30 Years, 30 Stories: Second Time Just as Charming

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2018 marks JCMU’s 30th anniversary since our founding in 1988. To celebrate, we will be posting 30 JCMU stories of 30 different JCMU alumni from 1989 to 2018 every Thursday from mid-February through September!

What were your favorite places to visit in Japan? For the twenty-fourth installment in our “30 Years, 30 Stories” series, read the story of JCMU 2014 and 2017 alum Nina Dermody, and discover just some of the amazing sites she had the chance to experience.


Going to Japan once seemed like the chance of a lifetime. As a new MSU student in 2014, I traveled to JCMU for a short freshman seminar study abroad program, and I loved it.

But going to Japan for a second time? Well, that was more amazing than I even thought possible.

I remember looking at the application for the Summer Intensive Language program and worrying about a million things. What if I couldn’t handle the course load? How was I going to pay for the program? What if I couldn’t connect with anyone? What was the weather going to be like? Did I really deserve to be able to go to JCMU twice? Then I called my mom and she simply said, “Apply.” That was all it took. The application fee was paid for. The essays were written and I waited anxiously to hear if I got in or not.

We’ve all gotten the email in our inbox that we didn’t want to open for fear of being rejected. So, when I got the update from JCMU, I hovered over it for about five minutes before finally clicking. I was in. I was going back to Hikone. I. Was. In. I DID IT. This was the moment I wanted. It felt great, and I began mentally preparing for months before finally jumping on that plane.

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Breakfast at the hotel next to JCMU

Touching down in Japan, I was ready for anything and everything. Well, I guess not everything because the last thing I expected was to be asked if I would mind staying in a hotel for a few nights due to limited space at JCMU. Staying at a Japanese hotel with free breakfast? Who would say no?

To add onto an amazing first few days, having an adventure around town sounded like a good idea. What majestic things could we find by just wandering? You’d be surprised because we found our favorite spot in town by just walking around with no destination in mind. Beautiful. Tranquil. Amazing.

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Hikone adventure time!

There were a million and ten things that I could also talk about here, but that would take much too long and I don’t want to bore you, so here are some really awesome highlights for you to check out:

  • Pug Cafe – Kyoto

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Yes, there’s a cafe you can go to just to pet adorable pugs. As soon as you sit down they just want all your attention. It’s legitimately one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Who wouldn’t want to be loved by 11 small dogs with lovably scrunched-up faces?

  • Traditional Japanese Meal

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A huge thanks to my wonderful friend, Lauren, for introducing me to her host family from when she was in high school. Erika and her family were so generous and sweet. I was included in so many fun outings and this was the first one. This was just one course of this amazing multi-course meal. If you get the chance, try one of these traditional meals. It’s worth it.

  • Wagashi Making Class

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Want some amazing wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets)? Of course you do. Want to make them yourself? Sounds difficult, but IT’S SO FUN. Plus, you get to eat the sweets you made along with some delicious green tea.

  • Summer Festival

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Yukata are surprisingly difficult to put on, but with the gracious help from my friend Niko, we managed! There are so many fun festivals that happen in the summer, so keep an ear open for information on when they are. You don’t want to miss them!

  • Nara – Deer

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Go. To. Nara. One, it’s beautiful and the temples and shrines are magnificent. Two, the deer are adorable and you can feed+pet them! Just make sure you don’t have any loose clothing because they will try to eat it. No joke. Trust me. My purse almost got snatched by a hungry deer at one point.

  • Themed Cafes

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I went to multiple themed cafes, but the Hello Kitty one was definitely my favorite. IT WAS SO CUTE. Plus, they gave us huge plushies of her to sit with us while we ate. Too adorable. I almost couldn’t handle it.

  • Universal Studios

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Yes, you may have gone to Universal in the states, but don’t count out going to the one in Japan. IT’S FANTASTIC. Plus, they have this weird fascination with popular American music. We definitely heard Hamilton playing while we were navigating around the park. 10/10 would recommend.

Okay, so this doesn’t even cover half of what I did while I was in Japan last summer, but I tried. Hope you enjoyed, and if you get the chance, go on a JCMU program. Go on any study abroad program, honestly. It’ll be worth it – I promise!

If you want to chat with me about my experiences, feel free to reach out (chemengineered@gmail.com).

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