A school study trip to Japan, an amazing opportunity, one which some could only dream of.
It began with an anxious yet excitement filled morning on the 21st of September. 17 students and 2 teachers said farewell to the country they call home and embarked on an adventure that they would never forget.
We arrived at Tokyo that day, but it was straight to bed after a tiring 9 hour flight. The next morning we all woke, eager for what Tokyo had in store for us. The first day we visited the Earthquake Prevention Park and Joypolis. We also viewed Rainbow Bridge in Odaiba. Our day was cut short as it began to rain, but this didn’t dampen our mood. Luckily the rest of the 4 days in Tokyo were clear. One of the highlights of Tokyo was visiting the Tokyo Sky Tree. We viewed it at sunset; it was incredible to view the city come alive at night. We also visited Ueno (Zoo and Museum), Sensoji Temple, Harajuku and Shinjuku. Another highlight of Tokyo was Shibuya crossing (scramble crossing); we viewed it at both day and night. It was hard to believe we were standing in such an iconic place in Japan. On the final evening of Tokyo, we had dinner at a sushi train where you ordered sushi on a tablet and a train brought it to your seat.
Next stop was Kyoto (by now it was 25th of September) and what better way to get there than the Shinkansen (bullet train). That evening we went to the Gion district and amazingly we saw two geishas (we went with the expectation to not see any at all). The following day was jam-packed. First we visited the Golden Pavilion (a beautiful golden building surrounded by gardens) and Ryoanji Rock gardens. Then we went to the Monkey Park and finished the day with a walk through the Bamboo Forest. On our last day in Kyoto, we visited the Fushimi Inari (red gates lined up closely behind each other), Todaji Temple, Daibutsuden Hall and Yoshikien Gardens. But the highlight of the day was the deers in Nara. We strolled through Nara Park and observed the abundance of wild deer. Most of them were docile, but when you showed them food, it was a different story. One of the students had a plastic bag of rubbish strapped to his bag, which ended up sprawled across the ground when a deer took a liking to it. They’re the Australian seagulls of Japan.
Now we ventured to Hiroshima. It was a solemn day for all. We visited Hiroshima Peace Park; this included the Atomic Bomb Dome and Sadako Statue. It was very moving to stand there and imagine the horrors of the past. We felt feelings of sorrow met with feelings of amazement when observing the incredible resilience of the city in its rebuilding of both infrastructure and community. Next we visited the Peace Museum, where we gained knowledge of Hiroshima’s war torn past and its continued emotional effect on the population. We ended the evening on a positive note with Hiroshima’s speciality, okonomiyaki. It was cooked right before your eyes and was as delicious as it looked.
An island south east from Hiroshima was our next destination. We visited Miyajima via a ferry. Students had free roam this day, but were encouraged to visit iconic places like the Daishon Temple, Itsukushima Shrine (famous red gate that appears to be suspended in water) and Mount Misen. In the evening we viewed Itsukushima Shrine on a short cruise which took us underneath the world famous site. The day ended with the relaxing use of the onsen (public bath) at the hotel.
On the 30th of September, we spent our last day before home stay at Himeji. We had a tour around Himeji Castle, which was as rich in history as it was grand in its beauty. We then viewed Kokoen gardens and shopped around the area.
Now it was time for the most anticipated (good or bad) part of the trip; the home stay. Many anxious smiles adorned the students’ faces as we met our host families in the station at Yamanashi. One by one, students were taken to the houses they were going to call home for a week. This is where our knowledge of the Japanese language became really important. We were placed into a home which wasn’t our own and for most of us, left to try and speak a language not of our own. It was a complete jump out of our comfort zones (or at least for me it was). But with great challenge, comes great reward; our knowledge of Japanese culture and language was broadened. This knowledge continued to grow as we visited the school for five days.
At school we visited classrooms, talked with Japanese students, had a tour of Yamanashi Gakuin University and even had an excursion to the Ninja Park at the base of Mt Fuji (a personal highlight for me). We observed the differences between a Japanese school and an Australian school, for example, the students clean the teacher staffrooms at lunch, they change into school shoes as soon as they arrive, etc. It was a culture shock for some.
On Friday evening (6th of October), we had a welcome party (more like a farewell party as we were leaving two days after) where we listened to speeches from representatives of Yamanashi Gakuin High School, enjoyed the delicious buffet, made traditional Japanese sweets, learnt the traditional way to drink matcha and performed Advance Australia Fair. It was an enjoyable night for all.
The following day we spent quality time with our host families. We made memories we would cherish for a lifetime.
On Sunday, we farewelled our host families and made our way to the airport. The feeling of melancholy was common amongst students; sad to leave such an incredible place but, for most of us, ready to come home to reunite with our families and the Australian way of life. It was extraordinary to absorb the culture of Japan and broaden our knowledge of the language. Our journey brought us all many unforgettable experiences, ones that now only exist as memories and pictures.