Students Explore Japan for Spring Break

By Brian Seetoe ’19, Brandon Kong ’19, Brianna Baker ’19, Jeanelle Louie ’19 and Elizabeth Maharaj ’19

For spring break 2018, Mr. Lawrence Kolotkin organized the recent school trip that brought 40 students 7,000 miles from New York to Japan. Lead by their tour guide, Keiko, they learned a lot about Japan, its culture and, most importantly, gained an experience they won’t forget.

Students spent eight days traveling Japan, leaving the U.S. on March 31 and returning home on April 8. The trip cost about $3700, which included the students’ flight, hotel, food, tours and other modes of transportation. The group visited many cities in Japan and their itinerary included many fun and educational activities, such as visiting temples, going to shopping districts, seeing shrines, exploring national parks and much more.

“The students chose to go to Japan, it wasn’t my choice,” said Mr. Kolotkin. “I just planned and organized it for us.”

Students were split into groups of four (or more) and led by teacher chaperones, Ms. Fern Bren, Mrs. Fannie Daniels, Mr. Kolotkin, Mr. Matthew Bonavita, Mr. Albert Peterson and Ms. Liz Bommarito. They travelled on their own, but had to go back to a designated spot to ensure no one got lost and everyone was in the same place. Staying at different hotels throughout the country, they were able to visit many cities in Japan, like Tokyo, Hakone, Odawara, Kyoto, and Nara. Travelling by bus, they went to Mount Fuji, Tödai-ji (a big Buddha statue), Bamboo Forest, Monkey Forest, Odawa Castle and a variety of market/food places along the way.

“The hotel wasn’t as big as an average American hotel, but it was right on the main strip,” said Rebecca Ribenbach ’19. “The view was just breathtaking and being there was surreal.”

Tokyo is the world’s most populous metropolis. It is also one of Japan’s 47 prefectures, consisting of 23 central city wards and multiple cities, towns and villages west of the city center. The city is famous for architecture, temples, anime, and museums, all of which the students had the opportunity of visiting.

They even experienced riding a bullet train from Odawara to Kyoto, and a boat and cable car ride to Mount Fuji.

“The bullet train went really smooth and was on time unlike the subway system in New York. The scenery was really nice on the way there, everything was green and the cherry blossoms were beautiful because it was spring.” said Vasyl Ilnytskyy ’19.

Japan has two major religions: Shinto and Buddhism. Shrines are Shinto sites, while temples are Buddhist sites. The group got to visit the Hachimangu shrine and Great Buddha, two of Japan’s famous spots and got a feel of different religious settings. The Buddha is formally known as Kōtoku-in. The Kōtoku-in is a representation of amida Buddha, located on the grounds of the Kotokuin temple in Kamakura City. The enormous statue is in the center of the Buddhist temple in open air.

“People wrote down their hopes on wooden tablets called ema and placed them on the shrine. It was awesome to see how Shintoism and Buddhism co-existed peacefully together,” said Vasilisa Tolkacheva ’19.

During the week, the group participated in activities ranging from traditional Japanese dinner, to the spa, and to a monkey farm.

“The monkey farm was so fun because you got to feed them while they were hanging off the fence,” said Julie Margolin ’19. “The monkeys were so cute even though we were warned not to look at them directly in the eyes.” 

The students also encountered several cultural differences, as Keiko introduced them to Japanese customs and etiquette, such as bowing to show respect to others, wearing Yukatas (cloth kimonos), and learning how to pray at shrines.

Students got the chance to be part of the Japanese tea ceremony, which is traditionally called Chado, Sado, and Chanoyu. This cultural activity involved both the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha: powdered green tea. Students weren’t only there to watch, they were also able to wear kimonos in order to get a full view of Japanese tradition.

As American tourists, the locals’ friendly nature was a welcoming surprise to the students and staff.  Japan is run on an honor system, people trust that they can rely on others to do the right thing.

“It’s nothing like I’ve ever seen, the level of respect is through the roof. They put everyone before themselves and are selfless.”  said Mrs. Fannie Daniels.

While exploring the marketplaces, the students consumed a variety of foods/drinks throughout the trip like dumplings, chicken, soba noodles, sea urchin and, especially, lots of tea. Street food vendors sold fish, fruits, vegetables and more, and the vending machines even sold hot meals. 

“We got lots of street food and ramen at a fish market we stopped by for lunch. It reminded me of NYC with Japan’s abundance of street food,” said Tolkacheva ’19.

Another pleasant surprise to the students was how clean everything was. With Japan’s Shinto roots, the citizens’ reverence for nature is apparent by their maintenance of public places.

“Despite there not being any trash can in sight, the streets were kept clean and people were very careful about recycling” said Anriela Marte ’19.

Being in Japan was a great way to learn about a new culture first hand and students were able to learn how different Japanese culture is from American culture. The trip left a lasting impression on both staff and students.

“After traveling to Japan, attending events like tea ceremonies, interacting with the people and learning about the culture, it was an eye-opening and amazing experience,” said Mr. Kolotkin.

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