Tour to Japan

April 23, 2015 at 8:44 AM

With thanks to Japanese teacher, Mrs Christine Leishman

Traditional meets modern, east meets west, temples shrines, shopping and language, language, language!

During the April school holidays – fifteen students, accompanied by Mrs Leishman and Mr Hart, travelled to Japan for 13 days of sushi, Sakura (the famous Japanese cherry blossom), shinkansens (the bullet trains that reach speeds of 320km per hour), shopping, and of course speaking Japanese as much as possible.

The group left early on Easter Friday and after an eleven hour flight and a further one and a half hour coach ride, we arrived at Sakura Youth Hostel in Tokyo’s Asakusa. Over the next three days we were able to visit very traditional places such as the Meiji Jingu temple, the Asakusa Sensooji temple and Ueno Park, alongside the latest that Tokyo has to offer in Ginza, Shibuya, Akihabara (electrical city), Odaiba and Shinjuku. Along the way we tried out Japanese food, as well as fitting in a few shopping opportunities! We spent the day at Tokyo Disneyland on the first Monday and rode subways, the famous Yamanote circle line, and walked at least ten kilometres each day.

Wednesday saw us lining up on the Shinkansen platform at 9:00am for our first experience on the bullet train. The seats were far more comfortable and spacious than economy class on our flight so we all really enjoyed that, and all subsequent, bullet train rides. Kyoto is organised in a grid-like pattern, and we were able to walk to our hostel which was clean, modern and centrally located. At every stage, we tried to ask for information using Japanese and most of the time we were understood!

We spent our first evening in Kyoto in Gion, watching the traditional entertainers called geisha and walked along a street built in the style of 16th Century Japan. The following day we took in the sights of central Kyoto. We saw the beautiful golden shrine at Kinkakuji, the former Imperial castle called Nijojo, followed by lunch and a visit to Kiyomizudera up on top of the hill overlooking Kyoto city.

From Kyoto we made a day trip to Nara, the first capital city of Japan. Famous for its big Buddha statue, I think the wild deer roaming the park remained the real attraction for our students. The rain held off on this day and it was an enjoyable day out.

On Sunday morning we made a start on the last leg of our trip to Hiroshima, with a stop-off at Himeji castle – one of the iconic images of Japan. It was a stunning day – and a beautiful castle.

The A-bomb Dome in Hiroshima and the museum in the Peace Park were always going to be a focus of our visit to this city. We were careful to take our time as we went through the museum so that the students could understand the full impact of what happened to Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. It was a horrific event and the images we saw in the museum will stay with us for some time.

The students were ‘set free’ that afternoon to wander around downtown Hiroshima, shopping and using their Japanese some more. Tuesday morning we went to Miyajima Island – a local tourist attraction for foreigners and Japanese alike, starring the Itsukushima shrine (the shrine in the water). It was nice to get out on the water and enjoy a lovely day in the sun on our last day in Japan.

It was a really long trip back to Auckland on Tuesday. A six hour ride on the bullet train, another two hours changeover in Tokyo onto the Narita express for the airport trip, and a further three hours waiting for our flight before the eleven hour flight home.

The tour to Japan was an amazing trip with a great group of students who really got a lot out of the experience. Japan is an incredible place – full of contrasts - and I would encourage all Japanese languages students to take the opportunity to go if it is offered to you.

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