Day 6: Miyajima

Today was our earliest morning yet.  Everyone was up by 5:30am so we could beat the rush to see the famous floating Torii gate of Miyajima. The weather had improved from the day before, and we had a brilliantly sunny morning.  Combine that with the fact the tide was in, surrounding the Torii with shimmering clear water and it made for a perfect setting.  Seeing it before the crowds made it all that more special.  The students enjoyed taking fun photos at the shrine, including our now annual Handsworth street-fighter stylized photo!

After ferrying back to Hiroshima was grabbed our bags to begin a day long journey to Takayama.  We took 2 bullet trains from Hiroshima to Osaka and again onto Nagoya.  From there we took a special limited express train up through the mountains of Gifu’s Hida region into Takayama.

While walking to our traditional Japanese Inn (ryokan), we were lucky to walk through a street market night festival that was happening.  Once at the ryokan, we settled in for a traditional Japanese dinner.  Students then went about setting up their beds on the tatami mats.  Tonight they enjoy a traditional japanese sento hot spring bath, and will be journaling again about their long day!  Tomorrow we really get to start exploring Takayama.IMG_2868 IMG_2902 IMG_2904 IMG_2906 IMG_2909 IMG_2911 IMG_3406 copy IMG_2938 IMG_2945 IMG_2950 IMG_2954

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Day 5: Hiroshima

Today took us from the mayhem of Universal City to the rain soaked streets of Hiroshima, where students gained historical perspective and an opportunity to reflect on the devastation of atomic warfare.

We began our day with the first of our bullet-train, or “shinkansen” experiences.  The 330km journey was covered in roughly 80 minutes at speeds of up to 300km/h.  A few students, like Karina and Lucas, however, managed to fall asleep on the ride!  In Hiroshima the rain was pouring as we walked towards our hotel.  Lunch was had in the nearby Hondori Shopping Arcade which, thankfully, was covered, providing shelter from the rain.

After lunch, Mr. Barrett gave the students a brief history lesson and Ms. Marshall showed the students how to fold paper cranes.  Virginie was our resident student expert, helping others with their crane folding.  In the Peace Park students had the opportunity to view the A-bomb Dome, ring the peace bell and lay a paper crane at the children’s memorial.  The rest of the afternoon was spent carefully exploring the exhibition halls of the Peace Memorial Museum.  The history of Hiroshima, the events that transpired in August, 1945, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons post WW2 is thoroughly chronicled in the museum.  Some of the most memorable exhibits, however, are those that tell the individual stories of suffering from the dropping of the a-bomb on Hiroshima.

For dinner, students headed back to the train station for a local delicacy – okonomiyaki.  A sort of cabbage pancake…. it taste’s much better than it sounds!  And a few of the boys (Ben, Connor, Lucas, Copeland and Ryan W) decided to go share a jumbo ice cream sundae after for dessert too!

Journaling is happening bit earlier tonight as we are up exceptionally early tomorrow (5:30ish) and out the door at 6am for another full day, as we head towards Miyajima and Takayama.

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Day 4: Universal Studios Osaka

Universal Studios Osaka, Universal City, or “USJ” as the locals call it is a feast for the senses.  The smell of caramel corn, screams from the roller coaster all sorts of outlandish costumes fill the enormous park.

We arrived at USJ via Osaka from Kyoto early this morn and dropped our bags off at the Keihan Hotel right next to the park.  Today was a fun filled day of attractions and shopping – a nice respite from the temples and zen gardens of past couple days.  It’s been refreshing for the students to get to switch gears.  The most popular ride was the big coaster!

Tonight we dine close to the park where Hollywood has left its mark with the likes of Hard Rock Cafe and TGI Fridays.  Tomorrow we head south again towards Hiroshima to reflect solemnly on the horrors of atomic warfare and the profound and lasting impact it has had on that city.

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Day 3: Nara

When quizzed on Nara’s history as an old capital of Japan, it was Lucas who astutely guessed the name of the period as “The Nara Period!” Today we got to see a bit of the old capital as we continued our exploration of the Kansai region of Japan.

naramascotStudents got to experience their first local JR train today and thankfully were able to ride in relative comfort as the train was not too busy.  In Nara, our first order of business was to feed the local deer who wander the streets and parks freely.  Everyone was reminded to make the deer work for their treat by holding the deer-biscuits high in the air to make the deer bow before feeding them.  These extraordinarily smart deer always oblige and bow, but can occasionally also get impatient and try to take the biscuits by force!  It’s no coincidence that the local Nara mascot, Sento-kun, also has deer antlers.  A few of the students commented on how creepy they thought he looked!

After feeding the deer we headed over to another UNESCO world heritage site, the great wooden temple of Todai-ji.  Housed here is the largest bronzed Buddha in the world.  Students lit incense, cleansed themselves at the purifying fountain and painted their initials on a roof tile purchased to support the upkeep of the temple.  Most students took the opportunity to try and crawl through a small opening in one of the large pillars of the temple, similar in size to what one of the bronzed Buddha’s nostrils.  Legend has it that crawling through the nostril will help you achieve enlightenment!

On the way back to Kyoto we stopped at the famous Torii Gates of the Fushimi Inari Shrine.  The gates streched all the way up the mountain side.  Copeland started counting the torii’s when we first arrived, but realized quickly that he was in for a long count after realizing they stretched far beyond the first 100 meters!

Back in Kyoto students had a final opportunity to explore the enormous Kyoto Train Station with its underground malls, and 15 storys of escalators.  With dozens of restaurants there was plenty of options for dinner.

Tonight students are journaling again and packing as we prepare to head to Osaka and Universal Studios early tomorrow morning.

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Day 2: Kyoto Amazing Race Day

Today was our first full day of exploration.  Students had wake up calls for 7am, but many were already up at 5am or earlier from the jet-lag.

Armed with maps in hand the task today was to explore as much of the city as possible on foot and by bus.  First up was the famous golden pavilion of the Kinkakuji Temple.  This UNESCO world heritage site served as the first of many great photo ops of the day with its spectacular gilded gold exterior.  The weather was gorgeous as well; sunny and warm early in the day, making our walk among the falling cherry blossoms remarkably pleasant.

Second up was the Zen buddhist garden of Ryoanji.  Students attempted to try to view all 15 stones from a single location to prove they were enlightened.

Then it was down to the Higashiyama district and its famed Gion neighborhood, best known as the popular spot for geisha sightings.  Our group managed to find a couple down one alley way and we interrupted their photo shoot to grab a couple of quick pics.  This area also offered some great shopping and a chance to see a giant Buddha.  Faris won the trivia question of the day by knowing that Buddha is also known as Siddhartha.  We also took a quick opportunity to hike to the top of a cemetery overlooking Kyoto for some great views.

Our last temple of the day was Kiyomizu Dera and the Philosopher’s Walk – our final attempt of the day to achieve enlightenment.  By the time we turned our attention to dinner in the Gion area the weather had become much cooler.  A prompt bus ride back to the hotel finished a long day outside for us.

By the end of the day everyone finally seemed to have their Japanese numbers from 1-17 finally learned for our countdown exercise!

Now we are back at the hotel and everyone is catching up on their journaling.  Lots to write about today.  Tomorrow we are up at 7am again, this time with Nara in our sights.

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Day 1: Japan Bound!

Today was a VERY long day of travel!  It began with a 9 1/2 hour flight from Vancouver to Tokyo.  We had a brief layover in Narita where we had to send our second week suitcase onto Inage before catching another flight to Osaka.

At Narita, the father of Lucas’ home-stay family was able to come greet us as he is the Vice-President of Japan Airlines!  He was kind enough to walk us through along with our agent, through customs to where we checked in again for our domestic flight.

Our Osaka flight was delayed about 30 minutes and once in the air took about another hour before touching down.  Somehow Connor and Ben managed to get themselves upgraded for the flight and got to ride in style a class above the rest of us riffraff!  The last weary leg of our journey was to bus finally to our hotel in Kyoto – the New Miyako hotel!  Everyone is exhausted and off to bed.  Tomorrow we begin our first great exploration of Japan!

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Spring Break Over… Japan Upcoming!

Welcome to the weblog for the grade 9 Handsworth trip to Japan for 2014!

With Spring Break wrapping up, grade 9 students now turn their attention to the upcoming Japan exchange. We leave very shortly – on next Tuesday April 8th! Our final important pre-departure meeting will be happening on Thursday April 3rd at 6pm in the Handsworth library. We’ll see you then! In the meantime, here’s a few sites for you to check out.  Click on the links above to see information about language and some of the locations we’re going to.  Here are two guides on Japan from Japan Airlines and All Nippon Air:

JAL: http://www.world.jal.com/world/en/guidetojapan/

ANA: https://www.ana-cooljapan.com

And finally, here’s look back at last year’s Japan blog! http://handsworthjapan2013.wordpress.com/

Mr Barrett, Ms Marshall & Ms Hislop