MBAS Japan Tour Report
On Sunday morning, 9th April 2017, twelve students and three staff members (Sandi Lowe, Joanna Mannington and Judy Evans) boarded our Air New Zealand flight to Tokyo, ready to embark on a two week language and cultural journey. This trip, which had been a year and a half in the planning, was intended to give our MBAS language learners the opportunity to connect their classroom learning of the language and culture of Japan to the reality of a lived experience. The itinerary had been compiled to include a mix of modern and pop culture, traditional culture and visits to sites of historical significance.
Tokyo: 4 days – Sightseeing
We stayed at a backpackers’ hostel, Sakura Hostel in Asakusa. Asakusa is a major sightseeing spot in Tokyo, the main attraction being Sensoji Temple, the grounds of which we walked through each day to get from our accommodation to the subway station.
Activities in Tokyo included:
· Sightseeing in the famous Asakusa district – this was literally our neighbourhood for our time in Tokyo.
· River cruise on the Sumida River – a great way to get a sense of how important Tokyo’s huge waterways still are to the smooth running of this gigantic city.
· The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) – we enjoyed interactive displays that explored a variety of scenarios for the future of the earth, based on variables that the students entered; robotics, electronics and a great gift shop selling space food.
· Disney Sea – it absolutely poured with rain this day, but Disney Sea is unique and fascinating, and the lines for the rides were very short!
· Tokyo Edo Museum – we got a real sense of how Tokyo had evolved from a vast military camp in feudal times to the modern city that it now is.
· Yayoi Kusama art exhibition – possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a retrospective of avant garde artwork by one of Japan’s designated ‘living cultural treasures’.
· Teen fashion district, Harajuku – no trip to Tokyo would be complete without a trip to Harajuku, but perhaps the highlight was the all-you-can-eat dessert restaurant.
Gujo-Hachiman: 3 days – School visit and homestays
We arrived in Gujo-Hachiman on Thursday 13th April and stayed for three nights. Our first night was in a hotel, with the remaining two nights with host families. Gujo-Hachiman is a mountainous castle town in Gifu Prefecture, and is part of the larger Gujo City. It is famous for its hill-top castle, its clear springs and its fast-flowing mountain rivers. Our visit had been facilitated by members of the Gifu Goodwill Guide Network, whose members (all volunteers) were incredibly attentive and helpful. We are very grateful to Mrs Miyuki Masuda and Mrs Yuka Takada for the many hours of time they volunteered to assist us, and for arranging our school visit, our homestays, and related activities.
· Friday, 14th April – visit and cultural exchange at Hachiman Junior High School. We were welcomed as VIPs by the teachers and the entire 2nd Year (Year 9 equivalent) cohort in the school hall. Hachiman Junior High teachers had arranged language activities designed to break the ice and get the NZ and Japanese talking to each other in groups.
· Volunteers from the community were at the school and helped us get dressed in yukata (light-weight kimono) that they had prepared for our group, before we re-joined the local students, who taught us some of the traditional dances that their town is renowned for.
· We had lunch with the students in their classrooms. All students are provided with a school lunch – a delicious and nutritious meal cooked onsite using locally sourced ingredients. We were impressed to see how efficiently the students served the meals, ate everything on their plates, then cleaned up afterwards, right down to separating their rubbish for recycling and washing and flattening out their milk cartons. After the lunch, as is the custom in all Japanese schools, the students spent 15 minutes cleaning the school. The cleaning is done in complete silence at Hachiman Junior High, part of the students’ self-discipline training.
· In the afternoon we did an ‘Amazing Race’ that Judy Evans had compiled in Gujo-Hachiman the previous year. The race enabled us to explore the historical part of the town, and forced us to interact with locals in order to find our way to the finish line.
· We were welcomed by our host families that evening and enjoyed a meal together before heading off with our various hosts. The following day, Saturday, was the start of the Hachiman Spring Festival. Some of us got to actually participate in the processions, which was a unique opportunity indeed.
· Two of the teachers, Judy Evans and Joanna Mannington, and a small number of students, were taken to the opening of a camellia festival in a neighbouring part of Gujo. There we were introduced to Mr Hioki, the mayor, and to Mr Nojima, a member of the prefectural government. Mr Hioki referred to our visit in his opening speech and later invited us to have a traditional green tea with him at an adjacent tea house. Both Mr Hioki and Mr Nojima were there, and they took time to talk to us and our students. This was a real honour.
· We bade farewell to our hosts the following day, Sunday. There were tears and speeches of gratitude. Our young people say that their time in Gujo-Hachiman, in particular their time with their host families, was the highlight of the trip.
Hachiman Junior High students had prepared welcome posters for each one of our young travellers. School lunch, eaten in the classroom.
After lunch, the entire school is cleaned in silence. MBAS students participate in the Spring Festival.
Taking tea with the mayor, Mr Hioki at the back on the left, and Prefectural Assemblyman Mr Nojima, at the front on the right.
Hiroshima: 2 days – Peace Park and Miyajima IslandHiroshima: 2 days – Peace Park and Miyajima Island
We arrived in Hiroshima in the evening of Sunday 16th April 2017 and stayed for three nights in the Hiroshima City International Youth Hall, a very reasonably priced hotel-like facility contained within a large library and concert hall complex near the Hiroshima Peace Park. Activities in Hiroshima included:
• Hiroshima Rubbish Incineration Plant – in the pouring rain, we made our way by bus to the harbour to have a tour of Hiroshima’s state of the art zero emission incineration plant. We were impressed to learn how the city uses rubbish to produce electricity for 37,000 households, heating for the local municipal pools and adjacent elder care facility, as well as using the ash to produce stone chip for road building.
• As the rain got even heavier, we headed for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Atomic Bomb Dome. We were met by a group of volunteers and divided into three groups, each led by a volunteer. The torrential rain was a shame, but the experience was nonetheless moving and prompted a great deal of reflection. Back at the hotel, we had a group forum where we shared our thoughts and feelings about what we had learnt. Our students shared some real insights with each other.
• Tuesday was a warm sunny day, perfect to visit Miyajima Island and the iconic Itsukushima Shrine. We all enjoyed the gondola ride to up Mount Misen, and were glad we made the effort to climb right to the top. Spectacular views and a sense of accomplishment were the reward.
Kyoto: 3 days – exploring tradition and shopping
The final leg of our journey was Kyoto, the ancient capital. We arrived on Wednesday 19th April , and stayed for three nights before taking the bullet train back to Tokyo, and Narita Airport. Our accommodation, the Kyoto Cultural and Educational (Kyobun) Centre, was a great find, with very low priced accommodation. Activities in Kyoto included:• Exploring downtown Kyoto and shops – souvenirs and presents• Visiting Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion) and Fushimi Inari Shrine – absolutely stunning scenery.• Toei Eiga Mura, a samurai theme park and film studio• Hands-on experience making traditional Kyoto sweets
Our Year 10 to Year 13 students commented that they appreciated the opportunity to use their Japanese, and that their understanding that the language is ‘a real thing, not just something in the classroom’ makes their learning more relevant. They enjoyed the strong family bond that formed as we travelled around Japan. The students say that not only do they miss being in Japan, they also miss the ‘togetherness’ that they enjoyed there.
Our visit to Hachiman Junior High took place during the first week of their new school year. This was a busy time for teachers, but they had taken the time to plan for our visit and had rehearsed with their students the day before we came. We were humbled by the warm welcome they gave us. The principal, Mr Kumada, who was away from school that day for a regional principals’ meeting, even took time out to return to the school briefly just so he could greet us.
We plan to make the Japan trip a two-yearly event, and all of the students who went on the trip this time said that they would like to go again. Our Japanese programme is growing, so we anticipate a larger number of students wanting to go in 2019. We intend to offer the opportunity to Year 11-13 students in the future. With more language study under their belts before they go to Japan, students will be able to maximise the opportunities for meaningful interactions, particularly during their homestays and the school visit.
Report prepared by Judy Evans