At 5am on Thursday the 25th of September, 13 excited students and their families arrived at the Canberra airport ready for the trip of a lifetime. The students were heading off on a two week Japan Study Tour.
On arrival in Tokyo we travelled to our hotel where we met with Suzuka, an ex language assistant from Lanyon High School. It was great to see her and she was so excited to see her old students in her country, speaking Japanese!
The next day we headed for the ‘cultural capital’ of Japan, Kyoto. Over four very busy days we visited some of the most famous Shrines, Temples and Castles in Japan including the very impressive Kinkaku-ji which is completely plated in gold leaf. Students got a real sense of the history of Japan and just how old it is visiting temples that are still standing since the 1400s.
Students also tried their hand at some traditional Japanese crafts making folding fans, dorei dolls, woodblock prints, gold leaf pictures and spinning tops.
Next stop was Hiroshima and a visit to Miyajima Island, famous as one of the three most beautiful views in Japan. Even pouring rain could not take away the beauty of Itsukushima Shrine and the floating Tori as we approached the island by ferry.
We were lucky to see part of a wedding at the shrine including some traditional music and dance performances.
One of the more serious parts of the trip was a visit to the A-bomb dome and the Peace Park. On arrival at the A-bomb dome we were approached by a ‘hibakusha’ or survivor of the bomb who was kind enough to tell us the story of his family and the city after the bomb. Many students were amazed at the suffering that occurred but also at how quickly the community had pulled together to rebuild their lives and the city from nothing. It felt very special to leave our 1000 paper cranes, our hope for peace, at the memorial with others from around Japan and the world.
Next stop on our epic adventure was Nara, school visit and a homestay. While some students were nervous, their nerves seemed to fade once they were introduced to their host families who were all very friendly and excited to meet them. When we met each morning, there were so many stories and so many different experiences to talk about. Some students stayed in an apartment near the main train station in Nara while others stayed in the quiet outskirts and had to negotiate trains and buses into the city. Some traveled into Osaka for a taste of octopus and an Italian dinner while others ate “the best Japanese food I’ve ever tasted” at home. In all the 3 nights together were very enjoyable and there were tears on departure!
Another exciting part to our Nara visit was to travel out into the Japanese countryside and visit Tsukigase Junior High School, a school we have been exchanging letters with since the beginning of the year. Students met their pen pals and enjoyed playing table tennis together. As Tsukigase has only 40 students, they all eat lunch together and we were invited to join them and try a Japanese school lunch. For some, a bowl of little fish, complete with heads was too much and they stuck to the stew and rice however others ‘did as the locals did’ and devoured everything, including natto and umeboshi. Our school day ended with a tour of the classrooms, music and dance performances by Tsukigase students and a chance to talk and get to know each other a little better. It was brilliant to see some of our students developing strong friendships in such a short time despite the language barrier.
The next day we ventured out into the countryside again to a town famous for the Iga Ninja clan. We visited an old Ninja house, complete with hidden rooms, concealed doors, and trick floors. We learnt about the tools and disguises Ninja used and saw some of their weapons in action in the Ninja Show. Very impressive. Some of our students even took the opportunity to learn to throw Ninja stars themselves!
Finally we left Nara for Tokyo, the last leg of our trip. Highlights of Tokyo included Harajuku for shopping and the traditional Meiji Shrine, Disneyland for a day of fun, Shinjuku and Shibuya experiencing just how big and busy Tokyo really is and Ginza to see (and touch) all the latest gadgets from Sony.
Heading home very tired with very heavy suitcases we all felt sad that the trip was over but glad we had seen, experienced and learned so much about Japan and the Japanese culture. Students said they felt much more confident speaking Japanese and some didn’t want to leave at all!
As a teacher it was a very full-on but worthwhile experience. It was a privilege to travel with such a great group of students and watch them experience those ‘oh, I get it’ moments. From the moment we stepped on to the plane to Tokyo until we got back to Canberra our students were learning. For example, as we were arriving in Tokyo, there was an announcement in Japanese over the speakers in the plane. All of a sudden one of the students turned around and said “Miss, I understood that, she said the weather is fine in Tokyo”. Students have returned to school with more context to their learning and a desire to improve more in preparation for planned returns in the future!
I would like to extend a huge thank you to all those who supported the trip in some way either through sponsorship, helping at fundraisers or simply buying a raffle ticket or two. This fantastic experience could not have happened without your help!
Special thanks go to the organisations and business that sponsored us or donated prizes: Japan Exchange Teaching Alumni Association (JETAA) Canberra Inc., Wabi Sabi Designs, Woolworths Lanyon Marketplace, Iori Japanese Restaurant, Vicki McKenzie and Avon, Westfield Woden, La Piazza Erindale, Salon Suraci, Hoyts Tuggeranong and Bakers Delight Lanyon Marketplace.