Perse students say konnichiwa to Japan on exciting exchange
Director of Modern Foreign Languages Pierre Pillet gives an insight into exchange trip to Osaka, Japan
Over the Easter break, ten Perse students visited Japan as part of the return leg of their exchange with Mokonoso High School in Amagasaki near Osaka. Strong friendships had already been built in December when Japanese partners visited Cambridge, and the Perse group were keen to get to know how their partners live on the other side of the world.
After a twelve-hour flight, we were greeted at Osaka airport by a giant Pokémon character, cheers in Japanese from partners and a short address by Mokonoso’s headmaster. This set the tone: the week was going to be fun as well as culturally and linguistically rich.
Over the course of the week, the students were included in an array of activities and ways of life illustrating Japanese culture. On day one Perse students were thrown into Japanese life straight away, spending the weekend with their host families, trying out their Japanese vocabulary, sampling delicious food, going to local shrines, and among other attractions, visiting the Pokémon centre of the world, AKA Universal Studios Japan in Osaka.
As the week progressed, students were given tours of some of the most ancient shrines in the country – some which involved long hikes up mountains. On lower ground, the students were led around traditional Japanese gardens and parks in the sunshine, feeding the roaming deer population and learning about the historical attributes of these green spaces, such as the Sakura cherry blossom trees.
As well as enjoying the beauty of Japanese nature, the students learnt about its volatility too, visiting the city of Kobe – site of the destructive 1995 earthquake. Many of the students have a keen interest in geography, architecture and engineering, and so a visit to the Earthquake Memorial Museum was a particularly illuminating experience.
Students not only remembered the past, but learnt about techniques in earthquake prevention for the future, notably with regard to cutting-edge building techniques and regulations. Students also learned about the crucial role Japan plays in the prevention of earthquakes or tsunamis across the entire Pacific region, highlighting the scope and importance of the island nation.
The trip also allowed for downtime for the Perse students to explore with their exchange partners and practice their conversational skills. Some individuals shopped with their partners in the centre of Kobe, whilst others got to know the intricacies of Japan’s entertainment culture, by taking part in karaoke competitions.
The students also had the opportunity to question the Mayor of Amagasaki, in Japanese, about aspects of her role in the administration of a council with a population of nearly half a million people. This was a wonderful opportunity for the students to showcase their linguistic skills, as well as learning more about the day to day politics and culture of Japanese society.
During the final evening, the whole exchange, including parents and some teachers from the school, were invited to a farewell meal in a local traditional restaurant run by a former Sumo wrestler and parent whose daughter has exchanged to the Perse twice in the past. Farewells and thank you speeches were given from both sides, as everyone enjoyed each other’s company and the delicious food on offer.