This year's spring trip:
Monday, March 29th
Everyone was on time and after a long delay due to a flight to Chicago we took off at around 2:00 Seattle time.
We made up the time in the air and arrived just a few minutes after the scheduled time.
Tuesday, March 30th
We arrived at Narita Airport a little before 4:00. Immigration and Customs inspections went well and we were met by our travel agent, Ken Fujiwara. He helped us get our rail passes then led us through the labyrinthian subway system to our hotel.
We checked in at Asakusa View Hotel in Tokyo's Asakusa neighborhood at about 8:00 on Tuesday and bought dinner at the Life grocery store, 7-11 and Denny's. Yes, I said Denny's. Check back tomorrow for much more scenic photos!
It's now about 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday and the kids are all safely in their rooms for the night.
Click the photo to find out more about our hotel.
Wednesday, March 31st
Tour of Tokyo Traditional Sights
Click the photo to visit Meiji Shinto Shrine.
Now here we are at the same famous Shrine!
Today we spent on a whirlwind tour of Tokyo very Japanese in style with just enough time to take a group photo then continue on the next amazing site! After a nice breakfast at our hotel we met our guide for the day, Yuki. We changed money at the bank and found out why there were couches in the bank-it can take a while. Students entertained themselves with purchases at the 100 yen store and then we walked through the Asakusa neighborhood shopping streets to the Asakusa Kannon Temple, a beautiful Buddhist temple.
Our next stop was a relaxing cruise on the Sumida River under more than a dozen colorful and interesting bridges. The students made some new friends on the boat and I'm sure they will tell you all about them!
We walked through Hamarikyu Garden, a shogun's former duck hunting preserve now turned public park. Then we boarded our personalized tour bus and went to the Tsukiji Fish Market. The famous daily fish auctions were over but we toured the outer market for a lightning speed look at the fish, knives and food.
We ate lunch at a Chinese buffet in the "Foot Town" of Tokyo Tower. Energized by lunch we all walked up the 150 m and 600 steps to the observation deck!
Next we enjoyed a drive across Tokyo to Meiji Shinto Shrine. Today was a 'good fortune' day which is auspicious for weddings and we had the good fortune to witness a traditional Japanese wedding procession!
We had a very short shopping tour of Harajuku and went to the Oriental Bazaar and Kiddy Land before an interesting drive back to our hotel through many of the famous neighborhoods of Tokyo.
Everyone went out to dinner in small groups at the nearby restaurants where they put their hard work in Japanese class into action. There is a great selection of Japanese food right nearby although two people went to McDonald's!!!
It's now just after 10:00 p.m. and all the kids are settling in for the night and probably dreaming of the beautiful and interesting things they've seen today.
Tomorrow we'll see more of Tokyo and meet the homestay families. Stay tuned for our further adventures and don't forget to take a look at today's photos.
(Note to Ms. Taylor's Class: I'm having a great time but I miss you all and I hope are all BEHAVING YOURSELVES!! Bringing back interesting presents!)
Thursday, April 1st
Click the picture to experience the cool modern youth culture in Harajuku.
This morning we had time to shop around the Asakusa area-there are lots of tourist shopping opportunities near the Kannon Temple we visited yesterday and students found lots of nice omiyage for their friends and families. The teachers explored Kappabashi Dori-home of interesting cooking equipment and supposedly plastic food models found outside restaurants throughout Japan and the world. There were wonderful cooking items but no plastic food. It remains an elusive myth.
We took the reverse trip back to Tokyo station with great help from Tynan's family friends, Yuji and his lovely sister. These generous local guides made such a difference for us today!
We had time to shop in the Tokyo Station area and our students found Character Street which is home of 100 shops dedicated to anime and manga characters, Daimaru department store with an incredible food hall on the bottom floor and an entire floor of designer desserts on the main floor and much more. We boarded the shinkansen with delicious obento and enjoyed the high speed and scenic ride to Himeji at over 200 miles per hour!
We met the homestay families at the Himeji station. The families looked so pleased to welcome your students.
We traveled to Himeji by bullet train. Our train looked like the one on the right...
Here is what our students have to say about the trip so far...
Colin: HI MOM! I liked walking around the streets of Tokyo and the city lights at night flashing green and red.
Katie: Loved the Meiji Shrine and 7-11 Spaghetti
Lizzie: I can't wait to be in Himeji and hi Mom!
India: Thanks for the Easter candy.
Eli: Tell Annelise I miss her.
Tim: Everyone here thinks I'm awesome and for once in my life people are not asking me if I play basketball.
Jessica: I'm slowly running out of money. Please send more.
Chrissy: I hope I have enough room to bring everything back. It's not looking good right now.
Aidan and Mo both think ball donuts are good, coffee bread is not so good and like the heated toilet seats. (Aidan misses his cats and wishes they were here.)
Kaira: Hello family in Amurica. I love you and I'm having a good time. I love all of it. Also tell Lexi, "Rabbit."
Emily's top moments: 1. Meeting 11 year old boys on the river cruise with Evie and them telling us we are beautiful and a row of Japanese men on the boat taking our picture; 2. Talking toilets at the hotel that say thank you and make waterfall noises.
Evie: I love you too. I am having lots of fun and taking lots of pictures. Feed Flicka a carrot.
Tynan: Tako balls are not for the faint of heart.
Friday, April 2nd
Sightsee in Himeji-Mt. Shosha, Kokoen Garden and more.
Click the photo to see some of the great sights in Himeji, Japan!
We met this morning at the Shinki bus station right next to Mr. Donut. Three very nice teachers from Himeji-Minami took time from their busy schedule of preparing for the new school year to go with us on our tour today.
We walked down the main street of Himeji to Himeji-jo, the famous castle and UNESCO World Heritage site. This is one of the most famous castles in Japan. Tomorrow they expect 70,000 guests because it is the peak of cherry blossom viewing and one of the last chances to see the castle before it closes for a 5 year renovation. We were very lucky to see it on an uncrowded morning and we had excellent volunteer tour guides who showed us all around and all the way to the top floor of the castle. Your students can share with you all of the interesting and historical facts they learned during the tour!
Next we toured the very beautiful Kokoen Garden that was formerly the home of the local shogun's concubines. The garden is a beautiful collection of different Japanese garden styles with many stepping stones across ponds and streams, gigantic koi in vibrant colors and gorgeous greenery. It is a peaceful oasis in the middle of a bustling city and in the middle of a very busy tour!
We had a picnic lunch in a park near the castle with the homestay students. Check the photos to see the lovely lunches your students' homestay families prepared for them. Oishii!
Next we caught the local bus to Mt. Shosha, a holy mountain on the outskirts of Himeji. We had a thrilling ride up a ropeway and hiked up the mountain past many beautiful Buddhas. We treated our new brothers and sisters to ice cream and toured four beautiful temples. As well as being holy and historical they also served as the setting for many scenes in The Last Samurai. Our guides were a little upset that Tom Cruise flew in from Kobe daily by helicopter during filming. Apparently the Himeji hotels aren't fancy enough...
We had a very squashy and hot bus ride back to Himeji and the students set out for afternoon shopping and entertainment with their families.
Next the students will have a wonderful weekend with their homestay families.
Saturday, April 3rd
The teachers had a great day in Osaka shopping! We saw about one hundred sumo wrestlers in the train station and shopped at a favorite Japanese store, Loft.
Sunday, April 4th
The teachers travelled to Kyoto today and ran across a beautiful, giant Buddha as well as braving the huge crowds there to see the cherry blossoms.
Wow! There were lots of interesting stories about the weekend:
Jessica went to a festival with her new cousins. On Sunday she went shopping and watched movies and tried Ramen-it was mystery flavor and she liked it!
Ann went to chorus practice on Saturday and to a Japanese mall and had a shake at McDonald's. On Sunday she drove to Kyoto and saw temples and cherry blossoms. She tried tempura lotus root-it was really good!
Kaira went to Kingkakuji in Kyoto and to Grandma's very traditional Japanese style house to try on Kimono. She did purikura with friends in Friday. On Sunday she went shopping and to karaoke and to kaiten sushi. She had hamburga sushi but it was not good.
Colin went to a super traditional style restaurant on Friday and there were stacks of plates and it was awesome! On Saturday he went to a 5 hour karaoke marathon and an onsen and it was so cool! Next he went to an arcade and then a BBQ which was fun and then played Mario Cart. On Sunday he rode bikes to the 100 yen shop, went bowling and to an arcade, saw an amazing demonstration of the Taiko drumming game, went to kaiten sushi and had too much wasabi.
Phil went to karaoke with Tynan's family and to the BBQ. He went to Kobe on Sunday for shopping and to see Chinatown. He ate a flavorless beef part that he could not chew...stomach?
Katie and Chrissy went to a soccer game on Saturday. Public opinion was: Loved Katie's red hair and Chrissy's height and thin face and everyone tried to learn the American stance. They went to try on Kimonos with Becky's family and were photographed for a local newspaper! Next they went to a toy museum and later played cards.
Eli went to the 5 hour karaoke party on Saturday and was electrified at the onsen then noodle-legged it over to the BBQ. On Sunday he watched TV, went bowling and to the game center and the supermarket for candy shopping and watched more TV. His family likes TV!
Emily tried on kimono which was pulled REALLY tight. Her Grandpa bought her a cake for her birthday, beautifully wrapped up some candy and made her a photo album. She played badminton and had a picnic in the countryside where the family three rocks at a mysterious crop eating creature in the river.
Evie was happy that the dog at her house calmed down! She went to Kyoto and had a rickshaw ride. Old men chased her to take her picture. Her Okaasan is a really good cook and taught her to do Japanese laundry. She went to a ceremony at a temple and taught her family to play Big Booty. People are amazed by her eyelashes.
Tynan went with a big group ton Friday to do perikura and it made their eyes look super big. He played a Taiko drumming game until the champs showed up with their own drumsticks...He met his grandpa and went to a sushi bar where he ate fugu although he didn't know it until later. He went to a 5 hour karaoke party, to an onsen, to a BBQ and had pizza for breakfast on Sunday!
Becky went to Kobe on Saturday with her brother Bobby and his wife. They had Indian food in Chinatown and did perikura. She went to the BBQ and there was so much food: yakitori, curry rice, yakisoba, cheesecake, custard. She got home at midnight. She went to wear kimonos with Chrissy and Katie on Sunday and to the toy museum and to a sushi bar.
Mo went bowling and to the game center with Sam on Saturday. He went to the BBQ and found some Engrish t-shirts and hats. On Sunday he visited an old silver mine from 1806 and got to explore the tunnels.
Sam went to the game center and bowling with Mo on Saturday. He made takoyaki with his family and thought it was delicious. On Sunday he went to the shrine, shopping and to an amusement park.
Aiden went to a baseball game on Saturday to see the Himeji-Minami team play, went to an onsen and to karaoke with Eli, Tynan and Phil and to the BBQ. On Sunday he went sightseeing in Kobe and met his Grandpa and visited a shrine.
Tim went on a Japanese style road trip to Yamasaki mountain resort. It had an awesome view. He had Japanese BBQ and played baseball and games. On Sunday he went bowling and to the game center and was beaten at all the games by his 10 year old brother.
Lizzy went to Kyoto and saw Kinkakuji Temple and went shopping and had kaiten sushi. On Sunday she met the grandparents at their traditional style house, saw a zen garden and had lunch, karaoke and perikura and a slumber party with the cheer squad. They hid, found and ate eggs. Easter is tough to explain.
Shane went to Totori on the west coast on Saturday and saw giant sand dunes and rode a camel. He went to Kinosaki-an onsen town. On Sunday he went sightseeing in Himeji and won a contest at the History Museum. He got to dress up in Shogun armor!
Cole went bowling and flower viewing. On Sunday eh went to a zoo amusement park, had Yakiniku and ate Udon.
India dug for shellfish for three hours and ate them later. She may have been inducted into the Shinto religious as we are not certain about the purpose of a 4 hour ceremony she took part in. She drank macha from a giant bowl and bought chopsticks.
Monday, April 5th
The kids showed up at the train station this morning full of interesting stories about their weekends. We traveled to Hiroshima by bullet train-another high speed and fun trip! We had a little time for shopping then enjoyed okonomiyaki made be a master for lunch! He opened his restaurant just for us! The kids loved it and Phil ate two entire servings!
Click the photo for a link to a "How to" website for Okonomiyaki!
Next we walked through Hiroshima to the Atom Bomb Dome. It is a solemn place. We dropped off cranes at the Sadako monument and visited the Peace Museum. It is a sad place but luckily, there is ice cream nearby! We took a long ride through the city on the local train called the Green Mover to the ferry dock. You could see the students relax when the smell of the salt air hit them as they were walking onto the cute ferry. We walked along under cherry blossoms through the golden sunset light to our beautiful hotel. Everyone enjoyed wearing yukata and eating a very traditional Japanese dinner in a banquet room. Most people finished their day with a soak in the onsen then a good sleep on fluffy futon.
Our Japanese Style hotel, Morinoyado, welcomed us by name at the sign outside!
Click to see the beautiful rooms and more.
Tuesday, April 6th
Sightseeing on Miyajima
Click to take a virtual visit to the holy island.
It was a beautiful sunny day on Miyajima! We had a great breakfast (Japanese or still pretty Japanese Western) and set off for a day of adventure. Evie, Katie and Susan hiked up the entire mountain in just under two hours! The rest of us took the ropeway up the mountain and hiked the last kilometer. We saw two monkeys and countless deer. We passed many shrines and holy rocks on the way up to the amazing view!
Students shopped, dined and wandered the streets of the beautiful small town.
Due to unforeseen circumstances we had a very tight schedule to catch the bullet train. The students raced through Hiroshima shinkansen station like a flash mob amidst cheers and clapping and made the train with only seconds to spare.
The ride back was in the quiet car-no talking aloud! Torture!
Wednesday, April 7th
Today we met at Hirohata Kindergarten for possible the cutest hour of the trip! Our homestay brothers and sisters were able to come along today. The darling kindergarteners in bright red or yellow hats sat on tiny chairs in rows and greeted us in Japanese and English. They sang a cute song. Our students taught them the Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes song in both languages then sang If You're Happy and You Know It. Next we went out side for the duck dance which turned out to be very cute and a great icebreaker as each high school student paired up with a little partner!
Our students romped and played with their new friends, toured the playground, hula hooped, walked on stilts, visited the school rabbits and much more.
We took the train back to the main station and split up for shopping and lunch. Next we went to Himeji-Minami High School for a tour and to get ready for the Sayonara Party. At the party there were speeches by teachers and students and the principal, performances by our students, the H-M choir club, and the Karatedo club. Katie also sparred with the club leader...it looked like an even match to me!
There was an amazing array of lovely food and the families seem like they will really miss their new kids! I heard a rumor about another party for the students later...
Thursday, April 8th
We met at the Himeji train station at 8:00 a.m. and said many teary goodbyes to the the wonderful homestay families. We took the shinkansen to Tokyo. It left on time at 8:59 a.m. and arrived in Tokyo station at 12:40. We caught the Narita Express train leaving at 1:03 and arrived at Narita Airport at 1:58. After checking our luggage we had time for last minute shopping and dining. We flew home on United flight 876 departing Narita at 4:30 p.m. and arriving early at SeaTac at about 8:10 a.m. the same day! Customs and immigration was smooth and it was great to see happy parents there on time!
Thanks to those of you who were so appreciative of all of our efforts! And one last sayounara!!