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Japan felt like home, student ready to return

Three down, four more to go.

Tanner Yocom, 15, plans to visit every continent before he graduates from high school. Last year, he toured Europe, and last month, he returned from a trip to Japan as a People to People Student Ambassador of Peace.

He said he loved it and plans to return.

"Everything is just so practical (in Japan). Why can't it be like that here?" he said.

Before leaving for Japan, Yocom and the other students took culture classes that outlined the basic dos and don'ts of traveling abroad and what was expected of them as People to People representatives.

The group of 38 flew into Kyoto and traveled five hours to Hiroshima.

"I didn't feel right to be at Hiroshima, personally. It's like wow, we did that (dropped a nuclear bomb on the city in World War II)," he said.

From there, he traveled to Gifu by bullet train. They got to witness cormorant fishing, where fishermen use fire at night to lure fish to the top of the waters and then have cormorant birds catch them. The birds are on leashes and brought back to the boat after each fish is caught and forced to give the fish to the fishermen.

From Gifu, the students traveled to Minami Alps, where they met their host families.

While in that area, they climbed Mount Fuji, where Yocom "blew out" his shoes. He tried to buy size 13 shoes, and "the guy laughed at me."

They also attended a dinner where everyone stood to eat because there were no chairs, tried a sushi bar, watched a soccer match and listened to a flute concert.

The soccer match was a highlight for Yocom. He said the game they happened to attend were the play-offs, and about the same level as the NFL here. One big difference, though, was how the crowds cheered and chanted throughout the entire game, not just when a goal was scored.

He attended a Brazilian Festival and built a clay sculpture.

Yocom said his host mother, Yoko, spoke "semi-fluent English," but they figured each other out just fine. They even watched "The Last Samurai" together.

Lastly, the group went to Tokyo, where Yocom got a taste for baby octopus.

They're served "on a stick. Grill it and that's fast food. It was really good."

They also had the opportunity to visit the Hard Rock Café, make their own soup, and eventually flew out from the city back home.

He said he's sure he'll return to Japan in the future.

"It's one of the only places I've been to that really felt like home. There's Detroit Lakes, and then there's there."

If it were possible, he said he would consider moving there.

For now, he'll be attending school at Wayland Academy in Wisconsin for his remaining high school years. He'll be a sophomore this fall.

From there, he said he plans to attend Harvard for a double major in law and political science.

Maybe somewhere in there will include a visit to Japan.

"There are very nice and friendly people, especially if you're American," he said of Japan. "The food is very delicious. Not as much sushi as you'd think."