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My 16 year old daughter will be traveling to Kitakyushu, Miyazaki and Tokyo on Oct 30, 2013 and will stay for 2 weeks performing with her high school musical theatre group from school. She is staying with 2 different host families, and I would like for her to present them with special gifts to show our appreciation for their hospitality. The organizer of the trip recommended to start with a framed picture of our family in addition to other gift(s). I would appreciate some ideas of what the families might enjoy. Both families are couples with one teenage daughter. (15 & 16)
Any other information you think might be helpful for her would be greatly appreciated. We live in Virginia (Norfolk/Virginia Beach area)and she'll be limited to one school-issued large duffel bag for traveling. Also, she'll be wearing a school jacket and khakis pants when traveling as a group, but what should she pack to wear when she's with the host families?
Thank you! Shei F.

Basically you want her to bring some things that represent where you are from, be it your hometown or the US. She might bring something for the whole family and a small item for each family member when you find out more about the host families.
Some samples of her favorite music radio stations, photo or nature books, calendars, coasters, posters, ashtrays, chocolates, t-shirts, nuts, pens or pencils with famous sports teams or animation characters (except Disney or Snoopy, they have tons of that), wines or liquor, caps, fragrant soap, bath oil, or shampoos, lotions, cosmetics, flavored coffee or teas...there are lots of ideas.
 You don't need to give anything wildly expensive. They will give some gifts too in exchange, and one is obligated to give something of about the same value. It is very likely that the family will treat her very well if not lavishly, especially when she first arrives, such as taking her to some expensive restaurants, so make sure she brings something more formal with her to wear, such as a nicer but slightly conservative dress and high-heels. She should of course also have a good comfortable pair of walking shoes - she will be doing a lot of walking and sightseeing. Not to mention probably taking shoes off and on a lot, so easy slip-ons are a good idea too. Weather will be comfortable enough in the day but may be cool or chilly at night.
As for preparation, the first is language - anything she learns before she leaves will improve her trip. At the bare minimum learn some basic phrases or expressions. There are several websites for beginner to intermediate level, as well as phrase and basic language books in your local library, book store or Amazon.
The second is to learn as much as possible about the sites and history of the areas she will go to. No doubt she'll visit some very old places, but they won't mean much if she doesn't know anything about the history. There is plenty online or some history books can help. Also some tourist books like Lonely Planet can help a lot to point out the most interesting places. When I first went to Japan I knew nothing about nearby Kamakura, which has a number of iconic places and sights to see.
Kitakyushu is a largely industrial city but has some interesting places. The Moji wharf area is a preserved historical area, Kokura Castle is a nice place to visit and the night view from atop Mt. Sarakurayama when the weather is good is breathtaking. If she can cross the bridge or tunnel to Yamaguchi, there are also a number of great sites. Although a bit far, the Akiyoshido limestone cave will be a trip she will never forget in her life; and very few tourists ever visit it.
Miyazaki is the most rural of the areas, the Takachiho Gorge is very beautiful and famous though. If she is lucky perhaps she can visit Sakurajima in nearby Kagoshima, which is a live volcano and very unique.
Tokyo of course is a frenetic megalopolis and most people start there. It's very crowded, very exciting, and shows one side of Japan - fortunately she will see others as well.

I hope she enjoys her trip.

These sites can also give more info:


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General questions about tourism/travel and life in Japan, including shopping, visa issues, culture-shock, finding accommodations and employment, proper cultural etiquette, and common problems ex-pats in Japan experience. Bachelors Degree in Japanese Culture and Masters Degree in Marketing.

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