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Bullet trains, Hiroshima and unity
Keon Butler, a freshman at Monroe High School, holds a horseshoe crab at the 23rd World Scout Jamboree in Kirara-hama, Yamaguchi, Japan. A scout from Italy brought the crab with him to show at the jamboree this summer. (Photo supplied)
MONROE - Not many 14-year-olds would use the word "flabbergasting," but then again, not many teens from the Midwest have traveled to Japan.

"It was amazing. It was flabbergasting," Keon Butler said of his recent international trip.

Butler, a freshman at Monroe High School, went with a group of Boy Scouts to Kirara-hama, Yamaguchi, Japan for the 23rd World Scout Jamboree, where he joined more than 30,000 other scouts.

"From all around the world," Butler said. "I mean, like Russia, Belgium, Italy, Argentina - you name it, they were there."

The jamboree was held from July 28 to Aug. 8 and was open for youth between 14 and 17 years old, according to the Boy Scouts of America website. Butler said he was the only attendee from the Monroe area, with the closest person hailing from Sun Prairie.

Most of the boys in his group were from the Chicago area, said Juanita Butler, Keon's mother, who is a Girl Scout leader.

"We did a camp-out over Memorial Day weekend - that was the first time everybody had met each other - and then met in Chicago and spent this trip together," she said. "It was really kind of neat to watch those boys, you know, intermingle and get to know each other really fast."

In order to go, Butler had to apply before the troop of 40 filled and then pay the almost $6,000 fee. Juanita Butler said she paid the $250 deposit but Keon covered the rest.

"He basically paid for the whole trip himself, so he really was determined to go," she said.

Keon said it took him a year to raise the money by working a summer job, holding bake sales at church and asking businesses, family and friends for donations.

At the jamboree, Butler said there was an activity scheduled for half of every day, on topics including learning about other cultures, religion, environmental science, the economy and world problems. One day they took a nature hike, but "I didn't like that," Butler said. "It was 126 degrees that day."

"Everything there was just fun," he said. "I mean, there wasn't a thing that was super boring or anything. It was always keeping me awake and everything, having something to do."

The theme of the week-and-a-half-long event was "A Spirit of Unity." Butler recalled one event that highlighted the theme particularly well - a trip to Hiroshima, the first city ever hit by a nuclear bomb. It was bombed by the United States at the end of World War II in 1945, killing more than 100,000 people.

Butler said he saw buildings damaged from the bombing and learned how Japan has changed since then, becoming dedicated to peace.

"Even the police, they don't even have guns on them," he said. "Nobody has guns there. It's all peace, unity - nothing ultra-violent or anything."

For most of the trip, Butler camped in a two-person tent at the site of the jamboree. But for three days afterwards, he stayed at a hotel in Tokyo, Japan's capital city, sight-seeing and exploring.

His 13-story hotel provided one of the most memorable sights: "If you would look out (from the top story) ... when it was dark, it was just all the lights and the buildings - you could just see the outlines - it was beautiful," Butler said. "I did that every night."

Tokyo during the day - and on the ground - was a different experience with its population of more than 13 million people.

"I learned that we're actually privileged for how much space we have, cause everything over there is super, super cramped," he said. "Some days it'd be really, really busy on the streets of Tokyo, and you wouldn't be able to walk anywhere."

He said a lot of the locals they talked to could speak English well, which was helpful since he doesn't know any more than "hello" and "thank you" in Japanese. "That's all I really needed," he said.

Another memorable experience was riding a bullet train from Tokyo to the site of the jamboree, Butler said. They traveled 800 miles in four and a half hours.

"That was really, really cool," he said. "I wasn't even paying attention, because it feels like you're not even moving ... and then I looked outside the window, and everything was just soaring by. It was just so cool, seeing everything like there and then gone in a split-second."

The World Scout Jamboree is held every four years in a different country. The next one will be held in the United States in 2019, and Butler plans to attend. He said he also plans to go to the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia in two years.

But for now he'll settle for telling everyone about his international experience.

"If you ever have the chance to go, I mean, it's just amazing - everything over there," he said. "The sights and the culture - it's completely different from here."

"If I can, I would love to go back to Japan. That was awesome."