We departed, a very excited group, from Sydney on September 24 on the 9pm flight. The airport was crowded with groups like ours departing for holiday adventures so after a quick goodbye to our parents, we moved off to the departure gate. Our 10-hour flight was spent eating, watching movies and sleeping (it we were fortunate enough to). We arrived in Tokyo feeling not so refreshed, but very excited for the adventures that lied ahead.
Staff and students were greeted at the front of Omiya Kita High School on our arrival on Sunday morning and then introduced to our hosts. Everyone was excited about the experience and the students seemed to greet each other like old friends, partly because they had made email contact prior to the visit and partly because they had made close relationships with the students during their visit to Albion Park. It was funny to meet the Japanese people wearing the t-shirts their children had purchased when they came to Australia.
Omiya Kita High School held a special assembly on Monday to welcome us visitors with Ms Mayumi Hosoda, Principal, giving a short speech of welcome to the staff and students of Albion Park High. The Omiya Kita student leaders then introduced our students to the school and they gave a short self-introduction to the whole school in Japanese. The staff and students of Omiya Kita High were very gracious and polite at our fumbling attempts of Japanese. We were all presented with a Blue Tour t-shirt which had been designed by one of the host students.
The timetable for the students this year was very busy with many programs and special lessons offered demonstrating a wide variety of subjects from across the school including Karate, Art, Science, Food Technology, English and Japanese Culture. The students and staff were treated to lessons on the Tea Ceremony, Kendo and many other cultural lessons. We also visited the local Junior High School where we toured their school and watched a few lessons. We also had lunch in the classroom which was served, eaten and packed away by the students in only 30 minutes. Very impressive!!
On our final day at Omiya Kita High School a farewell party was hosted and this gave the Albion Park students an opportunity to introduce their host families to their teachers and thank them publicly for all of the opportunities and fun that had been offered to them over their homestay. It was fun to look at the photos of all of the good times we have had in Australia and Japan with our friends and host, but it was sad to say goodbye as well.
On Friday the staff and students from Omiya Kita High School meet the Albion Park students and teachers at the Omiya Station to farewell them as they continued their journey around Japan. It was a very emotional goodbye with lots of tears and photos to commemorate a successful visit.
After departing Omiya Station, we spent 5 hours on bullet train. They were so clean and spacious, and we enjoyed them very much. We arrived in Kyoto excited for the adventures ahead. The Water temple at the top of Kyoto offered amazing views of the city and from there we enjoyed a cultural performance in Gion.
We spent Saturday travelling to Himeji Castle which had been recently reopened following renovations. It was huge! We climbed 6 flights of stairs to look down on the town surrounding the castle, it was a great example of fortress building. We spent the afternoon at the Golden Pavilion, which is covered in 24 kg of real gold!
Sunday was spent with animals. We hiked to the monkey park and hand fed the beautiful and cute monkeys and in the afternoon we mostly remained unbitten by the deer in Nara.
Monday was spent in Hiroshima. The Peace Park is a tranquil, serene and emotional place that holds the memories of a terrible tragedy. We hung our 1000 paper cranes (thank you to all who contributed) at the Sadako Children's Memorial. The most valuable part of this place; is the lessons we learnt, and the changes we want to make to the world. We spent the afternoon at Miyajima, an island near Hiroshima which has a torii gate (traditional Japanese gate commonly found in shrines) built so that at high tide the gate sits above the water. It was really tranquil and the ice cream for afternoon tea was delicious! We ate Okonomiyaki for dinner which we all agreed was Oishii! (Yummy)
We departed Kyoto on Tuesday and headed for our ryokan (traditional hotel) in Tokyo. The hotel specialises in being traditional and we slept on traditional bedding which is on the floor. It was surprisingly comfortable. While we were in Tokyo we were flat out busy! We conquered our fear of heights at the Tokyo Skytree, took selfies of us taking selfies at the Imperial Castle, crossed the Rainbow Bridge, visited the animation museum for Ghibli Studios, talked to other Aussies at Asakusa, wandered through Ueno Zoo and park and chased Pokemon indigenous to Asia. It was awesomely busy and fun. We left Japan on Friday night exhausted and excited to come home and share our stories.
We need to say a BIG, HUGE, ENORMOUS thank you to Miss Hutchins who was the best organiser and tour leader ever!
We would also like to thank Albion Park RSL for their sponsorship. We used the money you gave us to purchase tour shirts which you can see in the photos. Your sponsorship was very much appreciated so thank you very much!
Overall, our cultural exchange was a great success, and we consider ourselves very fortunate to be included in the exchange.
Miss Poole, Miss Hutchins, Mr Poole, Mrs Horton, Mrs Keen.
Experiences from students
Hope Van Vliet Smith
Today, we took a two hour train ride to Hiroshima where we placed our thousand paper cranes at the Sakado Memorial. It was touching to see how much effort is put in to maintaining the memory of her. The next stop was the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The experience was simultaneously very confronting but also educational. There were accounts of survivors, their families, technical workings of the bomb and recreations of the aftermath among other interesting artifacts and stories. After that we travelled to Miyajima Island by ferry, where the deer are abundant and liked Jess's ice-cream heaps. From there we could walk to the Itstukushima Shrine which was absolutely beautiful. We finished the day off with Okonomiyaki for dinner... delicious (oishii!) It was a tiring day but a great one!
We went to Himeji Castle and Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion). Both had so much history and I was very interested in learning about them. The scenery was beautiful at both places. Both places involved lots of walking so we are all very tired.