The ﬁrst few days in Japan were spent in Osaka getting the girls acclimatised to the heat and getting to know the train and subway system. In addition, it was a chance to see some of the sights.
We visited Osaka Castle and spent an evening at Dotonbōri - an iconic part of Ōsaka with its neon lights and vibrant nightlife where the girls had some free time here to enjoy shopping and ﬁnd some dinner.
The accommodation at Osaka Youth Hostel was exceptional, and the girls all embraced Japanese culture and tested out the onsen (bath).
From Osaka it was on to Hiroshima and an opportunity to enjoy time with our sister school, Yasuda Girls High School, where our students were hosted by families from the local school.
Our girls did a fantastic job teaching the OGHS Haka and a Samoan Sasa dance, as well as presenting about Dunedin.
We spent a wonderful afternoon exploring Miyajima Island, and a very poignant visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and spent some time with the younger kids at Yasuda elementary school and kindergarten.
The friendships the girls made with their Hiroshima host families were evident on the day of departure with many tearful goodbyes as we waited to board the bullet train to Kyōto.
By bullet train to historic Kyōto
Visiting Kyoto exposed the girls to the very long and very rich history of Japan. We started with a visit to Kiyomizu Dera, where we all enjoyed a drink from the fountain of eternal youth.
The next day we embarked on a day trip to Nara to visit one of the most famous UNESCO World Heritage sites - Tōdaiji Temple, where the Daibutsusan (Great Buddha) is housed.
Other highlights of Kyoto were visiting Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavilion), Ryoanji temple and Nijo Castle with its famous nightingale ﬂoor. The girls were intrigued by the engineering and building features that were all built without modern tools and equipment. They were also amazed to think that these structures have been standing for centuries and remain so beautiful.
Visiting a rural school
Amanohashidate is a small coastal settlement on the Japan Sea coast, approximately three hours by train from Kyōto.
Visiting Amanohashidate was an opportunity for the students to see the contrast of rural Japan and visit a small rural public school.
We had a fun morning teaching haka, and taking part in a game of “Oni gokko” (Japanese tag). This was a great deal of fun and ended with the delightful observation by one of the boys that some of us were “Oshirir buri buri” (bottoms wobbling like jelly). For the girls this became one of more memorable phrases of the trip.
A leisurely ride on the chairlift to Kasamatsu Park allowed us to look over the three- kilometre-long pine-tree-covered sand bar that links one side of Miyazu Bay with the other. We later rented bicycles and went for a ride along the sandbar to a beach area where some of the girls enjoyed a swim in the Japan Sea while others played in the sand.
Tokyō and our last days in Japan
Our ﬁnal destination, Tokyo, began with a visit to our sister school Bunkyo Gakuin, where the girls were again hosted by students’ families. We spent two days at the school participating in English classes as well as learning ikebana (ﬂower arranging) and sadō (tea ceremony).
We had an enjoyable visit to the nearby “Obāsan Harajuku” where we enjoyed browsing some traditional shops, seeing the displays of lucky “aka pantsu” (red undies) and some truely eclectic “Obāsan” (old lady) fashions.
Other highlights of Tokyo included the night views from the observation deck of the Tokyo Sky Tree 451.3 metres above ground and visiting Tokyo Disneyland. The girls had a great day shopping, riding roller coasters and enjoying the electric parade together at the end of the evening.
All 11 girls came back from Japan with a new appreciation for Japanese language and culture. They all made the most of opportunities to use their language skills, especially during their homestays.
The trip provided the students an opportunity to take the language learnt in the classroom setting and realise that they can use it to easily communicate in Japan.
Aside from language, they also learnt a lot about cultural differences, both in the home, and in society as a whole. They also learnt a lot about themselves and some even mastered some new skills like learning to ride a bicycle.