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The Mature Traveler

Visiting Japan as an Exchange Ambassador

May 25, 1986|BILL HUGHES | Hughes is a 25-year veteran travel writer living in Sherman Oaks.

Two weeks in Japan for $1,141, including air fare. Good grief, the air fare alone usually almost costs that much.

And if the price is unusual, so is the trip. It's not your usual tourist travel with hotel accommodations, sightseeing and motor-coach excursions, complete with English-speaking guides and a tour leader to take care of your luggage and other details.

No, this is an experience more than a tour, where for one or two weeks you live as a guest in a Japanese home, sharing their food, customs and life style, with your hosts paying the costs.

The Japanese trip is one of many sponsored by a worldwide organization called the Friendship Force, a nonprofit group that sponsors low-cost exchange trips to help bring deeper understanding and appreciation of other cultures through travel.

Started by Carters

The Friendship Force was started in 1977 by then President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn (who remains honorary chairperson), and has grown to chapters or clubs in 44 states and more than 40 countries across the world.

In Los Angeles, the Friendship Force is headed by Harriet Dichner, who is also leading the trip to Japan that leaves Los Angeles on Aug. 1.

"Our trips are much more than just a cheap way to travel," Dichner says. "They provide an opportunity of learning the culture and life style of a country firsthand. And we believe our trips help make a small but significant contribution to promoting friendship around the world.

"While they are not just for the mature traveler," she adds, "they do make up the major portion of our trips, as we feel it is an ideal way for them to travel."

The Los Angeles Friendship Force trip to Japan includes a full week of living with a host Japanese family in Osaka. This portion costs $1,086, including air fare to Osaka. A second week can also be spent with another family in Gifu, a castle town of medieval Japan also on the island of Honshu. This would add another $55 to make a total price of $1,141.

Third-Week Option

Or the second week could be spent on independent travel at your own expense. There is also a third-week option of joining an organized Friendship Force tour of Tokyo, complete with first-class hotels, sightseeing, etc. This option is $730 per person.

As a final option, stopovers in Hong Kong and/or Hawaii can also be arranged, again at your own expense.

Many things set Friendship Force trips apart. They are not for all travelers, especially those who expect the usual sightseeing and excursions. Your Japanese hosts are under no obligation to take guests sightseeing--though all want to share their city and country--and you live in a home, not a hotel, sharing the same meals as your host family.

You are not called a tour member but a Friendship Force Exchange Ambassador, one who wants to sample a foreign life style and at the same time foster better understanding between peoples of the world.

250,000 Visitors

And you might not even be accepted. All interested are interviewed, first to explain in depth the concept of the tour and second to make sure that you would enjoy the experience. Then also, you must attend at least one workshop session where complete details of the trip are explained, to meet others traveling with the Friendship Force and to have any questions answered.

Since the organization was started, more than 250,000 visitors have taken hundreds of trips, almost as many coming to the United States as going abroad. Friendship Force members are also sought here to host families coming from foreign countries.

If you join the Friendship Force ($15, which includes a newsletter), you can also learn about clubs in other cities that sponsor tours to Europe, South America, Central America, the Mideast, Orient, just about anywhere.

Again, this is not your usual tour vacation, but a different type of travel that may or may not suit your tastes in trips. More information is available from the Friendship Force, Harriet Dichner, 8455 Fountain Ave., No. 304, Los Angeles 90069. Phone (213) 650-0840.

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