24 tired but exhilarated students, teachers and parents returned on Friday 28 April from the inaugural Tenison Woods College 14-day Study Tour of Japan.
On the 14-day tour we visited Tokyo, Kanazawa, Shirakawa-Go-Eco Institute, Kyoto and Hiroshima before flying out of Kansai airport for home.
Upon arriving in Tokyo on Sunday, we explored the city and got acclimatised. On our second day, we caught the train from Central Tokyo to Chiba Prefecture and spent the day discovering Disneyland. For many of us, this was our first experience of Disneyland. Amid excited cries we split into groups and explored the 115-acre theme park. There were rides, live shows and costumed characters everywhere. A few of the most popular theme parks were Adventure Land, Western Land, Fantasy Land, Toon Town and Tomorrow Land. Before leaving Disneyland in the late afternoon we watched the colourful parade of many vibrant floats highlighting the wonderful World of Disney.
Day 3 was spent visiting Tamagawa Academy where many of our short term and long term International students who visit and study at Tenison Woods College attend. Tamagawa Academy is a Reception to Year 12 and University all combined where 10,000 people study and teach on the one campus. Tenison Woods College is the first school to be invited on the campus and to be integrated into classes with students from the Junior School. Our students read stories, shared lunch and chatted to the younger primary aged students from Tamagawa. We were guided through a small section of the campus by the Dean of Academic Affairs, Mr. Keiichi Watase. In one of the music classes that we attended, the students from Tamagawa sang ‘Advance Australia Fair’ while holding up the Australian flag; a very special performance. During our time at Tamagawa, many of our former Japanese International students both short term and long term met up with us.
On day 4, we boarded the bullet train from Tokyo to Kanasawa where we had a two night stay. The city of Kanasawa hosted our tour group where they provided two volunteer guides to show us the many beautiful sights of Kanasawa. We visited D.T. Suzuki Museum which is a tribute to Daisetso Suzuki who was one of the foremost philosophers of our time, Nogaku Museum where three of our students were dressed in traditional kimono and mask, and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art where all the walls are made of glass.
The students then met their host families who they stayed with over our two night stay. The students had corresponded with their host mothers before leaving for Japan. This again was a first. The students enjoyed living in a traditional Japanese house with their hosts. They experienced sleeping on traditional futons, sharing traditional Japanese food, bathing in a traditional bath, sitting at a traditional table on a tatami mat and eating with chopsticks.
On day 5, the students joined the adults and we were guided around the streets of Kanasawa visiting the Geisha Musician District (Higashi Chaya Geisha District) with its cobblestone streets and lattice lined houses dating back to the early 1800’s. Chaya is translated as ‘tea house’ and this is where the geisha performances took place during the Edo period. We then walked to Kanasawa Castle where the beautiful white tiles that grace the rooftops are weathered lead and the walls are made of white mortar with flat tiles attached to it. The stone walls vary, including those that were built over 400 years ago.
From Kanasawa Castle we walked on to the beautiful Kenrokuen Gardens which are regarded as one of the most beautiful feudal gardens in Japan. We enjoyed the beauty of the flowers and the trees, including plum and cherry blossom and the many ponds. After viewing the gardens, we participated in a traditional tea ceremony hosted by Japanese ladies in traditional dress. The powdered green tea was very bitter and was accompanied by a rakugan which is a dry sweet made of soy flour and sugar. The students then returned home with their host families.
Day 6 saw us leave by Charter Bus for Shirakawa-Go-Eco-Institute which is owned by the Toyota Car Company. This was another first as Tenison Woods College is the first western school to be invited by the Eco Institute to stay at their lodge. During our stay we were accompanied by a professional photographer who took photos of our two-day visit which is now being used by the Institute for promotional purposes.
The Eco-Institute supports the World Heritage listed site of Shirakawa which is situated high up in the mountains. Much to our delight there was still snow on the ground and a snow fight was not far away. After settling in we were taken to a lookout where we disembarked from the bus and walked down to the village of Shirakawa. We explored the village before being transported back for dinner in their 5 star French restaurant before going on a night hike to use our senses to feel, smell, and see in the pitch dark of the night.
Day 7 saw us go high up into the mountains in a bus with our guides where the roads had only just been cleared of the winter snow in honour of us. We went for a walk in the snow and then students and adults alike enjoyed sliding down the valleys on inflated tyres and small toboggans. Great fun was had by all. After this exhilarating experience we walked down the road (the road was closed to all traffic apart from us) before being picked up by the bus and transported back to the lodge for lunch. We then had free time before starting to prepare a traditional Japanese barbeque which we enjoyed outside.
Day 8 was another beautiful day and after breakfast we were instructed on the traditional method of thatch roofing which is used throughout the village of Shirakawa. Our time at Shirakawa-Go-Eco-Institute was fast coming to a close but before departing we were treated to a slide show of all our activities which the photographer had captured for us on his camera. The staff, guides and Mr. Kanai (General Manager) were all there to farewell us and the invitation was given to return in 2019. An offer that was gratefully accepted. We travelled by charter bus and bullet train to our next destination which was Kyoto where we eventually arrived late afternoon. We enjoyed exploring the shopping district around our hotel before and after dinner.
Day 9 was a day to explore the many beautiful temples and castle of Kyoto. Kiyomizu temple and Ginkakuji temple were among the temples that the students visited. There was also time for shopping for traditional crafts and clothes. We again ate in a traditional restaurant where the food was so delicious and fresh. In all the cities that we visited in Japan it was very easy to find a restaurant and of course there were many interesting and diverse shops to buy presents for ourselves and those back home.
Day 10 was Tuesday 25 April, Anzac Day. We went by bullet train from Kyoto to Hiroshima, a fitting place to spend Anzac Day. We visited the A-bomb Dome which is a World Heritage Site. The Dome is one of the few buildings left partially standing within 100 meters from what would have become ground zero when the A bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by the U.S. Army on 6 August, 1945. We also saw the Peace Flame, we rang the Peace Bell and we visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum which was very confronting. It caused us to reflect on the many different meanings of war. A very somber occasion.
On day 11 we caught the train from Hiroshima followed by a ferry to Miyajima Island which is another World Heritage Site. We walked through the souvenir, craft and restaurant area on the island to the Itsukushima Shinto Shrine which is a sacred place dating back to A.D. 593. There are 17 buildings which belong to the main shrine, the main prayer building, the ‘Oh-torii’ Gate, the 5 storied Pagoda and the 3 multi treasure towers. Beautiful Mt. Misen, the Sacred Mountain is a backdrop to this beautiful shrine. Wild deer roam freely throughout the island and if you aren’t careful they will eat any morsels of paper that you may have on you. After a lovely day on the Island we caught the ferry and the train back to Hiroshima in time for dinner.
Day 12 saw us pack and travel by bullet train from Hiroshima to Osaka and then from Osaka to Kansai Airport. We departed Japan at 6:30pm on Thursday 27 April for Hong Kong after our memorable tour of Japan.
A delightful country full of magnificent food, wonderful culture, amazing cities and welcoming and kind people. Until we meet again.