Miyajima to Takayama

Today was our earliest morning yet as we rose at 5AM!  With a long travel day ahead of us to Takayama, we wanted to take advantage of the morning and get out to see something completely new.  Once again we ventured where no previous Handsworth group had gone and visited one of the three most famous views of Japan: The Floating Torii Gate of Miyajima.  Getting there before the crowds gave us the opportunity to take some fun, campy photos.  Channeling our inner “Street Fighter”, our group took some “Hadouken” photos with the Torii Gate in the background (…it’s an internet meme!).  Then it was onto 2 bullet trains, and a special rapid train – almost 5 hours of train travel, plus stops before arriving at Takayama.  In Takayama we are staying at a traditional Japanese ryokan.  Our bags were picked up at the train station and our group walked 15 minutes as night began to fall, singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Don’t Stop Believing” as we made our way to the ryokan.  Upon arrival we found, prepared by our hosts, a traditional Japanese dinner.  Today ended with a traditional spa experience in the ryokan sento.  Journals and then off to bed!  Tomorrow we explore Takayama.

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Hiroshima

Without the specter of train disruption our AM commute to Hiroshima today was much easier.  Our morning routine of up at 7 for breakfast, followed by an 8am departure was only temporarily interrupted by what appeared to be our first lost Train Pass.  Thankfully it was found, but not until after a $2 local train ticket was bought by the guilty party.  The students continue to learn what it means to be responsible for themselves and their belongings, including passports, train passes and the like.  Today we took our first shinkansen, or “bullet train” for a 90 minute speed southward.  Our group broke for lunch in Hiroshima’s Hondori Shopping Arcade before reconvening and trekking onward to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.  Under the shadow of the Atom Bomb Dome, Mr. Barrett gave some historical perspective for the students on the events of August 6, 1945, and Ms. Jackson taught the students how to fold paper cranes.  At the children’s memorial, by the statue of Sadako, students had the opportunity to place their cranes where thousands of other students from Japan and around the world had done the same.  The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum was a grim reminder of the horrors of atomic warfare.  The students took time to carefully examine the exhibitions here.  While waiting outside the museum for the last of their classmates to finish, some students were busy interacting with locals, including a few enthusiastic Japanese who had the students singing songs!  Our evening was spent having dinner back by the Hiroshima train station where we all enjoyed a local specialty – Okonomiyaki!  Tonight students write in their journals before an early bed check at 9:30.  Tomorrow we are up at 5am for a long day, beginning with yet another unique experience no other Handsworth group has had yet… we’re off to see the famous Floating Torii Gate of Miyajima, before heading to Takayama.

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The Winding Road to Osaka

Today was a unique day indeed!  For those students who failed to set their alarms, there was another sort of wake up call today.  A 5.2 magnitude earthquake hit south of our location gently rocking many (but not all!) of us from sleep at around 5:30am.  Students greeted the day excitedly as for many it was their first seismic experience!  We set out from the hotel not anticipating that the morning rumble would have any further effect on our day… but we were mistaken!  Upon arriving at Kyoto station we discovered that most trains were running fine… except for the train to Osaka!  With our train cancelled, the chaperones huddled to try and come up with a solution.  Heading back to the hotel, we went to check and see if bus transport was an option.  With no luck finding an available bus, we opted to take a detour for the morning.  Luckily the chaperones knew about a few secret spots the group had not yet seen!  So hopping back on the trains, we headed to the nearby Fushimi Inari Shrine and the famous rows of Torii gates.  It was a location no other Handsworth group had the privilege of traveling to before!  We spent an hour here hoping that in the meantime the trains would sort themselves out.  We then doubled back to Kyoto, back into the busy madness of the packed station.  It appeared as though at that time the trains were just starting again, so we went down to wait patiently with the throngs for the first of the trains to depart again to Osaka.  20 minutes later we squeezed onto a train with a thousand others also hopeful of getting to Osaka just 15 stops away.  3 stops into our progress towards Osaka and we were again thrown a roadblock.  The train ground to a halt at a random station and there it sat for over 2 hours!  Slowly many of the Japanese became impatient and filtered out of the station to find other means of transport.  We were told there was no timetable for the train to start again.  Eventually there were few Japanese left on the train with us and we were actually able to find seats.  Just as we decided we’d waited enough and were going to try to find taxis, or an alternative train line, the announcer came on again to tell us we would shortly depart.  Finally, we were off!  Arriving in Osaka we quickly changed trains and found ourselves at the Universal Studios Hotel just before 3pm.  A long and winding road indeed, and quite the experience.  Students are now enjoying their afternoon / evening in Universal Studios where the park is, thankfully, open until 8pm.  Tonight we’ll reconvene at 9pm after dinner to unwind and journal about our day… a long one indeed!  ….And, of course, we’re all thankful to hear that all reports about the quake indicate there were no damages anywhere, or anyone hurt!

Morning detour to Fushimi-Inari

Morning detour to Fushimi-Inari

Fun at the Torii Gates

Fun at the Torii Gates

Torii Gates

Torii Gates

Hanging out on the train... for a long time!

Hanging out on the train… for a long time!

Ms. Jackson not happy with the delay.

Ms. Jackson not happy with the delay.

We made it to USJ!

We made it to USJ!

Happy to be at Universal Studios!

Happy to be at Universal Studios!

Nara & Kyoto

Today was another exciting and full day in Kyoto. Our first train experience was this morning, taking the JR train from Kyoto Station one hour towards Nara. We were greeted in Nara by some local celebrities – the famous bowing deer! Students purchased small packets of crackers to feed the deer who roam the streets and parks of this famous city. Then it was onto Todai-ji temple, the immense wooden temple housing the world’s largest bronze Buddha. Students had time for lunch in Nara before heading back to Kyoto for some more exploration around the enormous Kyoto Station. Beneath the station is a giant mall, and the grand entrance of the station has countless floors connected by escalators to explore. Students have taken opportunities to interact with locals, handing out their Canada and North Vancouver pins to Japanese people they’ve met on the train, on the street and in the temples. Tonight, the students journal, before looking forward to Universal Studios Osaka tomorrow!

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Kyoto Amazing Race Day

Students were up at 7am this morn… many much earlier due to jet lag. After breakfast we convened at the hotel lobby and headed over to Kyoto Station to begin our Amazing Race day. Students were tasked with navigating their way through the city to find certain cultural highlights. Figuring out a Japanese map and where to get off the bus was the first task. “Just two more stops” was heard multiple times from students on our first bus ride… but they eventually found their way! Today was a whirlwind as we visited The Golden Temple, The Zen Garden, Yasaka Shrine, Kiyomizu Dera, and a number of other sacred spots scattered across Kyoto. Students ended the evening by writing in their journals, recalling all we have already seen since touching down… from the neon lights of Osaka at night, to the majesty of Kyoto’s temples and geishas, to the daily cultural subtleties, from driving on the other side of the road, to seeing plastic food examples in restaurant windows, and having every shop keeper bow to you. So many things to take in at once!

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Spring Break Over…. Japan Upcoming!

Welcome to the weblog for the grade 9 Handsworth trip to Japan for 2013!

With Spring Break finishing this Easter Weekend, grade 9 students now turn their attention to the upcoming Japan exchange!  We leave very shortly – on next Tuesday April 9th!  Our final important pre-departure meeting will be happening on Thursday April 4th at 7pm in the Handsworth library.  We’ll see you then!  In the meantime, here’s a look back at last year’s Japan blog! http://handsworthjapan2012.wordpress.com/

Mr Barrett & Ms Jackson