In the summer of 2003, I took a break from my university studies, and spent three weeks in Japan with my good friend and classmate who was originally from Fukuoka. Her family agreed to let me stay with them for a few weeks in their 200 year old house. At this time, I had only been studying Japanese for one year, and my ability to speak, read, or communicate in anyway way was extremely limited. I relied heavily on my friend to be my translator and guide, and it was a very humbling experience. It was also very motivating for me to study harder.
During this time, we had purchased Japan Rail Passes, which allowed us to travel without limit on any of the JR train lines. After our initial stay in Fukuoka, we jumped on the trains and made stops at Hiroshima, Osaka, Kobe, Nara, and finally Tokyo, all the while staying with families and friends that my classmate knew personally. It was much more comfortable than traveling alone and staying in hotels. Every stop, we met with her friends, and their parents, and were given lots of food to eat, and people to hang out with who would also take us sight seeing. We had Kobe beef in Kobe. Saw the old tea houses in Nara. Visited the memorial park in Hiroshima. Went shopping in Shibuya, and took pictures in Harajuku. I loved every minute of it.