The location of my next study abroad program is Hikone, Japan in the Shiga Prefecture next to Lake Biwa (Biwa-ko) in the Kansai region. I am attending the program at the Japan Center for Michigan Universities (JCMU) that is run by Michigan State University, but I get to pay extra for the privilege of still being considered a University of Michigan student (i.e. $1500 administration fee). While preparing for Japan, I have found some interesting information about my host city. Hikone is apparently a sister-city of Ann Arbor where I currently reside and its prefecture is home to the largest freshwater lake in Japan (Biwa-ko). Every year in late July/early August Biwa-ko is invaded by hordes of people for the annual Birdman rally, a competition in which human powered vehicles are flown over the lake and judged according to their flight ability. Besides Biwa-ko, Hikone’s main attractions are the Hikone Castle (Hikone-jo) built in the early 1600s and the area south of the caste that is part of a famous Edo-period trade route with architecture that appears to be a fusion of old and modern styles.
The Japan Center for Michigan Universities (JCMU) is known for its intensive Japanese language courses. Each semester is equivalent to a year in a non-intensive course. However, they also offer courses in culture, religion, economics, business, etc. as well as allow students to attend classes at the two local Shiga universities: Shiga University (Shiga daigaku) and the University of Shiga Prefecture (Shiga kenritsu daigaku). They also offer English courses for Japanese speakers. As a student you have the option of staying in the dormitories with a roommate or staying with a host family. My hope is to be in the dormitories but have a Japanese-speaking roommate. If you’re interested in more details of the program, the official website for JCMU is: http://www.isp.msu.edu/jcmu/.