Katana and Mayor day

Date of Activity: June 26th

Today we first had arigatou event practice. It requires a lot of effort, but is definitely worth it. After an awesome bentou lunch box the mayor of Arao city came to visit us and we had a great Question and Answer session. We learned a lot about the city and it’s mayor.

After the interaction with the mayor we went to a katana smith. That was a great experience. We saw a bit of the process of making a katana, which takes about two weeks. Some of us got the chance to personally experience how difficult it is to deform hot iron. I for example can tell firsthand that it is really difficult.

deform hot iron

We also got a demonstration of how to use a katana during our visit. And we also were lucky enough to get the opportunity to slash some bamboo mats ourselves after learning how to wield the Japanese Katanas. These bamboo mats are said to be as though as a humans stomach. It is really hard to hit the bamboo at a proper speed and angel, but when done correctly it cuts through as if cutting through air.

After the host family pickup i went to the nursery home where my host brother and sister were. After dinner this great day with a lot of new experiences slowly approached it’s end, getting closer to another day full of new exciting experiences.

Ellery Oosterberg – The Netherlands

A host family day in Arao

Date of Activity: June 24th

Today was another famous host family day. After a good nights sleep until late in the morning the whole family sat at the dinner table eating their delicious breakfast. During this nice Japanese style breakfast everyone was counting down until the afternoon in which we would go karaoke and while counting down discussing what songs we would sing. We left the house around half past 12 heading towards the karaoke place. Most of us had already digested our morning meal and as such we first headed for a place to have lunch. Upon arrival we immediately knew we were gonna eat ramen due to it’s distinctive smell. Though the smell might seem a bit odd to us foreigners the ramen was incredibly tasty. With our bellies full we arrived at the karaoke place called ‘paradise’. A place with such a name must be fun! With this idea in mind we entered our karaoke rooms and even the room itself, shaped as a cave, was cooler than imagined.


Singing songs in both English and Japanese the men enjoyed their beers and the women and kids kept drinking sugar filled drinks such as melon soda. After singing a few songs we personally liked, we started singing duets as well. This was really good for bonding with our host families and everyone tried their best to sing as good as they could! Everyone’s singing talent varied between normal to really good, with our host dad being extremely good at singing! After more than an hour had passed AKB songs started showing up in the karaoke list and we all sang them together! After a lot of fun and nice drinks our time ran out and we had to decide on dinner.

I had never eaten shabushabu before so we decided to go to a shabushabu restaurant. Because the system allowed us to eat as much as we wanted within 70 minutes for a given price we ordered mountains of meat and other food and started boiling them in the various types of boiling fluids in the pan on the cooking pit before us. Upon taking my first bite I was so happy we had chosen to go here, for it was extremely tasty as well as an extremely large amount. As a dessert we really wanted to eat ice cream. The problem was we had to make it ourselves. Somehow it seems Japanese people are good at anything, because our younger host brothers’ self made ice creams were really pretty and ours, the foreigners’, were totally ugly. Kyle, one of this years’ staff being hosted in the same family as me, actually needed a cup to support the ice cream on his cone as to not to collapse.

It was really fun and despite their ugliness the ice creams tasted really good! To summarize, this host family day was once again one of the best days in my life.

Jurriën Theunisz – The Netherlands

The Last Activity day in Omuta

Date of Activity: June 19th

Today was the last activity day of the first session, and we spent it at Miike elementary school in Omuta. After introducing ourselves to the students during the morning assembly, we were assigned to spend the day with one class. I joined a 6th grade class together with Rod from Canada. At first the students were shy, but they quickly warmed up to us when they were allowed to ask us questions about anything (surprisingly many requested an imitation of Japanese comedians) followed by Rod’s Canada trivia. Afterwards we had music, during which we played Taiko – various kinds of Japanese drums. The loud drumming made it impossible for the students to tell us what and how to play. However, the children surrounded us and they taught us the rhythms by action rather than words. Also, they rotated helping us, and we got to interact with all the students in the class. Afterwards we had social studies. As the 6th graders were currently learning about the Muromachi era, the teacher had decided to get into the feeling of that time through Sado – the art of Tea ceremony.

After eating lunch together, it was cleaning time. Because they finished the cleaning early, a group of boys asked if we wanted to play cards with them. Despite the fact that neither Rod nor I knew the rules, the kids, Rod and I had a lot of fun playing cards. And though we didn’t always understand each other, we all smiled and laughed together.

The last lesson of the day was calligraphy. I was surprised by the suddenly serene atmosphere as we all sat quietly and drew Japanese signs on silky paper. In the end I was truly amazed by the contrasts I had witnessed that day: The shy class that welcomed us during the morning, the children vigorously hammering on the drums and the concentration and respect they displayed while practicing the old Japanese arts of Sado and of calligraphy.

(Torunn Olsen, Norway)

Ariake Shinsei High School

Date of activity: June 18th

Waking up in the morning I was wondering if going to a Japanese High School would be fun. Thinking back about my own days in high school I expected the students to either be too shy to speak to us or to not be interested in a group of foreigners like ourselves at all. I have stayed with some host families in Japan that included high schoolers and most of them tend to be shy or uninterested.

Arriving at the school we were welcomed by a tight looking welcoming committee. We were led to a room in which we were briefed about what classes we would join that day etc. Me and some other fellow WCI participants were led to the calligraphy classroom. This is where the madness begun. Upon entering the room, each of us was greeted by hysterical screams of teenage girls, as if they were proposed to by Justin Bieber. Given the fact that 80% of the students at ariake shinsei are girls, this day was bound to get more crazy. When the screaming went over into giggling, we sat down and got to try out Japanese calligraphy. We were asked to write/paint the kanji for flower (花), 3 strokes with the brush and a spoken sentence in Japanese was enough to get the girls praising and screaming again. Doing calligraphy was much fun and we were taught several ways to write/paint it. For example trying to let your writing/painting style be influenced by keeping a certain type of flower in mind.

Next up was handicraft class, after introducing ourselves and going through the same screaming ritual as before, we were invited to make silly sculptures out of clay on a potter’s wheel.

Ariake blog post

We all gave it a try, had a laugh and soon the class was over. On the way to the next class, one of the Dutch participants, Robin, was attacked by a group of girls who wanted to take pictures with him. After he fought his way back to freedom, we went on to our next class, which in my case was Japanese History. The teacher spoke some English and really did his best to tell us about the history of the famous coal mines of Omuta. We were then divided into groups and asked to talk about our culture with the students. My group ended up having a conversation about hobbies, foods, history, etc. which was good practice for my Japanese and their English. In short, an educative and fun hour.

After a fulfilling lunch with lots of interaction with the students all WCI participants gathered in a room where we started a discussion with some of the school’s teachers. We got to ask them questions about the school and they got to ask questions about the school systems in our different countries. This is where we were told that Ariake Shinsei gives students the opportunity to strive for whatever goal they have in life, as they are able to choose between 110 different subjects to study. I was really amazed by this and I think a concept like this would work quite well for some students in the Netherlands as well.

At the end of the day we were invited to visit the teppanbu, which is basically a baking club that makes Japanese pancakes. The pancakes they made were unique to Omuta though. I was rather surprised to see how they put layer after layer after layer of weird topping combinations on the pancakes, these included bacon, seaweed, mayonnaise, shaved fish flakes and more. It didn’t exactly seem tasty to me, but it was pretty good after all.

Ariake blog post

On this day a lot of my expectations and thoughts were proven wrong, which I consider a good thing since it means I learned something. This was a very educational, crazy and fun day that left quite an impression on me, I’m already hoping to come back to Japan next year and experience this day again!

Daniel van Delft – The Netherlands

The way of tea

Date of activity: June 17th

Today was host-family day in Omuta. Host-family day is a day on which you enjoy your day with your host-family. Most host-families take you out to see famous or fun places in the area. but I stayed home. Although I stayed home, I think I had one of the most special experiences that day. I learned to perform the tea ceremony. The tea ceremony is a Japanese cultural activity in which you prepare green tea, macha, and present it to your guests. My host-grandmother, who also lives in the house, loaned me a kimono. She helped me to get all the parts of the kimono on the right place. I even wore an under-kimono (I am not sure how it is called) and tabi, which are white socks. My two host-sisters also wore kimono’s. One of my host-sisters, who is nine years old, was the host. She prepared the tea and presented it to us. After a while, they asked me to present the tea. This was a great opportunity. My little host-sister showed me how to do it. The tea ceremony follows a tight set of rules, even the way you hold everything and the place you put everything is decided. It was quite hard to perform the tea ceremony properly and neatly. And after a while my legs hurt from sitting on my knees. But it was very special to learn this piece of Japanese culture from my little host-sister. Especially, because the tea ceremony is not performed often by Japanese families, I am really grateful that my host-family let me experience this!

The Way of Tea

(Iris Spruit – the Netherlands)