Each year, TIGS students have the opportunity to see the world and experience new cultures. During a recent trip to Japan, Year 10 students visited many great cities, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Kyoto, to breathe in the culture, sites, heritage and history of the ancient archipelago. Exploring the world allows students to develop their own global perspective as well as their cultural appreciation. Year 10 student, Benae Kuiper recounts her time on this year’s trip.

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As I sit and watch the countryside rushing by, I look back and reflect on all that I have experienced since starting this journey.

A group of school kids that range from Year 9 to Year 11, some that are friends, some that we pass in the school corridors, now a close-knit group that are exploring the cultural wonders that Japan has to offer.

On 28 June we departed from TIGS, leaving behind the mixed emotions of our parents’ ready to take on the challenge of touring a country steeped in culture, history and respect and we were about to do it… without our parents!!

We flew out from Sydney in winter and Japan welcomed us with open arms and a wave of humidity.

This would be the longest time and distance that I would have ever been from my family as well as my first-time travelling overseas without them. Honestly, the thought thrilled me! I looked forward to the sense of independence that it would bring.

We arrived in Sapporo and travelled by bus to our first destination, Sapporo Nichidai High School. We felt like celebrities, all eyes were on us, girls commenting on how cute we were and the boys waving like crazy especially if you had blonde hair. Everyone wanted to touch that golden blonde halo of hair!!

I think the most nerve racking time was waiting to meet our Host Families. I was the last to meet my “buddy” Yukito, a 15-year-old boy with an 11-year-old sister. The language barrier was a little awkward at first but after a game of one-on-one basketball we were laughing and having a great time and I completely forgot how nervous I was. Yukito’s house was a traditional Japanese dwelling that included tatami mat flooring and a futon bed in the room I slept in (and yes it was surprisingly comfortable!)

Our first day in a Japanese high school was very different to what we were used to, blackboards instead of smart boards, pen and paper rather than laptops and we wore special slippers once inside the school building. The Japanese students were welcoming and encouraged us to try on spare school uniforms to see what we looked like as students at Nichidai High School. There were several students that came up to us who had previously visited TIGS on exchange and they were excited to greet us in their own country. We stayed three nights with our host families and I even managed to sleep through a magnitude 5.2 earthquake on my final Host stay. Before leaving Sapporo, we visited the Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium, where the Winter Olympics were held in 1972.

Kyoto was the next stop on our journey, a beautiful city with many shrines and traditional Japanese gardens. The time we spent walking through the temples and shrines, allowed me to have a better understanding of Japan’s traditions and culture.

My favourite temple was the Todaji Temple in Nara about an hour away from Kyoto. The entrance to the temple is crowded with tame deer that are sacred to the Japanese people, the deer can wander freely amongst the tourists. It was here that I learnt of an interesting cultural belief of the Japanese people that intrigued me. The thick pillar found towards the end of the temple is pierced with a hole at the base. It is said to be the same size as the Giant Buddha’s nostril. Legend states that if you can squeeze yourself through the hole, you will receive enlightenment in the next life. I watched on as tourist after tourist attempted to pass through the hole.

Our next stop was Hiroshima. Little did we all know the number of emotions we would feel as we walked through the Hiroshima Atomic Peace Park and Memorial Museum. The recorded interviews, pieces of children’s school uniforms and breathtaking artworks really allowed us all to take a moment to reflect on such a significant part of history. What really stood out to me was listening to the survivor’s perspectives. At first, it was confronting and I was overwhelmed by what they had survived but the more I listened, I became amazed at their peaceful attitude. Not once did any of the survivor’s hint at revenge, instead, they all focused on the future, talking about the potential and hope it holds.

Tokyo was the last city we visited in Japan. I had been looking forward to this part of the trip, in particular, to reunite with my old friends Riho, Fuki and Misaki. Instantly when I saw them all, we picked up just where we left off from. A year apart from these girls was too long. I was excited for them to finally show us around their hometown. This was the hottest out of the all the days we had spent in Japan. The temperature reached 30 degrees Celsius, which didn’t seem too bad, but as soon as we stepped outside the humidity was way too much to handle. My 16 years of experience in harsh Australian weather was nothing compared to Tokyo’s humidity. But the weather didn’t stop us from having loads of fun. Shopping, eating, taking plenty of photos together and visiting the Skytree tower was a day very well spent with my favourite girls. Before we knew it, the time came where we had to say yet another goodbye, knowing that it would be a very long time until we would see them next. We planned that after graduation, we would all move to Japan and rent a house with the girls and so with that in mind, instead of saying goodbye, we all said: “See you later!”

No matter how many times I tell people about my trip to Japan, it never gets old. All the memories that I have and experiences that I went through will forever stay with me and I strongly encourage others to get out and explore the world. It is all waiting for you.