From a homestay on the remote Oki Islands in the Sea of Japan to experiencing the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, the three-week adventure was designed to showcase Japan's diversity, says the school’s head of languages, Jo Hawes, who led the trip.
“The idea is to give them experience of urban Japan and rural Japan so they get the whole idea of it and don’t just get a one-sided view.”
The trip included exploring temples and shrines in Kyoto, visiting the Hiroshima Peace Park, high school visits, and a visit to Tokyo Disneyland.
To help them get over any reticence they may have about speaking Japanese to strangers, in Hiroshima the students were divided into teams and challenged with completing a series of tasks that involved going out and asking questions of locals. Hawes said it was a challenging exercise but, after some initial hesitation, the students relished getting out and using their Japanese skills.
However, the standout experience for the students was being billeted by families on Oki Islands and in Tokyo, Hawes says.
“It was quite a challenge for them going to live with a family that speaks another language…so [they went] from being super nervous to go in and then realising that actually it was fantastic and they felt they were really welcomed.
"They did lots of fun things and used their language skills and could be understood, that made them feel incredibly satisfied at the end.”
Hawes was assisted in setting up the Oki Islands visit by a contact who had previously taught at Hutt Valley High School and now works in the Oki Island tourism office.
Despite being the eighth time she has led Upper Hutt College's Japan trip, Hawes says she always gets a thrill out of seeing her students blossom and grow in confidence.
“The highlight for me is really seeing the kids that I teach in the classroom being able to actually use their language in an authentic setting – often they’re kids that are quite shy to do that and they think they can’t, but when they have to they actually can.”
The trip was partly funded by a Japan Study Grant provided by food and beverage company Nakashimato Co Ltd and managed by the Asia New Zealand Foundation.
Foundation director education Jeff Johnstone says there's no substitute to being immersed in a foreign culture to excite a student's interest.
"Experiences like these will stay with the students for a lifestime and will hopefully encourage them to continue with their Japanese language studies," he says.
In August, Hawes spoke about the experience at the Foundation’s Experience Asia Evening at Upper Hutt's Fergusson Intermediate.
Upper Hutt College was also provided with a Japan Study Grant in 2014.