I traveled to Japan for free at 15

Tuesday, August 15, 2023


How it all began

So, one early morning on the last day of the week, I was sitting in what I thought was a boring physics class. Usually I was dreaming in the clouds, scrolling my phone or hitting on girls, but that day I clearly remember that I was sound asleep with my face tucked into my backpack. About 15 minutes before the end of the lesson someone started to wake me up very insistently. I raised my disgruntled face in the direction of the intruder to express my bewilderment. But then noticing the principal at the blackboard together with the English teacher, I dismissed the thought and focused on looking more awake. And for good reason.

That day we were asked to stay a little longer — they wanted us to write one essay each. The topic was “Why I’d like to visit Japan.”

You know, I’ve never been a fan of Japan. In those 15 years of my life, I think the only anime I watched was Attack of the Titans. And when they told us there was a potential free trip, I was motivated by the fact that I’d miss three weeks of school. Funny how I wasn’t expecting to be selected, funny how I wasn’t expecting anything cool from the trip. Now it’s one of the best things that happened to me in my life.

About the program

The program is called the Sakura Science Exchange Program. It is a free program for high school students to exchange experiences in the scientific field.

At this point in the article you can already follow the link and explore the program, terms and conditions, etc. on your own. But if you are interested in my personal experience and a little more chewed up description of the program, then let’s move on.

There was a problem, but now there isn’t.

Sakura Science Exchange Program was only for students from Central Asian countries in my time (I’m from Kazakhstan myself). But now they are open to the whole world.

We invite young talented people from other countries and regions to Japan through Sakura Science Exchange Program in a collaboration of industry-academia-government, to introduce and offer experience in Japanese science and technology. Beginning in 2014, and for a period of 6 years, over 33,000 young people visited Japan on this program.

SAKURA SCIENCE High School Program (SSHP)

SAKURA SCIENCE High School Program (SSHP) started as a part of the Sakura Science Exchange Program to invite youth from 14 countries and regions in 2014.

SSHP invites excellent high school students and supervisors from foreign countries (mainly Asia) to Japan for a week, and they participate in the exchange programs specially coordinated by JST. The purpose of the program is to make contributions to the development of global science and technology by supporting the excellent talents overseas whom universities/research institutions and businesses in the world including Japan desire by enhancing high school students’ interest in science and technology of Japan when they visit Japan.

SSHP provides various contents

- Participation in special classes taught by leading scientists, including Nobel laureates
- Visiting prominent Japanese universities and research institutes
- Social activities with Japanese high school students
- Visiting embassies in Japan
- Experience of Japanese culture, etc.

From 2014 to 2022, a total of 54 courses implemented, and 5,666 high school students came to Japan to participate in the program. In the questionnaires provided after the programs, 90% or more participants responded that they would like to visit Japan again. These high school students who participated in SSHP are expected to be a bridge between Japan and their home countries and play an active role in the future.

How to Apply

So there were two ways to apply:

  1. Open Application Program

  2. JST Direct Invitation Program

But currently Direct Invitation Program is not being implemented due to the spread of Covid-19 and the policy of Japanese government.

And yeah, there is another but: no individual applications. The same way it was my school was sending the invitations, not me. So if you are really, really interested ask your Principal to do that.

Open Application Program | Requirements for invitees

The invitee must meet the following requirements when coming to Japan.

  1. Affiliation / Age
    1.1 High school students, Technical college students
    1.2 University students, Graduate students, Postdoctoral fellows, Faculty members, and persons who are engaged in work related to science and technology at public institutions and are below 40 years old.

  2. Experience of staying Japan In principal, invitation by Sakura Science Exchange Program must be the first stay Japan for the invitee.

Feel free to learn more here.

My Personal Experience

That was the video I watched before going:

That are silly videos I made when I came home:

And that’s the video I made this April when I went to Japan on my vacation:




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