Sushi train lunches and cherry blossoms, kimonos and calligraphy, temples and shrines, ninjas, anime, manga and Pokemon – the trip to Japan in April had it all. A group of Westlake students who study Japanese, accompanied by Ms Yoon and Ms Law, spent two weeks in Japan, dividing their time between Yokohama and Tokyo.
The first five days were spent at Yokohama High School, where they were warmly welcomed by the principal and the Head Boy, Takehiro, who had spent the previous two months at Westlake Boys and the students of both schools performed their school hakas. The students were hosted by school families so that they had an authentic experience of using their Japanese, and they were fully immersed in school life, spending the mornings in classes with their host buddies and the afternoons with their Westlake teachers. After school they had lessons in different aspects of Japanese culture – judo, shodo (calligraphy), kendo (a martial art using bamboo swords) and wadaiko drumming. One afternoon the group enjoyed a trip to Kamakura to see Great Buddha and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, and were fortunate enough to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom.
From Yokohama the group travelled to Tokyo for five days of intensive sight-seeing. City sights included the Asakusa Kankon Temple, the Tokyo Tower and the Imperial Palace, with its beautiful park and 17th century stone walls and Nijubashi Bridge. One day they travelled out of the city into the mountains to Nikko to see the Toshogu Shrine – part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site – whose recently renovated buildings shone with bright gold in the spring sunshine. Then it was on the Edo Wonderland – a cultural theme park showcasing the life and culture of the Edo period, with people dressed in kimonos and an exciting Ninja show.
Throughout their stay the students were struck by the stark contrast of ancient and modern, with a day at Tokyo Disneyland being followed by a morning at the Edo Museum and an afternoon at the Sunshine City mall, where the Pokemon centre is located. Another morning at the zoo was followed by a visit to the Akihabara shopping area, famous for its electronics, anime and manga stores. Everyone was amazed by the must-not-miss experience of joining the scramble crossing the road at the iconic Shibuya crossing – said to be the busiest intersection in the world.
A highlight of the trip was a visit to Gakushuin School, some of whose students visited Westlake Boys for a week in March. Once again, the boys were warmly greeted and we hope this relationship between the schools will continue to grow in the future.
The students enjoyed every minute in Japan and their Japanese language skills improved enormously. They even surprised by themselves about how much Japanese they could understand and how they could converse freely with the native people. Good weather every day and the added bonus of seeing the end of the sakura blossom season wherever they went, were the icing on the cake.