Spring break recently ended for students in British Columbia, and while some students used the break to relax and kick back at home, others used it as an opportunity to expand their horizons.
A group of nine Nakusp Secondary Students (NSS) spent five days of their vacation on a trip to Japan. Part of the reason the trip came to be was through the students themselves.
“We started an anime club last year, and it came out of student interest,” said Ryoko Kobayashi, vice principal at NSS. “We started talking about perhaps going.”
In order for the trip to happen, a bit of fundraising had to be done. Some of the fundraisers included a highly advertised bottle drive, selling chili and baked goods at the Celebration of Light, and having a booth at Medieval Days, where students dressed up and sold candy apples, baked almonds, and lemonade.
To help students adjust to Japanese culture, they attended a travel school in preparation for the trip. They met after school for an hour every week and learned about the culture, language, and history of Japan, along with mannerisms and customs.
The first two days were spent in Kyoto, visiting many historic sites, including a variety of temples. At one temple, they accidentally wound up crashing a wedding.
“They (the bride and groom) were getting photos taken,” said Zoe Zinselmeyer. “They were dressed in traditional kimonos, and we just kind of walked in and started taking pictures. The mother of the bride was totally fine with us coming in and doing that.”
Visiting the temples really had an impact on the students.
“We went to the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto,” said Zinselmeyer. “We were going down this vendor street, and on one side, where all the vendors were, that’s called the human world, and then once your past that gate, you’re in the spiritual world.”
She said religion is very important in Japan, and is a big part of their culture. Being able to go to the temples was a very neat experience.
Sydney Bone agrees.
“It was beautiful,” she said. “When we entered Kyoto, it was a bustling city, and when we entered a temple, it was like ‘How did we go from a city to a temple and feel like everything is peaceful?’ It felt like I was in an enchanted forest. It was amazing.”
The group also had the opportunity to check out the local hot springs, called onsen.
Another new experience for the students were the vending machines, which seemed to be on almost every corner.
While many of them sold the traditional soda pop and chips you would find here in North America, there were others that sold a variety of things, including hot coffee in a can.
“It was very windy our first couple of days in Japan, especially in Kyoto, so we were all buying hot drinks to stay warm.” said Zinselmeyer.
By the end of the trip, the weather had become quite hot, so the students were buying ice cream from the vending machines.
For some of the students Kyoto was the highlight of the trip.
“I loved Kyoto,” said Olivia Mang. “Everything was so beautiful! It was a glorious mixture of old and new, especially the temples.”
After Kyoto, the students travelled to the capital city of Tokyo.
There, they went to the Bunka Suginami Canadian International School, a BC offshore school in Japan, where Dan Miles is principal. Miles is a former principal of a school in Kaslo.
While at the school, the students had the opportunity to try out a variety of clubs the school has. There are over 40 in total, and the students were able to try out clubs like archery, harp, and calligraphy.
Students didn’t attend any school classes because the kids were on spring break. However, during Spring break, the clubs continue to run, and the kids still go to school by choice.
Instead of hotel rooms, the students stayed with homestay families, something they really enjoyed.
“You got to really experience the culture first hand,” said Kiley Waterfield. “A lot of things were different, so I got to experience the traditional customs.”
“It was different because it’s kind of more formal and polite,” she said. “They showed me some things you do before drinking matcha tea, and then before you eat, you say ‘thank you for this meal’ in Japanese, and when you’re done, you thank the chef.”
For some of the students, the trip was an opportunity to break out of their shells and try things they never would have tried before.
“I was really nervous going into it because I didn’t know what to expect, but my homestay family taught me a lot,” said Bone. “They brought me into their culture, and it made me feel like it was okay to try new things and make mistakes.”
She said the event was a life changing experience.
The group became close with their homestay families, and as they parted, many tears were shed.
On the final night of their trip, the group stayed in a capsule hotel.
A capsule hotel is a type of hotel developed in Japan that features a large number of extremely small “rooms” (capsules). These capsules provide basic overnight accommodation for guests who do not require the services offered by more conventional hotels.
For many students, this was their first time coming to the land of the rising sun, but if they have anything to say about it, it won’t be their last.