Please enjoy our photos from art class at KGN and from Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto.
Today was our first day at Kyoto Gaidai Nishi High School in classes. We had three different English classes, where we created skits, took surveys, and played Two Truth and a Lie. The BHS students had a great time interacting with their KGN hosts and new friends. In the afternoon, we visited Kiyomizu Temple and walked in southern Higashiyama. It was a great day!
I know some of you heard about last night's earthquake in Kumamoto, Japan. This city is on an island far south of where we are and we have not felt any aftershocks or been impacted by this earthquake at all. We are all safe and enjoying the mountain scenery today. Tonight, we travel to Kyoto to stay with our host families and sister school. Feel free to reach out with any questions but I just wanted to confirm that we are all fine.
Please see the video made by the restaurant owner who hosted our lunch in Gokayama. He made this video with a drone of his village and hometown.
It’s Friday, and we’re about halfway through the trip. This experience has been amazing so far, for we have been to Tokyo and seen sights such as Harajuku and Shibuya. Seeing these popular shopping centers was so awesome, and the contrast in fashion in these areas was so interesting to compare to the formal lifestyle in the conservative sections of Tokyo. Being in Harajuku was so colorful and diverse compared to the countryside of Japan, to which I was exposed to within the last two days. After Shibuya, and shopping, I filled my bags with sweets and gifts that will preserve these days for a lifetime. I have experienced new tastes with every meal and each one was nothing short of fantastic. The food is great and the city itself is so quiet and wonderful. Following Tokyo, the group and I visited Kamakura and Shirakawago, which both exposed me to shrines and temples that I have never seen in my entire life. I prayed at a shrine after climbing to the top, and the experience was so beautiful and serene I seemed to have lost myself for ages. I have never experienced such tranquility in my life. Following this, we spent a day and a half in Gokayama, a very rural section of Japan. Along the way I saw mountains like you wouldn’t believe. Mountains and flowers and fields as far as the eye can see. It was unbelievable. I experienced onsen and traditional Japanese inn rituals.
Time has gone by so fast here, it is hard to believe that we are already almost halfway through our trip. At the same time, flying here feels like it was weeks ago due to how much I have seen, tasted, and experienced since. I have had the most mind blowing, incredible food for every meal, from hotel breakfast to traditional meals eaten out of thatched huts – and everything in between. We arrived at the tail end of sakura season, which has been absolutely breathtaking. Anywhere I look there is something beautiful or unusual to capture my attention. Even on the train I have seen stunning mountains, sprawling rice fields and quaint houses.
The most incredible part for me was definitely visiting the Hase Temple. It was filled with an endless variety of trees, statues, flowers and everything in between. It filled me with an awe and serenity that I will never forget. Towards the end, a friend and I climbed a series of steps built into a mountain and as we thought of the culmination of the gardens and looked out to the sea, we just couldn’t put into words how beautiful it was.
It has been wonderful experiencing such a unique culture, tasting delicious food, and bonding so much with the others on the trip and I am beyond excited for the rest of the trip.
We just spent almost two days in Toyama. At the start of the trip to Toyama we met a very nice tour guide named Tomoko. Tomoko was very nice and taught us about the different areas of Toyama. I felt like a real world traveler on this part of the trip because of the massive amounts of pamphlets, photos and souvenirs I will be returning home with. We went to Gokayama by bus with Tomoko as our guide. The scenery that was seen from the windows was breathtaking, even if I slept for the majority of each ride. In Gokayama we learned how the houses there were made and which materials. Everything there was gorgeous and the sakura cherry blossom trees were in full bloom. The vibrant pink trees scattered the hilltops and in the background was a mountain blanketed in snow. After that we went to another place to make washi paper. We watched a short ten minute video about how washi paper was made and what it was made of. After the video we got to make washi post cards ourselves. I had so much fun creating the paper by shaking out the water then decorating the mixture before it dried into washi paper. After papermaking we ate a delicious all vegetarian lunch and enjoyed a folk song and dance. I might be having trouble with switching slippers and taking my shoes off but I enjoy tatami mats. I am also doing some last minute studying before I meet my host family, and I’m so nervous, but I’m also incredibly excited and can’t wait to spend the weekend with them. I look forward to seeing what else I can experience before I have to leave.
Today is the 5th day of our trip and we are currently on a train to Kyoto to go see our host families who we will be staying with for the next week. Last night was a truly unique experience. We went from the action-packed city of Tokyo to the very small, very quiet village of Gokoyama. Gokayama was absolutely beautiful, surrounded by huge snowcapped mountains. The houses were simply and small with triangular roofs made of grass. In Gokayama, we stayed in a small, traditional Japanese inn. It At the door we removed our shoes and changed into green slippers which we would be wearing inside for the entirety of our stay. Our rooms were all traditional Japanese style and it was amazing to stay in a room like this. Océanne’s and my room was small and simple with tatami mats on the floor and two futons spread out. Our window had a view of the beautiful mountains and sakura trees and a small waterfall. One of the best parts of our time in Gokayama was the traditional Japanese food that we ate. As a vegan, I was not expecting to be so well fed here in Japan, but I was pleasantly surprised the hotel kitchen prepared full vegan and vegetarian meals for the vegans and vegetarians in our group. The food was amazingly delicious and like nothing I have ever tasted before. Every meal consisted of many small plates of foods like tofu, vegetables (mostly pickled), miso soup, and rice. We had tea with every meal. Every dish was prepared and plated with such care and each one tasted unique. Last night I also experienced an onsen, which is like a sauna, shower and hot tub combined. It was a really interesting experience and left me feeling very relaxed and happy. Because there was no Internet at the hotel, I did not have a chance to get in touch with anybody from home, so I spent a lot more time with the other people on the trip and got to know everyone better. I have never experienced anything like Japan before in my life and we still have tons of awesome experiences left!
We have been in Japan for four days so far. Every second is so crazy and exiting. As it is my first time outside of the United States, everything seems so cool. The trains play music before the doors close and their toilets are so high tech! During the past four days we have been to many places in Tokyo such as Shibuya, Harujuku and Akihabara, Kamakura, Shirakawago, and Gokayama. We went shopping a lot in Tokyo and I was able to buy a lot of really cool stuff. My favorite thing we did in Tokyo was visit a realllly pretty park. The reason I liked it so much was because they had sakura trees. I had feared before we left for Japan that, as sakura season was reaching a close, we wouldn't have gotten to see any. For once being proven wrong was the greatest delight. The trees were so pretty! In Kamakura we visited a big Buddha statue which was also very pretty. I got to go inside the Buddha and bought a good luck charm for myself. We also visited a Shinto shrine the same day. Shirakawago and Gokayama were a bit different from all the other places we went because it was very traditional. We stayed in an inn and ate traditional Japanese food and slept on futon. My favorite part of that experience was going in the onsen. We also got to wear yukata while going in! So far the trip has been a blast and I can definitely see myself coming back.
We had a wonderful morning in the small villages in Gokayama, learning about thatched roof style houses, washi paper making, and Japanese folk music. We arrived in Kyoto tonight and the students went home with their host families. See our photos (and student blog posts) for more details!