Day 14: Homeward Bound

This morning Handsworth students gathered at Inage with their suitcases in tow. Our morning consisted of a couple of different activities. First was an English conversations class where students from Inage and Handsworth compared dress code, school timetables, classes and clubs. We continue to learn more and more about the differences and similarities between how we live our daily lives. Secondly, Handsworth students filled in a survey providing feedback on what they thought were the best activities of the second week. This is to help inform the itinerary for next year’s exchange group. After lunch everyone gathered outside for one last group photo. Inage students had to bid farewell to us at that point as they needed to return to class. Then we loaded up the bags, boarded our bus and headed to Narita airport. And that’s where we are now – at the airport, waiting to begin our flight home! For parents checking to see our arrival time, we are on Flight JL018 from Tokyo. We’ve had a wonderful two weeks among some amazing sites and good friends. Looking forward to getting home to see you all!

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Day 13: Inage Kotogakko

Handsworth students gathered this AM at Inage High School (kotogakko) filled with stories of their Sunday excursions with their homestay families. Today we spent a full day, just as students at Inage do, going from class like any other Japanese student would. We began with a tour of the school to orient ourselves in the building. First period of the day was an English conversation class. Handsworth students were experts at this class! Next, our group divided into 3 separate PE activities. Students selected between judo, kendo or dance. In dance class, Sera won a rock-paper-scissors competition to start class as an icebreaker and was awarded a trophy. After PE was calligraphy where students tried making coloured-inked backgrounds first before learning to write Japanese characters. Next was a crafts class where students designed their own patterns on lacquered chopsticks.

In the evening a farewell party was held in the main school hall. After a buffet dinner put on by the Inage parents everyone got to watch a couple of montage videos on the big screen. One video was from the Inage students visit to Handsworth in October, and the second was a new video made by Inage students showing all the fun activities our students had been up to in Chiba this past week. Kevin and Sera gave a great farewell speech on behalf of the Handsworth students, and the night was capped off with a wonderful dance performance. Commemorative photos were taken and Inage’s Principal Endo gave out certificates representing the completion of the exchange.   And as the evening winded down students were sent off with their homestays for their final night in Japan. Tomorrow we have a half-day at Inage and then begin the long journey home!

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Day 11: Tokyo Disneyland

Today was an exciting and carefree day for students.  Everyone met at 9am this morning outside of Tokyo Disneyland.  After a group photo and some instructions about what the next couple of days will look like, students broke off into smaller groups with their Inage homestay hosts and enjoyed a day in the park.  This evening, some students are transitioning to new host homes for our final few nights.  Tomorrow is a full free day with the host families, so there will be no blog posting.  We’re looking forward to hearing students stories about their Sunday with families when we see them again on Monday morning at Inage.

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Day 10: Views Over Tokyo

Tokyo SkyTree, the world’s tallest tower and second tallest structure after Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, offers spectacular views of the surrounding metropolitan area and beyond. On a clear day you can see all the way to Mount Fuji, 60 miles southwest. Today our tour of Tokyo took us up to the highest viewing platform of the tower, as well as to the Asakusa district with its famous Buddhist temple of Sensoji. Students enjoyed lunch at their leisure around Asakusa before getting back on the bus to head back to Inage. This afternoon we were able to squeeze in one more rehearsal of our performance in anticipation of Monday night’s farewell party. Tonight, students return home with their billets. Rumour is that many of them will be going to do karaoke tonight! Tomorrow we are off to Tokyo Disneyland for a fun day.

                                 

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Day 9: Chiba City Ambassadors

Chiba city is the capital of Chiba prefecture, and the sister-city of North Vancouver. Today, Handsworth students took on the responsibility of representing our city as ambassadors with a visit to the Mayor’s office.

We began our day by meeting at Inage High School where students excitedly shared stories about their homestay circumstances. Our morning was spent at Chiba’s version of Science World, called QiBall. From there it was over to City Hall to perform our ambassadorial duties. Staff made speeches, and gifts were exchanged. Our students did an excellent job of asking intelligent questions of Chiba’s Mayor about topics such as declining birth-rates across the country, environmental initiatives, and Chiba’s role in the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games. Finally, our annual commemorative photo was taken.

Back at Inage our group’s photos had now been plastered on the walls of the school, and we also noticed some commemorative collages up as well from Inage’s visit to Handsworth last October.

Our final group activity of the day was to participate in an Ikebana class – Japanese flower arrangement. And although all the students did an excellent job, the Ikebana teacher selected the top 3 from the class. They were Ridge, Tiana and first-place went to George!

Tonight it’s back to spend time with our homestay students, and tomorrow we tour Tokyo!

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Day 8: South Through Seikan

Japan’s Seikan Tunnel, connecting the islands of Hokkaido with northern Honshu, is 53km long, with 23km of that under the seabed. And although the students have had fun holding their breath through some of the tunnels we’ve driven through, it stands to reason that this tunnel was a bit far to try going breathless – even at 320km per hour!

Morning in Hakodate consisted of a visit to the local morning market, which was mainly a seafood market. After grabbing a quick breakfast we hopped on the train and started our long journey south. Today we traveled over 800km, much of it on the newly constructed bullet train line from Hokkaido. By the time we got on the last local train from Tokyo much of the evening rush hour had already started. Tired students sat beside tired salarymen on their train ride home.

In Chiba our Inage hosts enthusiastically greeted us. We had our photos taken and expect we’ll see them plastered on the walls up in the school tomorrow. Tiana and Ridge gave a stellar welcome speech, as did Dr. Overgaard and Mr. Burtt. At the conclusion of the welcome ceremony, Handsworth students picked up their second bag that had been waiting for them at the school and headed home for their first homestay night. We’re looking forward to hearing all their stories from their first night tomorrow when we meet bright and early at the school.

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Day 7: Hospitable Hakodate

Hakodate is one of the southernmost cities of Hokkaido and also one of its most touristed. Like so many other of Hokkaido’s cities, it is known for its ramen and dairy, but also for its cheesecake. Our group enjoyed the latter two in abundance today.

Our first excuse to stop for ice cream was the national park of Onuma, with its beautiful lake and dramatic landscape, dominated by the active volcano Komogatake. Here we rented bikes and took a nice hour-long ride around the lake, stopping briefly for photos. Most students selected individual bicycles, while a few opted for the more adventurous tandem bikes. By the end of the ride, some of us were pretty tuckered out!

From Onuma we hopped aboard our charter coach and headed towards Hakodate. Interesting we learned that one of Hakodate’s sister cities is Halifax, Nova Scotia. Here, our first stop was Goryokaku Tower and its adjacent fort, which was the site of the last battle of the infamous Boshin war that ended Japan’s feudal Shogunate era. We brushed up on our Meiji Restoration history before heading up the tower to take in the views. There was, of course, a particularly delicious ice cream shop in the tower we all had to try.

Next, our guide Tomoko took us to another cable car, this time up Mount Hakodate. Here we got great views over the city and out towards Honshu in the south, our next destination.

In the evening we enjoyed wandering through the shops of the Red Brick district close to Hakodate’s port, and got to enjoy a number of different types of the local cheese-cake and more ice cream. Dinner was a famous Hakodate diner named “Lucky Pierrot”. Each location in Hakodate (and there’s a lot of them!) has a different theme – Santa Clause, Angels, Elvis, you name it. Here, most the students tried the staple, Lucky Cheeseburger, a Hakodate favourite!

Tonight we got in one last practice of our dance performance in preparation for next week. Tomorrow we go to the Hakodate morning market before jumping on our last bullet train through the longest under-sea tunnel in the world on our way to Tokyo!

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