Join Travel For Teens on this journey to Japan, the Land of The Rising Sun. Japan is a country full of ancient cultures, strong traditions, and the technology of the future. Perform meaningful community service in Tohno – an area devastated by the 2011 Tsunami. You will enjoy a cultural exchange with teens from a local high school, spend a day in the rice fields and get to know the people who call Tohno home.
In addition to our service work you will visit the evocative sites of Hiroshima, try your hand at the ancient art of karate, taste the best sushi of your life and experience the scramble at the world-famous Shibuya crossing. From the flashy cityscape of Tokyo to the peaceful temples of Kyoto and the majesty of Mt. Fuji, Japan will astonish even the most well-traveled students.
During this program, you will…
- Earn up to 20 hours of service credit volunteering with a local community on a variety of projects, including a cultural exchange at a Japanese high school
- Visit the Ghibli Museum, Miyazaki’s world famous anime museum**
- Eat the best sushi of your life at the Tsukiji Fish Market
- Try your hand at making your own sushi in a cooking class
- Become the next karate kid with a lesson in traditional Japanese martial arts
- Participate in a traditional tea ceremony
- Take video gaming to the next level at the largest Virtual Reality facility in Japan
- See the famous Toshu-gu shrine; a UNESCO World Heritage site and home of the “See No Evil–Hear No Evil–Speak No Evil” monkeys
- Experience the visceral realities of war and learn about the dangers of nuclear proliferation at the Hiroshima Peace Museum
- Try to spot a Geisha or Maiko in the traditional city of Kyoto
**Important Note: Admission to The Ghibli Museum is not guaranteed until a month prior to departure.
DAY 1: DEPART FROM LOS ANGELES (LAX)
DAYS 2 – 4: TOKYO
Our adventure begins amidst the bustling streets and sparkling lights of Tokyo. Visit Miyazaki’s animation studio where classics like Princess Mononoke, Laputa, and Totoro were created. Hit up the famous Akihabara area, home to video games, anime, and manga, and shop in the colorful Harajuku District. Head to the top of the government building for incredible views of the city and stare in awe at Shibuya Crossing, the busiest street crossing in the world! Wander through the world famous Japanese fish market and visit several stunning shrines. And no trip to Tokyo would be complete without tasting everything this bustling city has to offer, including ramen, sushi, and teppanyaki!
DAYS 5 – 10: TONO > NIKKO
After exploring fast paced Tokyo, it’s time to slow it down a bit by journeying up north to Tono. The charming town of Tono is home to Japanese mythology and folklore, including the mysterious Kappa water fairies! After hearing some traditional Japanese tales (and maybe even going on a kappa hunt!) we will participate in a variety of sustainability projects, as well as a special cultural exchange with a local high school. We will spend time shadowing the students and discovering what a typical day is like in a Japanese high school. You will have the chance to join them in a variety of their classes, including English class where you may be helping them with presentations or other projects! In return, you will learn how to do calligraphy and take part in a tea ceremony. You can expect to form valuable friendships with these students and learn more about the Japanese language and culture.
To cap off our time in Tono, we will visit the area devastated by the 2011 tsunami. It is an opportunity to reflect on the past, discover what current efforts are being made to get the area back to normal, and look towards the future. Students will leave Tono feeling like they had a true cultural experience, as well as the opportunity to see first-hand the impact a natural disaster can have on a community and learn ways to assist in relief efforts.
Then it’s off to visit the sacred site of Nikko to visit the Toshu-gu Shrine. After marveling at Nikko’s iconic red bridge, we will enjoy a relaxing hike through the tranquil countryside to discover the natural beauty of Northern Japan, including Kegon falls.
DAY 11: NAGOYA
Hop on the high-speed bullet train to our next destination! En-route to Hiroshima we will stop in Nagoya to learn more about a well known traditional Japanese art…karate!
We will visit a local dojo where you will learn from certified instructors and even be assisted by some of their regular students! This is a great opportunity to get hands on with this well-loved Japanese art and interact with the locals. You will learn a variety of moves, including kicks, strikes, stances, and even how to chop a piece of wood!
Our karate class is meant to be fun and a way to further explore Japanese culture. No skills are necessary to participate. Students who are currently practicing karate at home are encouraged to show off their moves!
DAYS 12 – 16: HIROSHIMA > KYOTO
Our last two stops bring us to Hiroshima and Kyoto. Hiroshima today is dedicated to bringing peace to the world, a direct result of the destruction the atomic bomb brought to it during WWII. During our time here we will have the special opportunity to meet with a local survivor and hear his or her perspective on this tragic event. Every year our students are moved by hearing such a personal and emotional story, and come away with a greater understanding of the effects of WWII. In past years, our groups have even had the unique opportunity to be interviewed and featured on the local news for our global perspective!
In Hiroshima we will also visit the stunning island of Miyajima. This island is home to the symbolic “floating” Torri gate that appears to be gracefully standing in the water during high tide. On Miyajima we will enjoy wandering through a local food market and also explore some of the natural beauty the island has to offer. Miyajima also happens to be home to a plethora of friendly deer. Don’t be surprised if one (or several!) comes up to you looking for you to pet them. Don’t worry, they don’t bite!
After Hiroshima it’s on to Japan’s cultural gem: Kyoto. This charming city is famous for its beautiful temples and shrines and we will have several days to explore its stunning golden temple, tranquil rock gardens, and ornate palaces. On the way to Kyoto, stop at the gorgeous 700 year old Himeji Castle!
Our time in Kyoto will also be very interactive. After learning about geishas, we will go for an evening geisha walk to spot them strolling about the historical city center. We will experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and learn exactly what is involved with this ancient art. We will also enjoy a fun and exciting taiko lesson, where we will learn to play these traditional Japanese drums with instructors in a fun and easy to learn format. To cap off our lesson we might even have a drum battle! To enjoy nature, we will hike through a bamboo forest, as well as visit the famous orange torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine.
Kyoto will also include plenty of opportunities to shop and play arcade games. Students who are brave enough will also be able to showcase their singing skills at a local karaoke hotspot!
DAY 17: TOKYO > RETURN FLIGHT TO THE USA
After leaving Kyoto we will have time for one last day in Tokyo to see whatever we may have missed the first time around before heading home. Whether it is shopping, exploring more temples, more arcade time, or getting in a few more bites of our favorite Japanese delicacies, our last day will be the perfect way to cap off an unforgettable journey.
Authenticity is engrained in everything we do. Eat, stay, and travel like a local.
Check out what past travelers have to say about TFT and discover why we are consistently awarded “Top Youth Travel Organization” year after year.
"I've been traveling with TFT since I was 13, and it has been one of the best learning and growth experiences in my life. Through TFT, I've met great friends from all around the world, experienced amazing places, and was pushed out of my comfort zone and grew so much. It even helped me pick my career. In the summer of my 11th year of high school, I went on the Japan Discovery & Service trip. I had recently picked up an interest in digital photography and it just so happened that the trip director for my trip was a professional travel photographer. After traveling with him for only 2 weeks and seeing my photographic growth, I started taking courses in photography at my school and have ended up going to college for Fine Art Photography. Without the experiences TFT allowed me to have, I never would have found one of my biggest passions. The people I've met on the trips are good friends of mine to this day, and the experiences I had with them on the trips I've been on were unforgettable. Karaoke in South Korea with a crew of wacky friends, doing a two hour hike up one of the steepest mountains I've ever seen to take one picture, and other once in a life time experiences like that have made the TFT experience so special to me."
"I just want to thank you for taking such good care of my loving granddaughter, Maddy. She has been on many exotic and fabulous trips in her short lifetime but I have never seen her so happy."
"Each morning I roll over in bed to grab my phone in anticipation for your updates and pictures! Thank you very much for the detailed emails and pics! Very appreciated!"
Travel with us and discover why we are consistently winning awards for Top Youth Travel Organization.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is unique about the Japan Discovery & Service trip?
Japan Discovery & Service offers unique insider access to both the old and new of marvelous Japan through an itinerary planned to maximize the cultural experience and executed by TFT’s experienced and energetic team. The volunteer experience and its surrounding setting are truly once in a lifetime.
What kind of teen typically participates in this program? What are the requirements to join?
Teens from all over the world join this program! Typically, our participants are culturally curious individuals who are excited to make new friends, experience something unique, and interested in stepping out of their comfort zones and expanding their horizons.
This program is exclusively for students who are currently in grades 9th through 12th and approximately 14 to 18 years old. Students living outside of the USA are welcome to join!
What do students like most about the Japan Discovery & Service trip?
Japan Discovery & Service students love this program because they get to explore Japanese culture in so many ways! Japanese food, anime, karate, and other cultural forms are very popular in other parts of the world, our students love exploring them in their home country and comparing them their experiences with them at home. Students are also often deeply impacted by the community service portion of this program which both gives back to the community and is a tremendous learning experience.
Where do we stay?
Our hotels are chosen specifically in safe areas and are well suited to facilitating group supervision. We stay in centrally located accommodations, usually within walking distance of the main attractions. We do not use large, impersonal chain hotels on the outskirts of cities; we prefer to select smaller, family-run hotels where we establish personal relationships with the owners.
In Tokyo we stay at a centrally located hotel, close to the metro and major sights, perfect for exploring the city. In Nikko we stay at a peaceful inn on the riverside conveniently placed for exploring the UNESCO world heritage sights of the area. Our accommodation in Tono is a lovely hotel right in town. In Hiroshima we stay at a traditional Ryokan, walking distance to the world-famous landmarks. Our accommodation in the heart of historical Kyoto is a well situated three-star hotel.
For safety reasons, we do not publish the names of the accommodations we use. We do not feel it is safe to publish the name of a hotel where a group of teenagers is staying abroad. After registering, participants and parents are given access to our secure parent website where you will be able to see the names of all of the accommodations for the program.
Do most travelers go on their own?
Yes! In fact, over 75% of students who travel with us choose to come independently. This encourages teens to step further outside their comfort zone and make new friends. We believe that one of the most rewarding and exciting elements of travel is the new friendships that form along the way. When we travel by ourselves, we are bound to make new friends from all over the country and even the world. The best part is, you can travel again with your new friends on another TFT program the next summer!
If you are thinking about joining a TFT program by yourself but you are feeling unsure, please let us know! We have plenty of references from solo travelers who had great experiences and would be happy to chat with you about it.
Can I bring a friend?
Absolutely! We ask that if you do come with a friend, you and your friend(s) maintain openness to meeting new people and sharing this special experience with the entire group.
What is included?
Tuition cost includes ground transportation; accommodation; chaperones and guides; program-related activities and admissions; taxes and tips; all breakfasts and dinners.
Not included (this is not intended to be an exhaustive list): airfare; visas and visa application fees; personal and medical expenses; activities and admissions that are not program-related or referenced in the itinerary; lunches, beverages other than filtered water at meals; participant expenses that are outside of the program description, such as excess baggage fees and damage to hotels; expenses related to unforeseen circumstances, such as transportation strikes and natural disasters.
How do the optional group flights work?
Upon registration, you will be contacted by our International Logistics Team to discuss the program’s flight details. There is no requirement to take the group flight, but there are several advantages to doing so. The group flight is usually chaperoned by a TFT staff member, and it also offers an opportunity for the students to get to know one another prior to the start of the program. Parents are responsible for coordinating transport to the departure airport – however, the logistics team will send out instructions detailing the exact meeting spot and airport point person. For additional information about flights, visit our dedicated flight page.
Who leads the program?
Our staff is a cut above the rest! We seek out two main characteristics in our counselors – extensive knowledge of and experience in our destinations, and a passion for working with teens. Our staff’s backgrounds include living abroad and working in summer camps or other educational settings. Team members are proven leaders and role models, who connect easily with others and form genuine friendships with each student – all while bringing each destination to life.
We celebrate diversity! Our staff represents 49 different nationalities, speak a combined total of 21 languages, and visited 142 countries. Additionally, 80% of our staff lived or worked abroad in their lives. With so many unique experiences to share, you are sure to gain a global perspective.
Our average minimum ratios are one staff member to every seven participants. Each program has one Trip Director with several support staff, depending on the group size. Directors must be at least 25 years old and have prior experience working with TFT.
What are the safety qualifications for our staff?
Our staff members undergo a rigorous hiring process. They receive the same background check as school educators, an extensive training process to go over all safety precautions and protocols, and are required to be certified in CPR and First Aid. We exclusively hire responsible, multi-talented individuals who are safety-minded and are as passionate about teen travel as we are.
What is the average group size?
We pride ourselves on small group sizes to create a more authentic and personalized experience. Our group sizes fall between 13 and 24 students – the perfect size to facilitate new friendships without feeling lost in a crowd! We believe smaller groups eliminate the likelihood of cliques, and allows for a well-rounded, healthy group dynamic.
How does this program connect to other programs?
Our program dates are designed specifically so that participants can opt to combine trips throughout the summer. When connecting to another program, your counselor will escort you to the airport on the last day of the program and assist you in meeting your next group at your new destination.
What is the food like on this program?
In a word – delicious! At TFT, we believe food is an integral aspect of the travel experience, and we make an effort to eat at authentic establishments whenever possible. There is no better way to immerse ourselves in the culture of a place then through sampling the local delicacies. We stray away from westernized restaurants and chains that cater to tourists, because every true traveler knows the best food is found where the locals are eating!
Japanese cuisine is light and flavorful; it is meant to be eaten with the eyes as well as the mouth. Like many countries, Japan has a national cuisine and also has local specialties in each province. A basic in the Japanese diet is rice, they eat it with almost every meal and it tastes great. While many foreigners think of sushi first (and we will definitely eat some of the best sushi on earth!), it is just one of many awesome Japanese foods. Seafood is an important staple of the Japanese diet, but dishes containing pork, beef, and chicken are also common. Japanese also like to eat a lot of vegetables, they serve them steamed, grilled, or fried (Tempura). Ramen and other dishes involving soba, udon, or other noodles are also there for the tasting. Most dishes are easy to eat with chopsticks if you want to give it a try!
We also love to have bento (Japanese lunch boxes) while we are out on the town from time to time, they are delicious and a great way to taste some local food while sitting out in the fresh air taking in the sights and sounds of our surroundings.
Of course, we are always willing and able to accommodate vegetarians, vegans, gluten allergies, and other dietary restrictions.
Do we ever get time to go off on our own?
Our staff and teens are nearly always together, but we do provide the opportunity to break up into smaller groups to allow for flexibility and customization within the itinerary.
We offer free time in defined safe areas – for example, shopping in a market or exploring a museum. During these times, students remain in groups of at least two and are given no more than an hour. Of course, the counselors remain nearby and available. Additionally, a lifeguard-certified counselor supervises the campers any time they are involved in water activities.
Do I need to bring anything special for the community service portion of the program?
Due to the nature of our service work in the local village, all you’ll need are clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty.
A more detailed packing list will be provided upon registration.
Do I need any vaccinations for this program?
We recommend checking with your family doctor regarding vaccinations and medical advice for the destination you are visiting. For more information, please check the World Health Organization’s website. Upon registration, we provide a list of recommended vaccinations that can be discussed further with your doctor. For Specific questions pertaining to the COVID-19 vaccine, click here.
Do I need to speak the language?
No, our skilled staff members will help you get around and even teach you a few fun phrases!