From March 28th through April 6th, 20 students from Kentucky participated in the GEN-J Invitational Tour for High School Students including two first place contestants from the 2019 Kentucky Japanese Speech Contest. The schools included Atherton High School, Scott County High School, and Lafayette High School and they visited the cities of Tokyo, Osaka, Himeji, Kyoto, Shimamoto, and Nara during their 10 day tour of Japan. Below are their reflections from the trip.
Travelling to Japan
I got to the airport at 5:30 and had to wait for the others to show up. Getting my bags checked was something I was already familiar with. The only difference would have to be that I was flying without my family. I didn’t think much would differ from flying with other students, but there was. For some it was a completely new experience and for others it was nothing special, but flying together I truly felt excited. There was a lack of predictability flying with students compared with family and I think that’s what made it more enjoyable. Before boarding the final flight, most students used their free time to exchange money and buy gifts for the tour guide. The 12 hour flight to Japan was very long, but we were able to watch some movies.
Tokyo City Tour
The day began with us driving around the Imperial Palace. The inner and outer moats were very unique as they are hundreds of years old. Next we went to Asakusa which had an extremely crowded but lively shopping row leading up to the temple. The temple was amazing as the depth to the architecture was wonderful. After lunch we set off towards the Tokyo Sky tree. The whole structure is 634 meters tall. The second tallest structure in the world. After taking the breath taking view the group descend down and took some time to shop in the mall down below. The shops were extremely unique and were quite different from the shops we have in America. Finally we headed off to Meiji Shrine. Shrines and temples have many similar characteristics with the architecture but their purposes are quite different. Shrines are for the religion called Shintoism. Shintoism is a Religion created in Japan which has many parts of nature as the deities. The temples however are for Buddhism, a religion founded in India centered on the teachings of the Buddha. Both shrines take offerings but the offerings are made in different ways. For example at the Shinto shrine when you make an offering you must bow twice, clap twice, and then bow once more. The Meiji Shrine was just as beautiful as its Buddhist counterpart and many unique features such as the colorful collection of sake barrels. Over all the second of the trip was one for the records and it was jam packed with as much cultural fun as a group of 24 could handle.
Travelling to Kansai
After breakfast, we went by bus to Tokyo station for the Nozomi Shinkansen to Osaka. We were really excited because we learned about the bullet trains in Japanese class. Looking out the window, it was so cool to see how quickly we were moving.
When we arrived at Shin-Osaka station, we took the bus directly to our lunch destination. I was looking forward to our lunch that day, because my friends who have visited Osaka before told me that I had to try たこ焼き. And that’s exactly what we had! We also had some fried eggplant, lotus fruit, and tempura. For dessert they brought hand-made ice cream and it was the best ice cream I’ve had in a while.
After lunch, we took the bus to Osaka Castle! When we first got there it was so beautiful because the cherry blossom trees were in full bloom. Because all the trees were in full bloom there were many cherry blossom tree watch-parties. Ryuui-San, our guide, let us take a few pictures before we headed up to the castle.
Inside the castle, it looked more like a museum rather than it being preserved over time. On the third and fourth floor we weren’t allowed to take photos, but there was a replica of Osaka Castle when it was first built and also of what it looks like now. There were also many displays of armor and scrolls. We eventually climbed the stairs to the eighth floor where we could look out and see the city of Osaka.
We went to the ancient capital city of Japan today and started the tour off by visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine with a thousand gates (torii in Japanese) some with newly painted oranges and others faded from time. Walking through the gates was a magical experience and made a beautiful backdrop for photos.
Next we hiked up the path leading to the entrance of Kiyomizu temple, but before entering, we spent an hour on lunch and checking out the many stores that lined the streets. Upon entering the temple, we were greeted by a large wooden structure with many people praying inside. Some of the others also tried one of the challenges at the temple, which was to walk blindfolded along a straight path to see if they could reach the other side. Some tried, but not all passed.
The tour ended at Kinkaku-ji, better known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. This building was rebuilt many times throughout its history and has a layer of gold leaf giving it the appearance of being made out of gold. It is a beautiful structure surrounded by a lake and nature and has a serene feel to it.
Suntory Beverage Factory Tour
During the day, we had the opportunity to visit the Suntory drink factory. The factory guide taught us the different processes for roasting coffee beans and how they affect the taste of the coffee. We were also showed how cans and bottles were packaged and shipped in the factory. Afterwards we were able to taste new drinks from Suntory.
Then our day continued with a tour of Himeji castle. The park in front of the castle was surrounded by Sakura trees. We then entered inside and climbed up six floors to the top, which gave us a beautiful view of the city of Himeji.
The day started off cold and snowy. First we ate breakfast. Since we were in a new hotel, we got to try the new items for breakfast. After breakfast we got on the bus to Nara and it took an hour to get there. Before visiting the park, we experienced Japanese tea ceremony and started off eating a treat called Hanami Dango. After we ate the treat, they brought us the tea. There is a specific way to drink this tea. You first set the tea in front of you to your left and apologize to the person beside you before for drinking before them. Then you pick up your tea and turn it twice clockwise before taking 3.5 sips. Next you turn the tea cup counterclockwise the same number of times. Everything during the ceremony represents something. There is also one person who represents the group and the person running the tea ceremony talks to this person the most. There are two ways to farm this tea and the tea also allows you to have healthy skin. We also learned the phrase “ichi go ichi e,” which means “once in a lifetime.”
After lunch, we had our first experience with the deer in Nara Park. Then we went to see Todaiji Temple, which has one of the largest Buddha in Japan standing at almost 160 ft. tall. There is also a place in the temple that is the size of the Buddha’s nostril and people are allowed to crawl through it. Almost everyone was left speechless when they saw the Buddha.
After the temple, we went to the park where there were lots of deer. People were allowed to pet, take pictures and feed the deer. Some deer were very kind and let us kiss them. However, some were feisty and tried to eat your clothes and anything you were carrying. Everyone wanted to take the deer home.
The last stop in Nara was Kasuga Taisha, a shrine that is over 1000 years old. There were many lanterns there that they lit up twice a year.
We visited Shimamoto, a small town situated between Osaka and Kyoto. It also happens to be Frankfort’s sister city. We were able to meet Japanese students that study English. It was a great opportunity for us to practice our Japanese and for them to practice their English.
After meeting many Japanese students, were given the opportunity to go hiking, shopping or visiting the library. Each experience offered unique insight on the world of Japanese culture.
Later that day we all gathered in an auditorium to watch a performance that the Japanese students prepared for us. Each of them showcased their talents while practicing their English. We got to see the students play piano, dance, and practice aikido. We even got to participate in aikido alongside the Japanese students. We also got to hear two different styles of Japanese music.
To wrap up the day we exchanged social media with our new Japanese friends to solidify the bonds that we made.
Return to Tokyo
On the last full day in Japan the group return to Tokyo by bullet train and headed toward Odaiba for some free time and also to see the Statue of Liberty’s little sister. On the bullet train ride, the sky was clear giving everyone a clear view of Mt. Fuji. In Odaiba, a giant shopping mall, the group took a picture in from of Lady Liberty and then broke off for some free time.
The following morning we went to see the outer market of the old Tsukiji market before going to Shibuya to see the famous crossing. Sadly this was our last morning in Japan and later that day, we headed to Narita to fly back home.