Exchange Visits

Exchange visits are most likely to be a regular part of a school link where the UK school offers Japanese language teaching. However, some schools have taken groups on sport or music exchanges on a one-off basis.


Most reciprocal exchange visits operate on a biannual cycle: the Japanese school visits the UK in one year and the UK school visits Japan the year after. A few now complete the cycle in a single year, while some visits are more ad hoc. The frequency of the exchange is usually dependent on finances. Some visits are conducted entirely in term time, others overlap between term and the school holidays. There are no ‘best’ arrangements as so much depends on individual circumstances. Similarly, there are no hard and fast rules for the time of year of the visits. Exams and other commitments in the school calendar are likely to be the deciding factors.


Most exchanges work on the ‘school gate’ principle: that is, the host school starts paying from the point that the visitors reach the school. Working on this basis and depending on the time of year, the distance between the schools and the nearest airports and the precise programme planned, the cost of a UK visit to Japan is roughly £1000-1200, while it may cost the Japanese visitors somewhat more. When calculating costs, schools should bear in mind that the exchange does not end with the visit to the partner school: the cost of hosting the return leg must also be included in the budget. This will depend on the length of stay, activities undertaken and the number of incoming visitors. Having worked out a rough budget for the complete exchange and established whether it will run over one or two financial years, schools are faced with raising the money. In most cases the exchange is funded by a combination of: individual contributions, grants and sponsorship and fund-raising activities. Please see funding for further information.

Selecting Pupils

In both countries, the cost involved means that participants are, to a large extent, self selecting. In almost all cases, individual contributions are needed to cover most of the costs, although school fundraising can help subsidise costs. Because all junior and senior high school students in Japan study English, there is usually more competition for places on that leg of the exchange. In some cases, after negotiation between the schools, arrangements are made for more Japanese than UK students to travel. Where this is not possible, Japanese students may be selected on the basis of essays or interview.

Programme for the Visit

Most exchange visit programmes include a mixture of days in school, visits to local places of interest and social activities. Where language learning is the prime aim of the link, some schools organise language classes in the mornings and other activities in the afternoons. Task driven activities are effective in building a strong group dynamic and fostering relationships between the two groups of students. Successful initiatives have involved preparing a musical or theatrical performance with the help of experienced workshop leaders, or spending a few days at an outdoor activity centre. Other groups have undertaken environmental projects in their locality. Free time is also important – try to build in some flexibility and breathing space within the schedule. Most exchange visits are centred on a home stay programme, with perhaps a few nights being spent sightseeing in, for example, London, Edinburgh, Tokyo or Kyoto at one end of the trip. Youth hostels are good value for money if you are thinking of doing this.


There are four airlines operating direct flights between the UK and Japan: All Nippon Airways, British Airways, Japan Airlines and Virgin Atlantic. Group discounts can be negotiated. Flights involving a connection in continental Europe (eg Paris, Amsterdam etc) are normally much cheaper, but will add around 3 hours to the journey time. For travel within Japan, consider buying a Japan Rail Pass and, in the UK, a BritRail Pass. Whether these are worthwhile options for you depends on how much travelling you will be doing, how long you are staying and how far your partner school is from the airport, etc. The Japan National Tourist OrganisationBritish Tourist Authority and Inside Japan Tours websites are full of useful information.

General Tips

  • Create a group identity by wearing a uniform. This may be a t-shirt or sweatshirt with the exchange logo, but could be school uniform.
  • Keep luggage to a minimum. Remind participants that they will need to be able to carry their own luggage.
  • Japan is still a cash-based society. Changing travellers’ cheques is time-consuming and many ATMs do not accept foreign issue credit / debit cards. The good news is that the Japanese post office ATMs, found throughout the country, now accept overseas cards readily.
  • Credit cards are a useful back up. Visa, American Express and JCB cards are most commonly accepted in Japan, while Mastercard is becoming more widely used.In the UK, all these cards are widely accepted.In both countries, youth hostels and small hotels or restaurants may not accept credit cards.
  • Arrange gifts to take with you: larger ones for hosting organisations, smaller ones for host families. Co-ordinate as a group before travelling.
  • Be prepared to explain your way of life. If you are hosting, there is no need to change your normal behaviour, but be aware that your guests may not be aware of customs which you take for granted. Do not be afraid tell them what you expect them to do – they would rather know than make mistakes.
  • Take prompts to help. For example, a small photograph album is useful to introduce your family, school and home town, while magazines can provide many insights into youth culture and trends.
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