Our first destination was Kyoto. The group stayed there for four nights exploring many famous landmarks and participating in several cultural activities. Some of the places were Kinkakuji – the Golden Pavilion, Ryoanji with its famous stone garden and Fushimi Inari Taisha with its tunnels of red gates.
Cultural activities included Kyo-yuzen – a very old technique of dying cloth that is exclusive to Kyoto, and dressing in Kimono to experience a traditional tea ceremony. We were able to see the Japanese Snow Monkey in its natural environment and dip our feet in Ashiyu (a hot spring for tired feet).
Our next stop was a day exploring Kobe – a city that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1995 but has risen once again to be a vibrant and modern city. Over (or under as the bus goes) the mountain from Kobe is the town of Sanda where our host school, Sanda Shounkan Senior High School, is located.
Students stayed with families from the school for five nights experiencing daily Japanese home and school life. Activities during the weekend varied significantly. Some students went to Universal Studios in Osaka, others went shopping, to family events, watched school sporting events, visiting famous landmarks, etc. Many wishes were answered over the weekend because it also snowed. Most students had never seen snow before, so making snowmen and throwing snowballs was a lot of fun.
At school, students participated in various classes, school cleaning which is done daily by the students, and after school clubs. School is much different in Japan than it is in Australia so students didn’t go home until 5 or 6pm.
It was sad to leave the school and the host families as many bonds and friendships were forged. However, Hiroshima was calling as was the ride on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to get there.
Hiroshima’s past is forever etched in history and it is a surreal moment to be standing directly under The position where that first atom bomb exploded on the 6 August 1945. The Atomic Dome building serves as poignant reminder of the destruction that can be caused. The museum further demonstrates the loss, and resurrection of the city while highlighting the need for tolerance towards each other for a peaceful existence.
Before our departure, many students were involved in the making of 1000 paper cranes. These were placed at Sadako’s statue which represents the children affected by the bomb in Hiroshima. While ill with bomb induced leukaemia, Sadako made many paper cranes. Inscribed on the statue is the saying, ‘This is my cry, this is my prayer, peace in the world’. Every year, millions of cranes are placed at her statue from children all around the world hoping for peace.
The last place to visit was Miyajima Island. It is famous for Itsukushima Shrine where the famous red Torii gate seems to float in the water. It is a very peaceful place and has wonderful views from the top of the mountain. We didn’t have to climb it though. The ropeway took us most of the way. The shopping street had many local crafts and foods as well as the normal souvenir shops.
During our time in Japan, we ate many different foods from very small traditional restaurants specialising in local foods, street food from the mobile stalls set around some temples, as well as the modern obento from the convenience store. We travelled predominately on public transport, using local buses and trains, bullet trains and ferries. It is very easy to travel this way in Japan, but we did have to learn and practice the etiquette of public transport. It is much quieter than in Australia.
All in all, it was a fabulous two weeks with students practicing their Japanese language skills, and learning about everyday life, traditional and modern culture, shopping in another language, travelling around, developing cross-cultural friendships and much, much more.
Ms Tina Dawson