August 11, 2009

Japan Experience Day 15 - Farewell Everyone!

A gloomy day at Tokyo's Narita Airport, sort of fitting to the mood of everyone going home.

On our last day, everyone went to the Narita airport at different times to catch their returning flights back to their home countries.

A big thanks goes out to all the teachers and instructors who ran our cultural activities - plus thanks goes out to the volunteer instructors too since we only arranged for one instructor per activity, but it seemed there was always 2 or 3 present who wanted to volunteer their time to make sure the students had a truly once-in-a-life experience.

A big thanks goes out to the host families for opening their homes and hearts to our students. This year especially very strong friendships were made that I predict will be long-lasting for sure.

It's great to report the annual completion questionnaires filled out by the students on the last day was again glowing with positive comments about how worthwhile and special they found the program - 'a dream come true' being mentioned often - plus they provided us with some good suggestions as well.

It's amazing to think how our program relies on so much modern technology, as Seiritsu High School is not 'just up the road by car' from all the students homes. We rely on international banking for collection of fees, international insurance for traveler's insurance, and modern airlines and airports for transportion of students to Japan (not like being shipwrecked in the days of old!). Then there is also the vast high-tech network trains and subways to get us around from host family homes to school to our daily field trip locations, plus there's the international telecommunications industry including the internet to talking to those back home.

Of course there is more that this, but the point here is we can't take for granted all we have access to simply to learn things like difficult origami - anyone remember how to fold Godzilla?!

Just a thought. Here below are some final pictures...

Deanna with her host family, the Teramura's. Jessica was also at their home, but she met her mother in Tokyo and they went to the airport with some friends.

M'Lissa at departures after having her home stay Mrs. Hanai bring her to the airport.

Sara left one day earlier, seen off by her host family the Takahashi's.

Vincent with his first home stay family the Iwasaki's. The son Ryu had to go on a study camp for our second week, so Vincent stayed with the Hanai's. Ryu hopes to be in the annual 2-week Seiritsu home stay group that goes to Vincent school in Berlin next March.

Vincent, Chelsea, Mrs. Hanai, her son Hidenori, and Eliza.

Vivian at the departure gate, all ready for a long, comfortable flight.

Sophia with her host family the Yoshioka's.

Chelsea and Vincent hug good-bye, but plans to meet again this time in Germany seemed to already be developing, since there was a German exchange student at Chelsea & Eliza's school last year that they have promised to visit after graduation, some more friends have been made.

August 8, 2009

Japan Experience 2009 Day 14 - Portable Shrine Festival!

On Saturday starting at the back of the school was a portable shrine festival in which Eliza, Chelsea, M'Lissa, Sara and Vincent participated in with many local residents plus students and teachers from the school.

Here is the Kodomo Shrine (Kid's Shrine) that the students helped carry. 'Wushuu' is what everyone is shouting in unison to keep the spirits up. This shrine, plus a much large adult's shrine and a huge drum, were part of the festival which is for bringing good luck to the community.

The students with Richard Sensei and Era Sensei during a break.

This is the large adult shrine which was carried by several school sport's clubs.

Two older gentleman who were guiding the big portable shrine and who kept saying thank you to the foreign students for participating.

Every 20 minutes, everyone stopped in front of a business or apartment complex where there were many local people out who had prepared snacks, drinks, and especially huge watermelons for the participants to feed on!

The adult's large shrine being carried - Sunday too it will be taken by more people on a different course! Sometimes when it passed people's houses, someone would come out with an envelope of money to pass to an attendant, as they pay for the shrine to bless their home with good luck. This is done by the group stopping and holding the shrine high up in the air and shaking it vigorously!

At the end of the 2-1/2hrs we ended up back at the school for more drinks plus delicious curry & rice. For sure next year's Japan Experience will add this event as part of the regular program!

August 8, 2009

Japan Experience 2009 Day 13 - I Know Japan Contest!

Friday was the final day of group activities, starting with a morning Japanese lesson with Yano Sensei in which the students wrote out & practiced their short speeches (in Japanese!) for the afternoon's Farewell Lunch Party. That was followed by the 'I Know Japan!' Contest, the Farewell Party Lunch and finally the Wrap-Up meeting.

L-R M'Lissa, Jessica, Deanna and Sophia listening to Richard ask questions during the 'I Know Japan!' Contest, in which the contestants (JE09 students) have to write down the answer to each question and then hold their answers up at the same time for Richard and Nick to check. Questions were based on things the students experienced, from the serious (what is the significance of August 6th - the atomic bombing of Hiroshima), to the interesting (how many times is a tea ceremony bowl turned when being wiped - 3), to the silly (If you are standing in Akihabara with several bags full of manga what are you - otaku!)

Vincent with Principal Fukuda. Everyone received a completion certificate in Japanese.

The Farewell Lunch Party! Lots of food! Home stay families were also encouraged to attend.

Jessica making her final speech at the Farewell Lunch Party, dressed up in her recently bought cos-play costume. Each student gave the speech that they had practiced with Yano Sensei in the morning.

Our final group picture! Many happy faces. The students filled out a questionnaire as to what they thought about the program, and the answers were extremely positive, it seems everyone had a great time with a few extra suggestions.

Tomorrow there is a portable shrine carrying festival at the school so some of the students will participate. Then Sunday it's everyone out to the airport to head home. Everyone said they really wished they could have stayed longer, which I think is a sentiment shared by both the school and home stay families!

August 7, 2009

Japan Experience! 2009 - Day 12 - Taiko drumming & Soba school


The JE09 group with the Higashi Ju-jo ippon taiko team.

The 12th day of the JE09 program was another exciting day filled with great activities both inside and outside of the school. Including our usual Japanese lesson, the group tried Taiko drumming, had a delicious lunch prepared by the school-chef Akakura-san, and took a field trip to Koiwa to learn how to make Soba noodles.

Taiko is a style of large Japanese drum typically performed in a large ensemble with several different types of drums and many drummers. Heavy on bass and with a thick resounding sound, Taiko drumming is a very physical and intense style of music. All the students got to try drumming and afterwards, the Higashi Ju-jo ippon daiko group performed for us.


Eliza with her tiny Taiko Sensei. Even though some of the members of the group were quite young, they still played the drums like professionals.

A trip to the Edo Handmade Soba School, taught by Mr. Masao Ito, was scheduled for the afternoon. Ito Sensei is a renowned chef and has taught techniques for making Soba around the world. He is now retired, and has converted his living room into a classroom to teach the art of making Soba noodles. With the right ingredients and plenty of help from Mr. Ito, everyone’s Soba was delicious!


Ito Sensei, showing how its done.


Jessica showing us the aftermath of kneading and rolling the soba dough


Deanna slicing her freshly prepared soba dough into edible noodles.


Everyone at Ito Sensei’s house having just devoured their handmade Soba.


Everyone outside the Edo Handmade Soba School just before saying goodbye!

August 6, 2009

Japan Experience! 2009 - Day 11 - Japanese Cooking Part 2 & Manga University

The JE09 students with Okura Sensei at the end of manga class.

With Day 11 having come and gone, there are only four days left in the 2009 Japan Experience program. That doesn’t mean the fun is winding down however as Wednesday was loaded with great activities.

Yano Sensei kicked off the day with another great Japanese lesson covering everything food. The students learned about different kinds of food, how to discuss the flavor of various dishes, and how to convey their likes and dislikes.


Yano Sensei, preparing the students for the Japanese cooking lesson.

Our daily Japanese lesson was followed up with a short break then it was off to the 2nd Japanese cooking lesson. Last week’s cooking class was a big (not to mention tasty) hit and this week’s class looked to be no different. Kadowaki Sensei, Masuda Sensei, and Kohara Sensei led the group in making sukiyaki (mix of beef and vegetables cooked in broth) and fried eggplant. A delicious time was had by all.


Vincent and Sara preparing the eggplants for frying.


Chelsea, Eliza, M’Lissa, and Jessica enjoying their hard-won sukiyaki.


The JE09 group presented the three cooking teachers with a thank you note and complimentary bottle of maple syrup.

Next was the much anticipated Manga University class featuring a tutorial on how to draw comic characters. Manga University is known for its award-winning series of language books, Kanji de Manga, as well as many volumes teaching the method of drawing manga. Mr. Atsuhisa Okura, of MU, has been drawing manga for over 20 years and he was very patient, teaching the students the finer points of drawing manga. Okura Sensei left plenty of time at the end to critique the student’s artwork and draw personal pictures for everyone.


Okura Sensei showing how to draw characters in an action pose.


Sophia and Vincent trying their hand at what they just learned.


Jessica proudly showing off her newly purchased manga; personalized by none other than Okura Sensei, the author.

August 5, 2009

Japan Experience! 2009 - Day 10 - Sumo, Edo-Tokyo, Chanko-nabe & Ginza

The JE09 students in front of the Sumo museum, practicing their Sumo techniques.

Welcome to Tuesday, day 10, of the 2009 Japan Experience program. Following our usual Japanese lesson, the day’s agenda included a visit to the Sumo Museum, a Chanko-nabe lunch, a tour of the Edo-Tokyo Museum, and a jaunt to Ginza.

In order to soak up some ancient Japanese culture, the JE09 group headed out to the town of Ryogoku. First was a quick stop at the small yet interesting Sumo Museum. Documenting some of the history of Sumo, the museum contains pictures of all the current and former Sumo Yokozunas (highest sumo rank).


Jessica and Chelsea getting ready for their Sumo match.

Afterwards it was a short walk to a delicious Chanko-nabe restaurant. Chanko-nabe is a popular meal extremely high in protein that is usually eaten by sumo wrestlers attempting to gain weight rapidly. It resembles ramen a little but tastes a hundred fold better!


Sara and Deanna ready to dive into their Chanko-Nabe


A close up of the Chanko-Nabe itself.

A short distance away from the restaurant is the Edo-Tokyo museum. Edo is a period in Japanese history ranging from about 1600-1870. The Edo-Tokyo museum documents this period as well as up to World War II reconstruction. It was a fascinating experience.


Having found the museum, everyone was excited to head inside.


The inside of the museum is extremely dark but behind the group, a model of Edo-Tokyo is visible.


Life size example of a typical Edo-Tokyo row house.

Finally, the day was rounded off with a trip to Ginza. Ginza is arguably the most expensive district in Tokyo. It was said that during the Japanese bubble economy that the land value of Ginza was higher than all of California. Actually shopping in Ginza could render almost anyone broke in a matter of minutes but it was certainly interesting to browse the merchandise.


One of the main streets of Ginza, loaded with high priced stores.


Eliza in awe of a square watermelon.

August 3, 2009

Japan Experience! 2009 - Day 9 - Sophia University, Tokyo Design Academy, Meiji shrine, & Harajuku

The JE09 group ready to embark on Harajuku's teen fashion street, Takeshita Dori.

Today, Day 9, kicked off the second week of the Japan Experience Program. Per usual, we had a full schedule including a Japanese lesson, a walk around of Sophia University, and a trip to Harajuku.

Sophia University held their annual ‘Open Campus’ today, and it was a chance for prospective students and anyone else to get an idea of what the school is like. Sophia University is distinguishable as one of the few Japanese Universities with a department that teaches entirely in English. For any of the Japan Experience participants interested in furthering their studies here, this was a great opportunity to get familiar with a Japanese University!


At one of the main gates to Sophia University.


Everyone at Sophia's main gate.

A short train ride later the JE team arrived in Harajuku. First on the list was to see the gorgeous Meiji shine. Surrounded by a beautiful forest, Meiji shrine was built to commemorate Emperor Meiji and his wife.


The Meiji Tori gate, marking the entrance to the grounds of the Meiji shrine.


The inner portion of the Meiji shrine where one can make a small donation and pray or pay their respects to the emperor.

Following the shine, we made our way to the Tokyo Design Academy to learn about the school. With two year specialty programs in visual and graphic design, illustration, manga, animation, interior design, display design, and crafts & accessories there is quite literally something for everyone.


The JE09 students at the end of the Tokyo Design academy tour. Some of them wished they didn't have to leave!

To round off the day, everyone got to explore Harajuku. With a wealth of reasonably prices youth clothing stores and interesting fashion accessories, Harajuku is certainly an easy place to spend a few hours (and a few yen).


August 3, 2009

Japan Experience! 2009 - Day 6 - Tea Ceremony, Shibuya, & Akihabara


Nakao Sensei giving her final Japanese lesson. Next week will start off with a new Sensei.

It is hard to believe the first week of the Japan Experience program is already over. Everyone has been having a blast trying new things and visiting different parts of Tokyo and Friday was no exception.

As usual we began our day with a Japanese lesson courtesy of Nakao Sensei and Richard Sensei. Following the lesson, the students filed into Seiritsu’s tatami (straw floor mat) room to take part in Chado. In English, Chado, is known as Japanese Tea Ceremony and it is a highly ritualized method of serving green tea. With the help of Yano Sensei and the Chado club, the group got to experience this ancient Japanese ceremony.


A member of the Chado club preparing the tea.


The JE09 students at the end of Chado. Pictured with Yano Sensei, the Chado club, and myself (Nick Sensei).

Next on the list was an excursion to the young, chic district of Shibuya. Known for its youthful clothing stores and rapidly changing fashion, Shibuya is the center of attention for those between their teen years and adulthood.


Everyone at Hachiko; the statue of a famous dog that waited at the station everyday for her owner, even after he passed away.


The group gathering at the end of the Shibuya excursion. The meeting place was the 109 building, a tower devoted entirely to women's fashion.

Rounding out the day was the much anticipated visit to Akihabara, the heart of the Japanese manga and anime culture. Many of this year's participants are big anime and manga fans. For them, the chance to get their hands on their favorite series was a large cause for excitement.


At the train station, getting ready to set out into Akihabara.


One of the main streets of Akihabara. The district itself is actually quite compact so tons of shops are jam-packed into a relatively small area.



about Seiritsu

Seiritsu Gakuen is a private co-educational high school created in 1925 and it is located in Tokyo, Japan.

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