you don't have to worry about buying tickets at all. You just show the pass at the station gates and that's it!
So I had all the trains detailed timetables for all my trip.
I decided to change family each week for three reasons: 1. all the families I contacted accepted me, so I didn't want to cancel, 2. moving every week allows me to see new landscapes and help to entertain (not to get bored), and 3. in case there are families that just try to --exploit-- some young travelers or that are not friendly at all, in the worst case, it will last one week.
End of April, all my trip was planed and I could finish peacefuly my last lectures, with only one thing in my head: my departure!