Japan trip forges friendships for a lifetime

Japanese language students from Christchurch's Riccarton High School experienced Japan's extremes of modernity and tradition when they toured the country recently — visiting historic sites, attending high school and immersing themselves in the local culture. In this article, Year 12 student Aleisha Smith describes the trip and what made it so special. The class was supported to travel to Japan through a Japan Study Grant, kindly funded by Nakashimato Co Ltd. of Japan.
The Riccarton students posing for a photo outside of a shrine

Aleisha: "We will never forget the once in a lifetime opportunity that this trip gave us."

From the moment we set foot in the country we were immediately enveloped in the essence of Japan.

As students who have been studying Japanese since our first year of high school, nothing could have prepared us for the reality of being fully immersed in the language and culture.

Japan is a country where tradition and modernity are intertwined —from the bustling streets of Tokyo to the serenity of the temples and shrines nestled in nature. The sights, sounds and unique tastes of Japan captured our senses, offering us a glimpse into a new world.

As we navigated throughout many different cities, the train rides became more than just our mode of transportation; they were a window into the daily lives of those who live in Japan.

Travelling to Christchurch’s sister city, Kurashiki, we were warmly welcomed by the Kurashiki city council who prepared traditional Japanese meal for us.

Strolling through the city’s Bikan Historical Quarter, we were taken back in time by the Edo period architecture we saw. It was as if we had flipped the page of an old history book — each corner we turned revealed a new piece of Japan’s rich past, painting a vivid picture of distant times.

Riccarton High School students wearing traditional Japanese clothing

Aleisha describes trying on kimono as a "moment where beauty and culture came together."

During our short visit in Kurashiki, we were also given the opportunity to don traditional kimonos. Not only were we captivated by the beauty of the garments, but the whole experience connected us to the deep-rooted traditions of Japan. It was a moment where beauty and culture came together.

The visit to Hiroshima’s peace memorial park was a sobering experience for us all.

The powerful presence of landmarks such as the haunting silhouette of the A-Bomb Dome and the profound stories within the peace memorial museum, left a lasting impact on all of us.

Visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (right) and Itsukushima Shrine and it's famous torii gate (left) were poignant and moving experiences for the class

Each artefact and tale served as a solemn reminder of the resilience and hope that emerged from the depths of tragedy.

The poignant atmosphere of these sites prompted deep reflection on the unwavering spirit of humanity. It not only touched our hearts, but also left a lasting impression on each one of us, reminding us of the enduring strength and courage that can be present even in the darkest of times.

“We are all citizens of one country, the Earth.”…

This is how we were greeted as we took our first steps through the gates of our Japanese sister school, Takefu Higashi High School.

The welcoming assembly on our first day set the stage for the exciting week that awaited us. Each day brought new discoveries as we navigated the Japanese school system.

We encountered language barrier challenges, a hurdle that tested us but also encouraged us to put our language skills to the test.

The class got to homestay with local families, attend high school and hang out with their Japanese counterparts 

Our visit to Takefu Higashi High school was not just confined to the classroom; we were given the opportunity to engage in after school clubs such as flower arrangement and tea ceremonies.

These activities provided us with a deeper insight into the lives of Japanese students and allowed us to engage in new experiences.

Time spent with our host families allowed us to experience true Japanese culture as a guest in someone’s home. From engaging in daily rituals and conversations, to shared meals, we were enveloped in a sense of belonging.

Our homestay experience was not just about living in a different house or experiencing Japanese life; it was about being embraced by a new family and forming bonds that will last a lifetime.

We will never forget the once in a lifetime opportunity that this trip gave us.

The Foundation's education programme provides New Zealand educators with the knowledge, resources and experiences to equip their students to thrive in Asia.

Our Japan study grants assist secondary school classes (Years 9 to 13) to travel to Japan for study tours. The grants are kindly funded by Nakashimato Co Ltd. of Japan.