Day 7: A Rainy Day in Takayama

Well we weren’t going to get a little rain get in the way of a fun day in Japan, now were we?!  A traditional Japanese breakfast in the ryokan started our day right.  Students headed out, umbrellas in hand, to explore the morning market stalls and shops in the old heart of the town.  Takayama is known for its wood lacquerware and beef, both of which the students were able to find plenty of.  This weekend also marked the spring Takayama festival, highlighted by the number of festival floats found around the town.  Some had marionette figures in them that gave performances throughout the day.  After lunch we all gathered by the foot-baths near the train station before heading up to Hida No-Sato, an old traditionally maintained village, famous for its thatched-roof houses.  There, students tried traditional games, explored the houses, fed koi and swans and even practiced their dance performance for next week.  One last rainy stroll through the festival stalls brought us back to the ryokan for a final traditional dinner.  Tomorrow we are on to Chiba and look forward to meeting our friends and host families in Inage.

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Day 6: Miyajima to Takayama

We were out of the door at 6am this morning to beat the crowds, and the rain, to take the ferry to the floating Torii gate of Miyajima. …all of us except two, who slept through their alarm and had to be woken late! We all made it safely to Miyajima where the fourth annual Handsworth Japan Street Fighter tournament took place just as the rain began to fall. Alexandra defeated Mr. Barrett, before Mr. Barrett took his revenge on the entire group… but it was Mr. Audia who had the last laugh soundly defeating Mr. Barrett to win. From Miyajima we hopped aboard a shinkansen bullet train and headed to Nagoya. We had a brief layover before climbing aboard a scenic train ride into the hills of Gifu. We arrived in Takayama as night fell, and walked the final 15 minutes through the rain to our ryokan inn. For dinner we enjoyed a traditional Japanese meal and ended the night in the ryokan spa. Tonight we wear Japanese robes and sleep on tatami mats. Tomorrow we explore Takayama!

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Day 5: Hiroshima’s History

Our first bullet train of the trip brought us to warm, sunny Hiroshima today! It was a different day of sorts, with an emphasis on historical perspective. After dropping our bags at the hotel we immediately set out towards the Hondori Shopping Arcade for lunch. We stopped along the way at a fresh market for some produce. Outside the Peace Memorial Park, Mr. Barrett gave some historical context on Japan’s participation in World War II and on the U.S. decision to use the atomic bomb. Ms. Marshall, with the help of a few veteran origami students, taught everyone how to fold their own paper cranes. We were particularly fortunate today to have the opportunity to hear from an in-utero survivor of the 1945 bombing. His personal story really resonated with everyone. Handsworth students all took the chance to leave their paper cranes at the Children’s Memorial by the statue of Sadako before making their way over to the Peace Memorial Museum. The exhibits inside were memorable, and after finishing with the audio tour we all took time outside afterwards to reflect on some of the things we had seen and heard. Evening was spent back by the train station enjoying the most popular local food – okonomiyaki! Tonight students are once again journaling, albeit a little earlier than usual… we are out of the hotel by 6am tomorrow again for another full day!

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Day 4: Oh, Osaka!

Today the rain held off and we were able to enjoy a full day at Universal Studios Osaka.  We took our first reserved Thunderbird express train of the trip from Kyoto to Osaka before transferring to a local train in order to get to the park.  Our hotel was located just outside the amusement park and even from our rooms now we can hear the screams of people on the roller-coasters.  This year was the first time the new Harry Potter exhibition was opened.  Everyone agreed the day was a huge success, especially since we narrowly escaped having a student eaten by a Tyrannosaurus Rex…  Tonight we journal and tomorrow we’re up extra early to take our first bullet train to Hiroshima for a decidedly different type of experience.

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Day 3: A Gnarly Day in Nara

Not even a rainy day could dampen our spirits today! Our full day began with a rapid train ride out to Nara, one of Japan’s old capital cities where we visited one of the largest wooden temple structures in the world, Todai-ji. On the stone walkway and green boulevards that approached the temple were the wild deer of Nara, who waited expectantly for students to feed them biscuits – and we were happy to oblige. From Nara we took the local train back towards Kyoto with a brief stop in between at the famous tori gates of the Fushimi Inari shrine. Back in Kyoto we explored the massive underground mall of the train station before gathering again after dinner to celebrate not one, not two, but three birthdays! Our triplet trio was toasted with strawberry cake and songs. Tonight we finish with a journal reflection and some time to pack in preparation for tomorrow’s journey to Osaka and Universal Studios!

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Day 2: Kyoto Amazing Race Day

Today was our “Amazing Race Kyoto” Day! Students were up particularly early due to jet lag… many of them were awake before 6am. After grabbing a quick breakfast across the street at one of the train station cafés everyone convened to discuss the plan for the day. Students were armed with maps and bus passes and pushed out into the city in their groups of 4 with instructions to meet a 3 specific locations within a given time frame. The first location was the Golden Temple of Kinkakuji. Secondly, a short walk away, was the Zen Rock Garden and Temple of Ryoan-Ji. And finally, students met for lunch in the famous Geisha district of Gion at the Yasakusa Shrine. From Yasakusa, the group weaved their way through the Higashiyama district of Kyoto, up through the cherry blossoms and vendor stalls, through the cemetery to a quiet and secluded perch overlooking the entire city. After enjoying the views, the group paced back down to the crowds and shops, past a giant Buddha statue and on to one of the oldest and largest temples of Kyoto, Kyomizu Dera. Dinner was enjoyed in the Gion district – everything from udon to sushi, takoyaki to shabu shabu. A brief bus ride back to the hotel, and the night was finished with some time to reflect and write in the students’ journals. We were thankful there was no rain today and are hoping for similar weather tomorrow when we head to Nara!

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Day 1: Travel to Japan!

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Today was a long day indeed!  After a 9.5 hour flight from YVR to Tokyo we quickly transferred one of our bags onto Inage before taking another hour long flight to Osaka and finally one last charter bus ride to Kyoto.  We arrive at the hotel around 9:30pm local time, or 5:30am Vancouver time after 18.5 hours of traveling!  And we managed to make it all in one piece, despite a couple of students best attempts to leave belongings behind.  Our only casualty was a hat left on the second flight.  Although they were tired, spirits were high with everyone singing songs loudly on the bus as we pulled in to the New Miyako Hotel. Tomorrow is our first day to explore Kyoto.  Jet lag will likely have everyone waking early around 5 or 6 am, but we’ll leave the hotel for breakfast at about 7:30 before taking on the city.  The weather forecast is for a cloudy day, but no rain, which is great because we’ll be outside all day.  Looking forward to what Kyoto has in store for us on our Amazing Race Day!