Pandas, pavilions and Pokemon
Over the Easter holiday, a small group took part in the Japanese Exchange. After an early start and a short stop in Helsinki the students finally arrived in Osaka with tropical temperatures, slight exhaustion and the host families ready to greet us. Following the drive back home, each student spent the day with their family, although lengthy naps may have been a higher priority.
On the second day we all met at the bustling Osaka train station for a day trip to the thousand year capital Kyoto. On our arrival in Kyoto, we discovered that the umbrellas we had been offered by our exchanges were lifesavers as we experienced the full force of a Japanese spring storm. Our first attraction was the Imperial Palace, an ancient stately home which was built in the traditional style, much to our delight. After a tour of the grounds, (we weren’t allowed inside) we headed on to our next destination – the Temple of the Golden Pavillion. A shrine gilded in gold leaf that shone brightly on this rather grey day. The day ended with a slight trek up to another UNESCO World Heritage site the independent Buddhist temple Kiyomizu-dera. Winding walkways of traditional buildings and souvenir shops made the journey up so much easier, and did not detract from the striking beauty of this ancient building. A slightly damp first day still had us excited and wondering what the rest of the trip could bring.
On the Friday, the students were introduced to the whole school during the new school year opening ceremony, and the students gave individual speeches in front of the whole school! After we had finished introducing ourselves, we headed to the Kobe Oji Zoo. We spent quite some time there looking at everything they had to offer; the rather sleepy pandas and monkeys where particular highlights! In the afternoon, we visited the Kobe earthquake museum, all about the Great Hanshin Earthquake. It made you think about the scale of this huge earthquake, and how devastating Nature really can be.
On Sunday 10th, the students experienced Japanese Pop-culture in full visiting the Pokemon centre and Universal Studios Japan. They all had an amazing time trying out all the rides (or, at least, the ones without any queueing involved).
On the penultimate day we visited the ancient capital city of Nara. When we arrived at the city the students enjoyed the parkland areas whilst feeding, walking and taking photos with the deer that live there. On leaving the woods we managed to get a photo with a bride and groom in traditional Japanese clothing. We walked around a small lake which had a wooden bridge; the scene here was truly beautiful – the blooming cherry trees framed the scene and the pale pink petals fell around us like snow. This sight was so overwhelmingly beautiful one student said ‘this is all of the beautiful I need for the year’. We continued to walk onwards and upwards to a group of shrines. On the walk up we got a chance to use a traditional way of cleansing in Japan and got to see thousands of lanterns which at night would light the way to the temples and shrines.
After this we got onto a train once more this time to take us to a major sight of Osaka: the Osaka castle. We then went to a gigantic shopping centre in the middle of Osaka and rode the layers of escalators to the top floor from where you could see right across the city and see all of the large buildings nearby. We ended the day with a chanko-nabe party at one of our exchange’s restaurants. Everybody came including students, teachers and host families. We had a great time and followed a tasty dinner with games. There was a quiz to test what Japanese, if any, us English students had learnt. Later, everybody got involved in a chopstick game where the aim was to move the soy beans from one bowl to another as fast as possible using long chopsticks.
On the final day we all headed to school where, after a short speech to the teachers, we went to the local council where we met with the head of education in the area and got to see the council meeting rooms. After this we went back to school and had three lessons. The first was a calligraphy class where we wrote symbols and put our creations on fans, the second was a tea ceremony where we watched the teacher do the ceremony and got a chance to try it ourselves and thirdly we had a technology lesson where we sand blasted patterns onto glass. To finish our day at school we had a party in the cooking classroom where the school band treated us to an excellent performance of Japanese songs and we got to make Japanese treats with the cooking club students which we ate with green tea. We rounded off our last day with a trip to the shopping centre for any last minute shopping. Overall a fantastic exchange!