Article submitted by Therese Sakamoto - FSFA Executive Committee Member & Derinya Primary School Japanese Language Teacher
Last month I had the delight of escorting our Derinya Primary School delegation to Susono and Tokyo. Sixteen lucky students from Years 5 and 6 were selected to participate in an action-packed trip of a lifetime! Our Assistant Principal, PE teacher and Prep teacher completed the group of 20 and we were incredibly proud of our students’ efforts and enthusiasm in embracing all opportunities. They represented our school, city and country with pride and succeeded in deepening the ties of friendship with our dear friends in Susono.
Susono Mayor Takamura, Board of Education Director Mr. Kazama, members of SOFA (Susono Overseas Friendship Association) and host families from local schools warmly welcomed us into the Susono community for a 4-night homestay, school visits (to Susono East and Susono West Primary Schools), Mt. Fuji excursion and free day with our host families. SOFA executive committee member, Mrs. Aiko Nakayama did a marvelous job in organising our Susono schedule, especially our homestays and school visits. She even prepared a bag of ‘onigiri’ rice balls for our hungry group to refuel as we raced from Mishima Station to Susono for our first school visit!
The homestay experience is always voted as the trip highlight, with students forging wonderful bonds of friendship with their host brothers and sisters. As reciprocal hosting is encouraged, our group was able to be hosted by Susono students who came to Frankston in recent Susono Student Delegations. Watching our students reunite with hugs and laughter and introduce themselves to their Susono host families is always a special moment for me as their Japanese teacher.
|Derinya students participating in classroom activities in Susono|
During the school visits we participated in language and cultural exchange lessons with classes of each year level. We arrived ready to go with our ‘uwabaki’ indoor shoes, ‘haburashi’ toothbrush, ‘meishi’ business cards and wore our Derinya uniform to show the classes. Everyone enjoyed Japanese calligraphy, traditional games, club activities and even personal interviews about Australia. Derinya students were very surprised that there was no snack break and couldn’t wait for their school lunch which was prepared in the school kitchen and served by the students. The Susono students squealed with delight as they received ‘meishi’ cards, watched our dance performances and kicked the Aussie footies around in the playground. It was not surprising that our students felt like celebrities for the day! Students from both cities were wonderful ambassadors as they took turns patiently demonstrating and supporting each other in these cultural experiences.
Catching a glimpse of the elusive Mt. Fuji proved tricky as it was only visible for a short time on one of our Susono days! Nevertheless, we had a fun excursion up to the fifth station of Japan’s highest mountain, zigzagging our way to the 2,400 meter mark in the coach. From there, we walked along the hiking trail of volcanic rock for an additional 200 meters and experienced the oxygen level drop and the eeriness of trekking through the clouds.
|Above the 5th station on Mount Fuji at 2,600 meters|
Our kind host families treated us like family members, as requested, but also spoilt the children rotten! As well as being loaded with lollies (yes, no doubt another cultural experience is to sample Japanese sweets!), they had a very happy time on their free day with host families visiting all the kid-friendly places imaginable including theme parks, sports events, aquariums, craft-making, karaoke rooms, ‘puri kura’ sticker photo booths and of course, shops!
Farewelling our Susono friends is never easy and we took many photos and exchanged as many hugs and kind words as time permitted before boarding our Shinkansen for the next stop on our adventure, a Sumo Tournament! The sweet smells of Sumo wrestlers’ hair product and the sound of the Taiko drums beating to announce the day’s bouts guided us to a small-town gymnasium on the way back to Tokyo. Without the pressures of a grand tournament, ‘Sekitori’ (wrestlers in the top 2 ranked divisions) were relaxed, joking around with our Aussie entourage and happily posing for photos – one sekitori even sat a few students on his knee like Santa!
|Sakamoto sensei with sumo rikishi in Kanagawa|
The inclusion of a day trip to Nikko (snuggled into the mountains, 2 hours by train NE of Tokyo) was definitely a good choice. Unexpectedly bumping into the popular Japanese boyband ‘Generation’ (with comparable fame to One Direction!) whilst seeing the three wise monkeys (Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil) at Toshugu Shrine created bonus excitement for the group with our towering PE teacher catching their attention and securing us a gig on national TV! But our favourite part of Nikko was Edo Wonderland (also called Nikko Edomura and similar to Sovereign Hill) where we dressed in olden day costumes of our choice (Ninja, Samurai and kimono-clad townsfolk), participated in challenges and enjoyed a parade and show.
|Ninja dress ups at Edo Wonderland|
|And the girls dressed in kimonos|
Weaving our way through the streets of Tokyo with suitcases in tow became a skill that we mastered well. Our bright yellow caps, cases with 4 moving wheels with a maximum weight of 12 kg and comfortable shoes ensured that our human ‘snake’ moved at a good speed and was visible at all times. Suica cards (similar to Myki but much more useful!) allowed for smooth entry and exits at train stations for our group to explore as much of this amazing city as possible. In a nutshell, within our 3-night stay in Tokyo, we covered a variety of ‘old’ and ‘new’ regions and sights, including Asakusa, Shibuya, Harajuku, Oshiage (Tokyo Skytree area), Tokyo Dome City and Mitaka in the far western pocket of Tokyo to the must-see Studio Ghibli (better known as the home of Totoro).
|Students at the Karinarimon ("Thunder Gate") outside Sensō-ji - Tokyo's oldest (Buddhist) Temple in Asakusa|
|Narita street shopping|
We had a wonderful evening at Torinji Temple in Asakusa where we experienced Zazen (Zen meditation), shared a delicious obento dinner and danced with our friends from Shukutoku Elementary School. It was very special to catch up after hosting their student and staff delegations for many years at Derinya.
|Zazen at Torinji Temple in Asakusa|
For the first time, we incorporated a Student Day into our itinerary which gave our students the opportunity to research, plan and lead one of the days in Tokyo. This was to promote our school plan for increased student voice and agency. Our students thrived in this role and took full responsibility for organising an action-packed day and evening for our team. Visiting the Ikebukuro Fire Station to learn about natural disaster preparation and experience an earthquake simulator, seeing the statue of the famous and loyal dog Hachiko who waited for his master for almost 10 years at Shibuya Station, and exploring the home of Totoro at Studio Ghibli were meaningful experiences for our students who had learnt about these topics at school. And our day was topped off with an absolutely crazy evening of fun, music, dance and weird food at Kawaii Monster Café (affectionately dubbed KMC) where all the students danced atop the merry-go-round cake! It was the perfect way to spend our final night in Japan.
Since our return to Australia in mid-October, our team continues to gather and reminisce fondly about our time in Japan. Through speaking at school assemblies, writing articles and sharing photos, we hope to spread our experiences and to inspire as many people as possible to get involved in learning about and visiting Japan.
|Hachiko statue at Shibuya Station|
I am so fortunate to be able to promote Australia-Japan relations through my two passions of teaching and student trips to our sister city. It is wonderful to have close ties of friendship between the citizens of Frankston and Susono. My students already regard their Susono host families as their second families and are maintaining contact through social media. My hope is for these students and their families to continue communication and to experience the joys of these friendships for many years to come.