My Daily School Routine: Life as an Exchange Student in Shiga

Konnichiwa! My name is Sheridan Skinner and I was a participant of the 2018 Michigan Shiga High School Exchange. To help show others what life is like on the program, I will be writing a series of blogs detailing some of the memorable moments and people from the journey.

This is my second blog post. My last post was about my best friend in Shiga: My Japanese Grandma. For this post, I will give you all a sneak peek into the vastly different life of a high school student in Japan.

On July 1st, I began my journey through life as a high student in Shiga. The night before school I did what I would normally do for my first day of school in America: ate dinner (Grandma and I made it), took a shower, brushed my teeth, prepared my clothes and schoolbag for the next day, and set my alarm for 6am. I was extremely excited but I eventually fell asleep.

With my Shiga host sibling

In Japan the sun rises early so I rose early… at the beautiful and normal time of 4am! Back home I would fall right back asleep dreading going to school in a few hours but in Japan I jumped right up and got ready. I first texted my family really quick because the time I wake up in Japan is around the time they would be going to sleep. I remember telling them how excited I was to go to school.

I finally opened my bedroom door and slowly walked across the skinny hallway so I would not wake up my host family with my big loud slippers my host grandma gave to me. I walked into the kitchen and I saw my host mother cleaning dishes. Remember, it’s still 4am! After brushing my teeth and my frizzy hair that got messed up due to the heat, I put on my uniform. The school originally gave me skirts to wear but I ended up not being able to fit into the tiny long navy pleated skirts. I was grateful that I ended up bringing my own black skirts and blouses. I was all ready to go with my uniform on, hair brushed, teeth cleaned, pencils in my bag, and slippers packed. My host mother cooked a tasty breakfast of eggs and white rice for me, my host sister, and my host brother, Shuma. Before we left I said “ittekimasu” to my host grandmother, which translates to “I am leaving and coming back.”

Showing MI school pride in Shiga

We left for the train station around 7:15am. It would take around thirty minutes to ride the train to the station, and then about another 40 minutes to walk through the town of Maibara and up the mountain to the school. Keep in mind, it is about a hundred degrees Fahrenheit outside! I waved a fan the entire time walking up the mountain, and a group of girls surrounded me and waved their fans at me. My hair was puffing up and I looked like I was going to pass out. I learned I need to drink a lot of water in Japan and put my hair in a ponytail!

I finally got to the school and I was so excited to discover my new school and friends. I was beginning to feel nervous due to the fact that everyone was staring at me. As you walk into the school, there is a place to remove your outdoor shoes and a place to put on your slippers for school. It was very strange, slippers in school. I ended up liking it though because it made me feel more relaxed and at home.

I first went into the teacher’s room which is literally the only place with computers in the whole school. The teacher’s room is like the principal’s office but it has a desk for every single teacher in the building. Before you enter the room, all the students must knock on the door. Also, before I came to Japan, I had to create a speech about myself, in Japanese, to read to the teachers and to the students of the school. It took me a long time to prepare because I wanted my new school to learn about me and why I loved Japan. Horio-sensei walked me into the teacher’s room and immediately said, “Okay now go do your Japanese speech,” and I was speechless. I was thinking, “right now?!” Before I came to Japan, I had to create a speech about myself to read to the teachers and the students of the school. It felt very abrupt but I did end up doing it and all the teachers stood up and applauded me! They all said I spoke great Japanese and that they were excited to get to know me.

As I was walking through the hallway, all of the students surrounded me and kept shaking my hand, giving me candy, or saying “Konnichiwa, I am —-”, and when I would say hello back, everyone freaked out because they were in shock I could speak Japanese. I felt like a celebrity!

I then got to meet my new class for the next few weeks. The class’s name was “2-5”, which meant year two and group 5. I walked in and once again all eyes were on me. I never felt so much like a superstar before in my life! I was immediately bombarded with questions and hugs. Then, Horio-sensei told me to give me to give another speech to the class. So I gave my speech to the class in English and Japanese. Everyone looked so eager to meet me and so was I!

What my Shiga classroom looked like

Sadly, this was the week of Maibara High School’s exams, which was a bummer because it meant less time with my new friends. It was okay though, while the students completed their exams teachers came and taught me their subjects like math, Japanese History/literature, and safety class (what to do in an earthquake class) in the library. This was very interesting because I learned math is the same all over the world no matter what language you speak. It was also cool to take a class on earthquakes and tsunamis since Michigan does not generally have those natural disasters. While I was in the library, I met some new friends as well. All of these girls asked to take photos with me and to read a book to them about American culture. It was funny to see a picture book about America. It had a lot of footballs and hot dogs!

After a long day of learning so many new things about Japan and meeting new friends, I headed to basketball club after school. Just imagine playing basketball in 100 degree weather with humidity in very thick clothing; it was very difficult to get used to. In Japan, most places do not have air conditioning and the gym (and the rest of the school) did not have it either. Going into the gym to play basketball with my friends was exciting but only seeing windows open and very minimal access to water was heartbreaking. However, I still had an amazing time teaching the girls the game “Lighting”. Everyone loved it so much and wanted to continue playing. Speaking Japanese and playing basketball is hard but doing them both at the same time is the ultimate challenge! After a long two-and-a-half hours of practicing, we finally walked all the way down the mountain and hopped back on the train back to my host family’s house.

The basketball club

Another club I participated in was tea ceremony club where I learned a lot about Japanese culture. I discovered there is so much more to tea preparation in Japan than I thought. I had to sit a certain way with my legs to the side with me sitting up straight, place my hands on my lap, fold the napkin correctly, make the tea properly, bow, and serve the tea and food in an elegant manner. I learned serving tea is not just an action, but it is something that would display your elegance and poise years ago in Japan. The club was mostly girls but there was one boy as well. Learning new things about the traditions of Japan really helped point out differences in our modern cultures. Going to clubs was definitely my favorite part about attending Maibara High School.

Participating in the tea ceremony club was fun!

After all the students finished their exams I began to sit in on more classes. The classes I sat in on were ethics, math, English (I had to give a speech about America), biology, Japanese Literature, and calligraphy. My favorite class was biology because I got to dissect a sea urchin which was quite interesting. I went with the first year students to calligraphy and biology and I met plenty of friends there. They all laughed at my faces I would make at the gross sea urchin as I was dissecting it. I had the whole class laughing! Calligraphy was another fun class because I got to finally prove how bad I am at calligraphy. I was okay at it, but the Japanese students were writing beautiful complicated characters, while I was over there writing 雨 (“ame“, rain).  For all my efforts, the teacher gave me a calligraphy pen, a fan, and a lot of calligraphy paper to take home and use. I love using the calligraphy pen to make my school projects look unique!

All of the gifts I received from my Shiga classmates

On the last day at Maibara High School I was in tears. The class had a goodbye party for me and they ALL gave me presents to take home. Let’s just say my suitcase was really over the weight limit. I received candy, food, games, toys, pens, pencils, photos, and long notes from my closest friends saying how they were going to miss me so much. I hugged all my friends and cried! I was leaving the closest and kindest people I have ever met, and I felt like I have known them for years. I was not ready to leave Maibara High School.

Six months later I still talk to my Japanese friends everyday about basketball, High School Musical, karaoke, and all of our amazing moments together. I told them we must all meet again and maybe even go to the 2020 Olympics together in Tokyo. They agreed and I plan to see them soon!

I wish I could write about every single detail about my experience at Maibara, but then this post would be two hundred pages long. As I think more about my exchange, going to high school in Japan was an eye-opening experience because I did not know how those kids did it: Eight hours of school, clubs, commuting, homework, and trying to get sleep too?! I thought my busy schedule was crazy until I discovered Japanese kids have thirteen subjects every day! To me, it seems like Japanese high schools are more difficult than American High Schools because of how much subjects and homework they have. Besides all the intense hard work of the students at Maibara High School, I learned that they all are kind-hearted and sweet people who became my friends. I hope to see them all again soon!

I hope to see all of my Shiga friends again soon!

Hiraku’s Flight School

As I wrote in my New Year’s resolutions for 2019, I finally want to learn how to actually fly this year. It’ll be a lot of work, but I’m ready to try everything to achieve my dream.

I’ll post all of my attempts and flying adventures below – check back every week to see when I’m able to fly majestically through the skies!

February 22nd: Umbrella dream

~A spoonful of sugar makes the borb go up~

February 15th: Ski jumping

There’s wind beneath my wings—and my skis!

February 8th: Indoor skydiving

Today: Indoor skydiving tunnel
Tomorrow: The world!

(Original photo by LiseHdezG, with alteration)
(Shared following CC BY-SA 4.0 license)

February 1st: Hiraku-copter?

Balloons don’t work like they did in Up

January 25th: Hiraku-copter?

I was hoping this would turn me into a Hiraku-copter, but alas.

January 18th: You’re (not) a wizard, Hiraku

Guess I won’t be joining the local Quidditch team…

January 12th: Soda flight

I kicked off my resolution to learn how to fly with a flight of soda!

(Original photo by Katie Wheeler, with alteration)
(Shared following CC BY-NC 2.0 license)

Hiraku’s New Year’s Resolutions

My name’s Hiraku, and I’m the mascot for the Japan Center for Michigan Universities, or JCMU for short. You can learn more about me on my bio page here.

With a New Year happily on its way, I want to share my New Year’s resolutions. I think that if I tell people about them, I might actually succeed in some! Promise to check up on me throughout the year?

Without further ado I present: Hiraku’s 2019 New Year’s Resolutions!

1. Be in a production of Swan Lake

I’ve mentioned it before, but I love Swan Lake. Over the New Year I was listening to the score and I started thinking, who is better to play the White Swan than an actual white swan? The answer is no one. I am clearly meant for this role. So this year I will make my dream a reality. I will show the world my talent and soar to achieve my dreams: the White Swan.

I was meant for this role!

2. Take pictures with other mascots 

As you all know, I am a young mascot (I’m almost 2 years old!) but I have big dreams! I see all those pictures of the famous yuru-chara hanging out with each other, and I decided I want that. So this year, I’m going to try to get some pictures of my home! I hope by the end of the year I get a picture with my idol, Hikonyan.

3. Learn how to fly

I know that most of my less round cousins fly a lot, but I never really managed it. I just think that my adorable (very round) face belongs where people can see it. Also I’m afraid of heights. I am going to conquer that fear this year and finally take to the skies. Think of the adventure!

4. Spend more time with students

You know, being a mascot can be a little lonely. I’m always just watching the students go hang out out with each other but I don’t always get to go places. But then I figured it out; students go everywhere. So, if I spend more time with students, I also get to go on adventures! Really though, I just want to make new friends.

— And there it is! My hopes for the New Year. I’ll keep you updated throughout the year. Let me know what your resolutions are! We will 頑張る together!

Autumn Colors at JCMU – Fall 2018 Events

If you study abroad with JCMU, you can participate in a wide array of activities at our campus and in the Shiga area. To showcase just how much you can do in Hikone, our Student Services Coordinator, Yasuhiko Harada, created a list of events/activities that Summer Intensive Language students participated in this year.

The 2018 Fall Semester Language & Culture program has come and gone, running from September through December. However, students on the program were able to participate in a ton of activities during their time in Hikone! From visiting ancient temples & shrines to learning the art of Japanese-style calligraphy, discover all that our students did over the course of the 2018 fall semester program.

JCMU events/activities

September 3rd

  • Fall/academic year students arrive in Japan
  • Kokunai Ryugaku program begins

September 4th

  • Fall semester orientation
  • Lunch and tour of Shiga University

September 5th

  • Placement exam
  • Bike tour of Hikone with Shiga University students
  • English program Wednesday night activity
    • “Speed friending”
“Speed friending” Wednesday night activity

September 6th

  • First day of class
  • Homestay information session
  • English program Wednesday night activity
    • “Speed friending”

September 7th

  • Fire drill in the JCMU courtyard
  • Snack party with Kokunai Ryugaku students
JCMU fire drill

September 10th

  • Homestay interviews
  • Language exchange with Maibara High School students
Language exchange activity

September 13th

  • Internship information session

September 14th

  • Friday Japanese cultural activity
    • Kado: Japanese-style flower arrangement
  • Kokunai Ryugaku program final presentations, closing ceremony
Kado Friday cultural activity

September 17th

  • National holiday: Keirō no Hi (Respect for the Aged Day)
    • No class!

September 19th

  • Internship interviews (day 1)

September 20th

  • Internship interviews (day 2)

September 21st

  • Friday Japanese cultural activity
    • Koto: Traditional Japanese harp
Koto Friday cultural activity

September 24th

  • National holiday: Shūbun no Hi (Autumnal Equinox Day)
    • No class!

September 28th

  • Friday Japanese cultural activity
    • Sado: Tea ceremony
Sado Friday cultural activity

October 3rd

  • Dinner at the Shiga University Coop Cafeteria
Shiga Coop Cafeteria dinnertime

October 5th

  • Friday Japanese cultural activity
    • Kimono: Try on traditional Japanese garb
Kimono Friday cultural activity

October 12th

  • Friday Japanese cultural activity
    • Zazen: Traditional Zen Buddhist meditation style
  • Start of weekend homestays
Zazen Friday cultural activity

October 14th

  • Weekend homestays conclude

October 17th

  • English program Wednesday night activity
    • “The Great Scavenger Hunt”
“The Great Scavenger Hunt” Wednesday night activity

October 19th

  • Friday Japanese cultural activity
    • Japanese sign language
  • JCMU group field trip
Sobauchi experience

October 20th

October 26th

  • Friday Japanese cultural activity
    • Preparing for the JCMU Halloween Party
  • JCMU Halloween Party!
    • 4:30 pm: Kids’ Halloween Party
    • 7 pm: College/Adult Halloween Party
JCMU Halloween Party

October 27th

  • Gohanya Kumakuma party
Gohanya Kumakuma party

November 2nd

  • Friday Japanese cultural activity
    • Shodo: The art of Japanese calligraphy
  • Michigan Cup English Speaking Competition
  • English program Wednesday night activity
    • Trip to Ohmi Hachiman
Shodo Friday cultural activity

November 7th

  • English program Wednesday night activity
    • Trip to Ohmi Hachiman

November 9th

  • Conversation partner session
Conversation partner session

November 16th

  • Friday Japanese cultural activity
    • Elementary school visitation

November 17th

International Exchange Field Trip

November 19th

  • English program Wednesday night activity
    • “Conversation night”
“Conversation night” Wednesday night activity

November 22nd

  • JCMU Thanksgiving Party
JCMU Thanksgiving Party, featuring Hiraku!

November 23rd

December 3rd

  • Departure orientation
    • For students leaving after the fall semester only

December 5th

  • English program Wednesday night activity
    • “Once Upon a Time”
“Once Upon a Time” Wednesday night activity

December 7th

  • Visit from Tony Nelson (Kalamazoo College)
  • Japanese language class final presentations

December 11th

  • Last day of Japanese language class

December 13th

  • Japanese language class final exams

December 14th

  • Closing ceremonies for the fall 2018 semester
Fall 2018 closing ceremony

December 15th

  • Fall semester students depart JCMU, winter break begins for academic year students

Events/activities in the Shiga area

September 16th

Until September 30th

October 8th

  • Daidogei (street performance) Festival
    • Located in Toragozen
Example of daidogei
(Photo taken by Norio Nakayama)
(Photo shared following CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license guidelines)

Until October 8th

Middle of October

October 13th-14th

  • Haccho Bori (moat) Festival
    • Located in Ohmi Hachiman
Boating through Ohmi Hachiman moats

October 21st

October 26th

Until October 31st

Michigan Boat

Until the beginning of November

Throughout November

November 3rd

Hikone Castle

November 4th

November 10th

Until November 11th

  • Memorial exhibition: Tadashi Mabuchi, painter
    • Mabuchi-san was a JCMU Host Father before his passing
    • Located in Atelier M in Nagahama

Until November 12th

November 18th

JCMU students with the winner of the Kawarake Throwing World Championship

November 24th

Until December 2nd

My Japanese Grandma: Life as an Exchange Student in Shiga

Konnichiwa! My name is Sheridan, and I was a participant on the 2018 Michigan-Shiga High School Exchange. To help show others what life is like on the program, I will be writing a series of blogs detailing some of the memorable moments and people from the journey.

For my first entry, I would like to talk to about the most important and inspiring aspect of my exchange: my host grandma (お祖母さん, obaa-san).

My host grandmother was a short and cute Japanese lady who cared about me deeply. She would always take care of me, she showed me things I never knew before, and she taught me how to deal with language barriers. Above all though, my Japanese grandma was my best friend during my exchange.


Dinner with my host family

I first met my host grandmother when I first arrived in my host family’s home, the Ikeda’s. The first thing she did for me was to give me my own pair of slippers to wear around their home and to place at the genkan (a shoe area in Japanese homes). She was much shorter than me and had a giant smile on her face when she first saw me. Taking my hands into her own, she said, 「こんにちは、シェルダン」 (“konnichiwa [hello], Sheridan”). I did not know at the time how much she would influence my exchange.

For the first dinner at my new home, we had chicken and steak with soy sauce. It was delicious – but I spilled the soy sauce all over my white shirt! Everyone laughed with me. This started up a conversation about the meal itself, and it was then that I realized Grandma made all of this food on her own. I could not believe that she made all of this amazing food for my first night at their home.

The next day I was lonely because my host sibling was studying and everyone else was at work. I went downstairs to look around and I saw Grandma. She only spoke Japanese, so I nervously put my Japanese skills to the test. I told her I was looking for something to do and she took me to her rice cooker. I was kind of confused but I kept on listening to her instructions. She pointed to these tiny cups decorated with beautiful blue designs and told me to put the rice in them. Holding on to the cups, we walked over to the tatami (traditional Japanese floor made out of dried straw). I walked on the the tatami with my slippers, which was not allowed because of how easily it can become dirty. Grandma had to probably tell me about a hundred times during my time there to take off my slippers before entering the tatami rooms.

Shrine - Sheridan.png

Shrine honoring Grandma’s relatives

In any case, we walked through big sliding doors to get to what looked like a magnificent dresser covered in gold. She opened it up, and I soon realized the “dresser” was actually a small shrine. She told me to place the rice cups in a few different places. After they were in place, Grandma bowed down and started honoring the shrine. She told me the shrine was to honor her mother, grandmother, father, and grandfather. She followed this ritual every day for her ancestors. I could not believe that this shrine was dedicated to all of her relatives that have passed. The shrine was so mesmerizing to me because in the U.S., we do not do keep things like it in our homes. I loved seeing Grandma honor her family – so much so that I did it with her almost every day.

Another activity I did with Grandma was make food with her. We made sushi, octopus, chicken, and many other things. While we cooked, Grandma and I would laugh and watch sumo wrestling together or a show called “Why Are You in Japan?” together. As the title suggests, the show was about why foreigners were in Japan. My host grandma and I loved it, and it always got her to smile. Sometimes we would watch Japanese cartoons, which always had some crazy things going on.



In between waiting for the rice to cook and the cartoons to come back on, we read newspapers. Grandma would use the newspaper to teach me new kanji and to practice my reading skills. We would sit on the tatami and she would ask me to read one of the news stories and translate it into English. She was always so excited to hear me speak English and loved teaching me Japanese. My host grandma cared about me so much.

One day I told Grandma that I was going for a walk around the neighborhood. She insisted that I take a hat and some juice to keep cool. Apparently, I stayed out longer than I meant to, and Grandma came out and looked for me when I lost track of time. She yelled in her little voice “Sheri, Sheri” until I arrived back at the house. My host grandma always looked out for me and never failed to put a smile on my face.


Together with Grandma

At the end of my exchange, I had to say goodbye to everyone. As I was leaving the house, Grandma took my hands and started to cry. She told me she was going to miss me and how much she loved getting to know me. I began to cry too. We took one last picture together and then she handed me 1,000 yen and told me to buy myself a Coke at the airport (she knew I loved Coca-Cola). As she said that she looked at me in the eyes and we both could not stop crying.

My Japanese host grandmother was my best friend and I was extremely lucky to have her in my Japanese home. I still miss her and my host family very much. My host grandmother inspired me to learn even more Japanese, and I hope a few years from now I can visit her again and get to speak even more Japanese with her. She also showed me that people who speak two different languages can still connect through not just words but hand gestures, interests, and even things like sumo wrestling and cooking octopus!

Grandma will forever hold a special place in my heart and every time I think of my trip to Japan through the Michigan-Shiga High School Exchange, I will always remember how she never failed to put a smile on my face.


Hiraku’s Bird Bonanza

My name’s Hiraku, and I’m the mascot for the Japan Center for Michigan Universities, or JCMU for short. You can learn more about me on my bio page here.

I’ve written a couple of blogs now! You can read my previous ones here.

This week I wanted to share some Japanese culture that’s especially close to my heart.

It’s winter, and my family has started migrating back to Japan. Lots of my friends are on the road, too, on their way to the West Coast for some sun and surf. But I have to stay in Michigan a little while longer. I’ve got so much work to do before winter vacation!

What kind of work, you ask? Well, writing blogs like this one, for starters! And today, since most of my swan buddies are out of town (not that I’m lonely, why would I be lonely??), I thought I’d talk about other bird traditions in Japan.

To begin with, you’ve probably heard of cranes, or tsuru, in Japanese culture. They symbolize longevity and happiness. It’s said that if you can fold a thousand paper cranes, you’ll be granted a long, healthy life. It’s hard enough for me to fold one oritusru, not having fingers, though.

Folding paper cranes is hard!

Another bird you might’ve heard about is the rooster, specifically the ones who crowed long enough to bring the goddess Amaterasu out of hiding. So basically, they’re Japan’s most famous alarm clocks! Roosters are double-famous because they’re also part of the zodiac. And why’d they leave out the swan, huh??

A rooster who knows he’s the center of attention

There are other birds with some notoriety as messengers and omens, like the pheasant, falcon, and crow. These guys seem to keep pretty busy working for various gods and deities, sending prophecies, and who knows what else. I’m a kind of messenger too, but I prefer to use the internet rather than flying out to boats and stuff like that. I guess that wasn’t an option, though, when the falcon went to tell Jimmu Tenno that he’d be the first emperor of Japan.

These days, birds are still popular in Japan. The national bird, the green pheasant, is sometimes considered a symbol of the country itself. And one species of rooster, the onagadori, is a Special Natural Treasure! They’re known for their super long tails and thick feathers. Talk about respect!

You can get up close and personal with birds you wouldn’t normally see in the wild at animal sanctuaries, and if you’re in the right place, cafes! There are also cafes popping up all over where you can go and hang out with owls. Unfortunately, an indoor cafe isn’t really the right place for a wild animal (they aren’t all as civilized as me!), so you might be better off going bird watching. Luckily there are lots of great places to do that in Japan!

two people stand in a field with the JCMU roof in the distance

A couple of birdwatchers near JCMU

Lake Biwa is actually known for its avian ecosystem, and the shore right next to JCMU is a good place to start. You can see cranes, ducks, and yes, even swans! If you see any of my relatives, say “hi” for me, won’t you?

Hiraku’s Adventures: Youmacon 2018

My name’s Hiraku, and I’m the mascot for the Japan Center for Michigan Universities, or JCMU for short. You can learn more about me on my bio page here.

I’m finally getting the hang of this blog-writing thing! You can read my previous blogs here.

Hiraku here to report my adventures in Detroit!

Last weekend, I went to the Youmacon Japanese pop culture convention with a few members of the JCMU community. It was exciting to travel around Michigan, and especially to such an amazing event! I might spend my time going between Michigan and Japan, but it’s not everyday I get to leave the home base.

We got at the convention hall late on Thursday night and set up our table. My coworkers told me the booth looked great because I was at the center, which was very nice of them.

More importantly though: I had my own photo shoot! At Youmacon this year, they had a wonderful series of 4 seasonal backdrops that they invited people to use in pictures. It was a very clever idea, and gave me a chance to experience all 4 seasons at once. You might have seen the photos on Instagram or Snapchat (japancenterjcmu), if not you should check them out below. I love how they came out~

Anyway, nothing really fun happened until Friday. I have been preparing for this for weeks – I made so many buttons to pass out. I was nervous that people wouldn’t want to talk to this borb at the event or might think the buttons were cheesy, but that ended up being far from true. Alumni, students, and more were happy to learn about our Shiga study abroad programs.

It was great to talk to people who are as excited about JCMU as I am! I was pretty surprised by some of the cosplayers (some outfits were pretty scary!), but I greeted everyone and got to tell a bunch of attendees about our programs. There were so many high schoolers who visited with their parents! They were my favorite to talk to since this could have been the first time they ever even thought they might be able to go to Japan. I love seeing people get excited about study abroad.


One of the JCMU reps was caught off guard by this picture, I guess!

It wasn’t all work no play though. After a long day at the table, I said “hi” to the wonderful convention organizers who helped provide us space at Youmacon,  looked at cute plushies like, and visited the game room! A borb has to have his hobbies. The best part about the game room in conventions is that there are Japanese games. They had so many rhythm games. I played popular arcade games like Taiko no TatsujinSound Voltex, and Groove Coaster. Some players were like, crazy good. Me though? My wings are pretty squishy and I can’t really press the buttons all that great.

The games, pictures, and shopping were fun, but I still think the best part was seeing the way people got so excited when I told them all about our programs. To the people I met at Yomacon: I hope to see you in Japan!

See ya later – Hiraku out.

Standing with our community members of all identities

At a time where it seems some are being targeted on the basis of religion, gender identity, and race, JCMU stands with our community members of all backgrounds and identities.

We genuinely believe that the only way to move forward as a global society is to learn about and from people outside of our own culture and community with respect for our differences, celebration of our diversity, and dignity for all people, regardless of place of origin, race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, ability, and so on. At JCMU, we are strongly committed to inclusivity and will continue working to ensure that both our East Lansing administrative office and our Hikone campus are safe areas for all members of our broad community. As always, we look forward to hosting students from different backgrounds, countries, gender identities, communities, and institutions, and remain steadfast in our belief that this diversity is what makes JCMU (and the world as a whole) so amazing.

We ask all members of our JCMU community to look out for one another during these troubling times. By accepting each other with open hearts and open minds, we will fight back against the hate we see in the world.

Hiraku’s Adventures: Swan Tales

My name’s Hiraku, and I’m the mascot for the Japan Center for Michigan Universities, or JCMU for short. You can learn more about me on my bio page here.

This is my third blog, and I’m still having fun writing them! You can read my previous blogs here.

Hey everyone, it’s Hiraku! I’m back this week to share some more about Japanese culture!

When I was just a little cygnet, my mom and dad used to tell me folktales about swans from around the world. Today I’d like to share one from Japan! It’s called The Feathery Robe, and it goes like this:

There was once a fisherman who lived on the coast of Suruga. While he was working one day, he saw a pure white robe lying on the ground before him. It was made completely out of swan feathers, and had two wings instead of sleeves! He decided to take it home with him and keep it safe.

Before he could get very far, however, a beautiful maiden appeared! She was crying so hard that the fisherman could barely understand her, but she managed to explain that she was a goddess, the robe was hers, and that she couldn’t return to heaven without it. Well, the fisherman didn’t want to give up his prize, so he told the goddess that she’d have to have to show him the heavenly dance that goddesses are known or in order to prove it.

The goddess didn’t like being doubted, and got pretty mad. The fisherman was afraid of getting hurt, and he did want to see the dance, so he handed over the robe. As soon as the goddess put it on, she began to fly into the air, singing and dancing and getting further and further away. It was so amazing and beautiful that the fisherman was totally stunned. When he came to his senses, the goddess and the robe were gone, and he only had this story to show for it.

Do you think that goddess could be an ancestor of mine? I’m not very good at dancing… or at singing… But I’ll go out to karaoke any time!


Me, trying to dance. How do I hold a fan?

There are tons of folktales about swans from all over the world, because we like to migrate from place to place! Also because we’re really cool. Swans are usually seen as shape-shifters, with magical or heavenly powers, and often take human form when they visit earth. I’m always going to be a borb, though, and that’s fine by me.

Hiraku at Work

My name’s Hiraku, and I’m the mascot for the Japan Center for Michigan Universities, or JCMU for short. You can learn more about me on my bio page here.

I know I’ve told you all before that I am a busy borb, and I’m sure some of you are wondering “what exactly makes you so busy?” So I figured: what better way to explain that than to just share my day with you!

If something is worth doing, it is worth doing twice, in two different places. As you might know, I make my home in both Michigan and Japan, and I have different routines for each place.

Today I will walk you through my Michigan routine!

The first thing I do every morning is fall out of my nest into a nice bath to warm me up and keep my feathers nice and glossy. Then, before I’m late for work, I make myself a nice cup of tea to help me get through the day.

Properly hydrated, I get on the bus and head to work.

The most important thing I do each day is answer student questions. I check the Twitter and the Facebook pages to see if there are any new questions, and then I post the answer on my favorite platform: Snapchat (@japancenterjcmu)! You can check it out every Tuesday. After I finish questions, I make a new “Word of the Day” Snapchat post. That’s all of my work with social media for the day… unless inspiration strikes me!


Once that is done, I try to express my creative side by writing these blog posts. Let me tell you, it is really hard to type when you don’t have thumbs… but I am nothing if not determined.

I also try and be a helpful borb around the office. I go buy the members of the office coffee, I sort files, and I make buttons. I make a lot of buttons. They’re pretty cute, if I do say so myself, I’m on them after all. But I make a LOT of buttons. Seriously, so many buttons.


Why do we need so many buttons? I’m glad you asked.

You see, I am not an office bird. I love to travel. Whenever the office goes to a convention or study abroad fair, I will be there front and center. I’m the star of the show after all! While there, I hand out the buttons and pass out more information about our programs. It’s a whole lot of fun talking with people about all the things I love about my two homes.


At the end of the day, I say goodbye to everyone at the office. I take the bus back home, decompress, and get ready for the next day.

That’s only half the story though! I have a totally different schedule in my Japan home. Maybe I’ll tell you later.

Until then!