Strasburg student: ‘Tokyo was controlled chaos’

Jana Bowman visits the Kikkoman Headquarters in Tokyo. Courtesy photo

A Strasburg High School student began her junior school year a week ago after having just returned from six weeks in Japan.

Jana Bowman, 16, laughs that she learned how to navigate the complex network of mass transportation trains in Tokyo before she got her driver’s license.

“My exchange was one of the best experiences of my life,” Jana said.

On July 21,  Jana headed to Japan after an intensive three-day crash course in Japanese culture and language at a preparatory class in Chicago. She landed for her first time on the soil of a foreign land on July 24 and spent six weeks in a commercial area of Tokyo with a host family that included two other children.

“It was a crazy time,” Jana said. “Tokyo was controlled chaos. There were people going everywhere. There were buses, trains.”

Jana Bowman, right, poses for a photo at the Kotokuin Temple in Japan with Ami Kobiashi, left, a friend Bowman made while attending school in Japan. Courtesy photo

What she quickly noticed was that despite how many people were in Tokyo, it was clean and she felt safe.

“Japan is absolutely beautiful. I was surprised by how clean Tokyo is. Everyone recycles. I never felt fear walking or traveling alone,” Jana said.

She learned some Japanese and calligraphy, the art of decorative handwriting.

“I thought it was drawing lines, but it is so much more than that. My art classes did not prepare me for it,” she said with a laugh.

Jana learned the basics of Japanese and gesticulated a lot but was able to make herself understood, she said.

Jana Bowman wears a traditional Japanese outfit. Melissa Topey/Daily

But it was the people, the students at her school and her host family who she said she will always remember.

“They made my time there special. They treated me kindly,” Jana said.

On her last full day in Japan, the friends she made at school traveled with her so she could explore.

“We went to the beach, into the city and visited a temple,” Jana said. “That was an action-packed day.”

Jana said now she would like to see as much of the world as she can and is considering going to school outside of the United States.

“It has made me think about majoring in international studies,” she said. “Meeting a lot of people and cultures allows you to be compassionate. It allows you to grow and it opens your mind. In this day and age, we need open-minded people.”

The student exchange was made possible through Family, Career and Community Leaders of America and Kikkoman Soy Sauce, which covered the costs for the students.

Heather Hiserman, the adviser to the organization at Strasburg High School, helped Jana apply to the program.

“She was one of 14 in the United States selected,” Hiserman said, adding that she cannot remember another Shenandoah County student being selected during her 22 years with the district.

The exchange is important for cultural understanding, she said.

“It provides an eye-opening experience that all people don’t live like we do. It teaches tolerance and understanding,” Hiserman said.