Admissions Blog

Maximizing Your Spring Break: Daniel Alvarez’s Japan Trip Experience

By Davira Chairunnisa '24
Posted Apr 11 2024

During spring break on March 2024, the Japan Study Student Association (JASSA) in SIPA held a Japan Trip for SIPA students to learn and explore about Japan’s government, culture, foods, and community. Daniel Alvarez (MPA-ISP&ICR’25) participated in the trip and very keen to share his amazing experiences. Let’s hear about Daniel’s story! 

Can you share the overall experience of Japan Trip? What places did you visit?

Japan Trip was a phenomenal opportunity not only from a career development perspective but also from a personal development perspective. Speaking with top politicians, participating in cultural ceremonies, learning about critical events in Japan’s history, experiencing the excellent cuisine and enjoying the nightlife with new friends made for a very well-rounded trip and once-in-a-lifetime experience. The organizers did an incredible job planning and managing the trip at every turn. The three cities we visited throughout the week were Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Kyoto although there was an optional pre-trip to Fukushima and post-trip to Osaka as well.

What motivated you to participate in the Japan Trip?

My interest in Japan actually originated from a place which is probably atypical, but blossomed into a very broad fascination with Japan. My entry point was during my undergraduate business studies we learned about Toyota’s ingenuity in the field of operations management, but as I started doing my own research on the country I learned about Japan’s industrialization aided by Western nations in the 19th century and was fascinated by its ability to become a considerable world power despite a lack of natural resources and this hooked me. Around the same time, I discovered Japan has an incredibly influential fashion industry and distinct style and this also piqued my interest and fascination with Japan’s culture. After starting at SIPA, I realized how exceptional Japan is from a political perspective as well. A country which saw their emperor as a deity was very suddenly transformed into a parliamentary system with a constitution drafted in less than a week by Americans at the end of World War II. The sudden transformation, reconciliation with the United States and the now steadfast alliance between the two countries gave me yet a new reason to spend time learning more about Japan. Of course Japanese food is simply delicious, so that played a role as well, but the accumulation of all this made Japan Trip a no-brainer for me.


What are some activities you did in Japan? Were there any experiences interacting with the community there?

The week in Japan was absolutely packed with engaging activities. After touring the National Diet, essentially Japan’s White House, we met and were able to speak with some of the most prominent politicians in all of Japan. This included Chief Cabinet Secretary (and former Minister for Foreign Affairs) Yoshimasa Hayashi and the Governor of Tokyo (also former Minister of the Environment and former Minister of Defense) Yuriko Koike. Hearing from these incredibly prominent politicians at the forefront of their governments would have been enough to make the trip worth the travel already. But this was just the beginning.

After a few days in Tokyo we took a bullet train to Hiroshima. That evening we enjoyed a spectacular meal together as we anticipated meeting a survivor of the nuclear bomb attack on Hiroshima the next morning. For the better part of an hour every student was on the edge of their seat listening to a 93-year-old man vividly describe his and his family’s experience in a nuclear attack at the very same town where he was speaking with us that day. He then talked about the importance of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and we walked around the city.

The next day we headed to the cultural center of Japan, Kyoto. We dressed in traditional kimonos and visited remarkable shrines before participating in a tea ceremony. The experience by itself was fascinating, but the information added by the Japanese student organizers was invaluable to have at our fingertips throughout.

What were some highlights for the trip?

Besides those main events we also had optional tours and activities throughout each day that we could go on with the group. We had a memorable time bar hopping in Tokyo with locals and visiting prominent restaurants. In Kyoto, the entire group went out for an unforgettable night of karaoke and partying. The next evening we went to hot springs to relax and rejuvenate for our next adventures. These optional activities the organizers put together were very well thought-out, coordinated and made for a seamless experience of authentic Japanese culture as we transitioned from one phenomenal event to the next. 

Can you share any tips for students who want to participate in the future?

If you want to participate in Japan Trip, attend JASSA events as soon as possible so you can express your interest to the student organizers. There are so many applicants to this trip and you want to make sure they understand your enthusiasm for the trip as this is a major consideration. When you are accepted on the trip, learn which politicians you will meet with and prepare to ask them very thoughtful questions, time-permitting. This is a once–in-a-lifetime experience and you will want to make the most of it. My final piece of advice is to bring an extra, empty checked bag to fill with local products you can bring back!