2014 SPHSS Diary

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Postscript: We have just confirmed that all participants in the program have returned home safely.

Day 35/35 – Wednesday August 6th

7:55am – The last day begins. It is mystery tour day. The students don’t know where we are going, but then again, neither do we. The envelope chosen was “Number 4”. It hasn’t been opened yet. About 8:30am or thereabouts. Perfect blue skies, and hot humid weather.

3:20pm – Number 4 turned out to be the Edo Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku in the city’s east. It is not far from where we were yesterday, and again the Tokyo Skytree dominates the skyline.

Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo Skytree

Entry into the Museum via a replica of Nihonbashi.

Entry into the Museum via a replica of Nihonbashi.

The Museum building is interesting in itself, but the exhibits are extensive, the explanations professional, and like many of the places we have visited during the program, we wished we had more time, but for international flights we needed to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare.

Some of the most interesting displays included a copy of the 1945 Terms of Surrender, where the Canadian representative signed on the wrong line (everyone who followed had to shift one line down, with their nationality penciled in), and samples of the televisions, washing machines and refrigerators that underpinned the fast economic growth of the 1950’s and 60’s.

From the museum we headed back on very crowded trains to Tokyo station to retrieve our luggage, and then headed for Narita airport.

All participants have checked luggage, returned phone rentals, and passed through security. Hopefully we will meet again!


Day 34/35 – Tuesday August 5th

View across town to Tokyo Bay and Odaiba. The greenery is part of Meiji Jingu.

View across town to Tokyo Bay and Odaiba. The greenery is part of Meiji Jingu.

A long hot day. It started with a little battle with bureaucracy, and then it was into the heat. At least 33 degrees celsius (90 something on the weird scale), but also very humid. On the bright side there were two good things – the typhoon developing to our south produced some nice breezes here and there, and everyone in this program will have safely left before the typhoon makes it anywhere near Tokyo or Aichi.



All participants now have a personalized Suica card for use on the trains and subways. It should speed up our movements around the city, and makes for a nice souvenir.

First destination for the day, the bird’s eye view of this sprawling metropolis from the lookouts at the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings in Shinjuku. Not a bad way to see your first glimpse of this massive city. Shinjuku is the world’s busiest train station (7 of the world’s busiest are in Tokyo, 8 if you include Yokohama in the mix) and the views from the top are amazing.

These towers are of course starting to get some competition from “Tokyo Skytree”, but as entry is free, they will probably remain a popular destination for visitors. It was interesting to note that despite all the signs asking for people to understand the importance of saving energy, it doesn’t really apply to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Everything was illuminated, at 11:40am.

Shinjuku station Area. Tokyo Skytree in background.

Shinjuku station Area. Tokyo Skytree in background.

From Shinjuku, we headed to Akihabara. Known locally as Akiba, this became famous in the 1950s/60s as the electronics district of Tokyo. It was the “go to” place if you needed components, something new, or anything electronic. These days it is gradually evolving to include games, software, musical instruments (Kanda is close by) and various cosplay stores.

The large discount electronic stores such as Bic Camera etc, played a part in the changes that have taken place in Akihabara in recent years, but for the past decade, it has been the internet that is driving the transition.

Our lunch was at that wonderful Japanese institution… Dennys


Akihabara Denny's

Akihabara Denny’s

Some skipped lunch and went straight to dessert. The Denny’s in Japan are actually pretty good. You can almost take a date there. In fact some people do. We chose it because we needed an air-conditioned meeting place.

From the modernity of Akihabara to what?

Original plan was to head to the Imperial Palace, and walk via Ginza to the Hamarikyuu Gardens, but in this heat, not a sensible idea. Step up, Asakusa. Apart from Sensou-ji (a famous temple), this is a major shopping district, immensely popular with both visitors and locals, and with wonderful Kappabashi nearby, it draws a constant stream of visitors. The newest addition to the scene is of course, Tokyo Skytree. You can see it from pretty much everywhere.

We then headed across town to Harajuku, where apart from shopping, we had dinner, and a bit of a break from the heat. Harajuku can be a strange place at times. Streets like Takeshita-dori (extremely popular with the young) run parallel to Omotesando (very high end shopping). The main entrance to Meiji Jingu is immediately adjacent to the station, and it is the beginning of the walk to Shibuya. We didn’t have a lot of time left, and the students complained about not having enough time in Harajuku… until after a walk through Yoyogi Park, they discovered the joys of Shibuya.




Shibuya is a bustling entertainment, shopping, business and transport hub. The south side in particular has been transformed during the last half dozen years. From Yoyogi we headed (on foot) straight to the statue of Hachiko, which is a popular meeting point. The reason we did this though was so the student’s first experience of Shibuya, was the massive 5-way scramble intersection, at peak hour. Welcome to Shibuya. One of our sister schools is a short walk from here. So feel free to contact us if you are interested in doing a Japanese language program in Tokyo.

Sadly we only have one more day. Tomorrow is the infamous “mystery tour”. One of the students (Tiger from Chicago, as he had to leave early) made the decision that we would head to “Number 4”. There are five envelopes, which were sealed a month ago, constantly shuffled, and not numbered until yesterday. We don’t know where “Number 4” will be taking us, but someone will find out at 8:30am tomorrow morning (not that Declan will actually tell us).

Day 33/35 – Monday August 4th

Hamanako, Shizuoka.

Hamanako, Shizuoka.

After some long goodbyes, we left Okazaki bound for Tokyo via Shizuoka. After a brief break at beautiful Hamanako (a tidal lagoon, famous for the quality of it’s eels) we arrived at Mount Fuji to see the usual summer view of Mount Fuji – ie, a mountain entirely invisible due to cloud.

A quick meeting, and it was decided that instead of the long climb up into a cloud to look at the inside of a cloud, we would head to the Miura Peninsula and Kamakura.

At Yokosuka the main attraction was the Battleship Mikasa, a museum ship, and the only remaining pre-dreadnought era battleship in the world. Tis museum ship is historically on about the same level as the HMS Victory or USS Constitution. It is a great museum. As with most Japanese warships of the time, it was built in England by Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness (1899-1902). Mikasa was the flagship of the newly modernized Japanese fleet that defeated the Russian navy (both the Pacific and Baltic fleets) during the 20 month long Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05. It was a war that changed our world.


At Kamakura, the Daibutsu and then the beach. Part of Kōtoku-in (高徳院?), a Jōdo-shū sect temple, the enormous bronze statue of Amida is considered a Japanese icon. It was not originally intended to be outdoors, but after two fires and a tsunami, the graceful but gigantic statue has bathed in the sun.


We then transferred to our Tokyo accommodations.

Day 32/35 – Sunday August 3rd

There is an optional tour available to some of “the more difficult to get to parts of Nara“, for the participants in this program, it is rest and recovery with host families. Today is the last time the students will be able to spend a full day with their families. There will be a lot of hugs and tears tomorrow.

Day 31/35 – Saturday August 2nd

Today was great. We were joined by host families and friends, and took a charter bus into the mountains in the eastern outskirts of Okazaki.

bbq_sanmonFirst destination, Tenon-ji. A temple built during the Ashigaka shogunate, this place is a gem. It was built by the same carpenters who built the original Kinkaku in Kyoto. After Kinkaku was destroyed by arson in 1950, it was to Tenon-ji that the master carpenters designated to re-construct it came to learn how it was built. What was surprising, and wonderful, was that for most of the Japanese participants (who had expected a typical yamadera) the secrets of Tenon-ji was a first for them too. They loved it.

The drystone walls are also quite amazing, and the Meiji and Taisho period artworks inside the main hall are fascinating. They depict scenes from the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, as well as military processions.

From here we headed to our BBQ. Deep in the forest (the road is far too narrow for our charter bus), we enjoyed the shade, cooler air, nice cold creeks flowing through, really great tebasaki (手羽先), chickens roasted in the wood fired pizza oven, suika-wari, barbecued Ayu fish, cold beer on-tap and much else. Not a bad way to spend a day with host families and friends. We will do this again next year.


Day 30/35 – Friday August 1st

We headed by train to Gifu, a city on the northern edge of the flat plain rich alluvial farmland that is now modern Nagoya and it’s satellite cities. Lunch today wasn’t the best. The service was too slow. Some homework to do on that one.

Due to the heat, our next destination was the air-conditioned Gifu Museum of History, which by accident we did in reverse order, mainly because of a sudden interest in a vintage Datsun. The museum has an interesting range of exhibits, from the mesolithic and proto-Japanese periods such as the Jomon, right through to the devastating fire-bombings of 1945.


Garden near ropeway station.

Garden near ropeway station.

From here it was a short walk to the ropeway (essentially a cable car) and to the beginning of the hiking path. There was a beautiful garden and lots of shade to enjoy on the way.

There are two routes up, one that turns 7 times, and the steep route, that turns 100 times (metaphorically)

There are two routes up, one that turns 7 times, and the steep route, that turns 100 times (metaphorically)

There are two paths available, more or less following the same routes as those used in the 16th century. One turns 7 times (think gradual, horses and other pack animals carrying stores), the other supposedly 100 times (think steep, warriors/porters, and umm… visiting high school students carrying cameras). The climb takes about 45 minutes at most, and the first climbers arrived at the top about the same time as those on the ropeway.

On the way to the starting point of the hike, we passed the location of Oda Nobunaga’s residence. There is very little remaining. According to a long letter written by the Portuguese Jesuit missionary Luís Fróis, who befriended Oda Nobunaga and stayed in the personal residence for some time while writing books, it was a beautiful and imposing 4 storied structure.

Entrance to the remains of Oda Nobunaga's residence.

Entrance to the remains of Oda Nobunaga’s residence.

There have been on-going archaeological excavations here since 1984, and the foundations of his residence, as well as those of preceding structures have been identified, but no trace of his actual residence has yet been confirmed. What has been found is foundations, a stone enclosed passageway, some battlements (of stone and earth construction) and a water supply. One of the reasons the residence was at the base of the mountain was water supply, as there were very few wells at the top of Mount Kinka – a key reason why the castle was surrendered and then abandoned in the early 17th century.

On the ropeway.

On the ropeway.

In total, Oda Nobunaga lived here for about 9 years, before constructing the ill-fated Azuchi castle near Lake Biwa in what is now Shiga Prefecture. We cover that during the Sengoku Jidai module of the History Course.

The mountain was formally known as Inabayama. It isn’t particularly high (only about 1000 feet), and while the original plan was to climb up, about half of the party took the ropeway. A much easier way up, and down come to think of it.

A classic mountaintop castle, Gifu Castle provides an amazing view of the city below. The flat alluvial plains to the south provide an enormous contrast to the alps visible to the north. On clear days you can see Nagoya station, the Sekigahara pass, Mount Ibuki, Inuyama castle, and much besides. It is a popular place to visible at sunset for the night views, and you can see the Ubune (cormorant fishing boats) down below.


After descending from the mountain, we enjoyed some ramen at an unusual place called “betakon ramen”. The name was intriguing until we worked out that betakon was an abbreviation of Viet Cong (the family running the place are Vietnamese). The building was old but the daughter spoke fluent Japanese, the food was great, the service quick, and the signage sometimes a really good laugh (in a nice way).


Ubune approaching the viewing boats.

Ubune approaching the viewing boats.

We then headed off to watch the cormorant fishing which took place after sunset. The fishermen use baskets of burning wood to attract the fish, which are then caught by the highly trained cormorants. This form of fishing was very popular during the Edo period, but these days it is mostly for tourism. The cormorants are very good at catching Ayu, a popular sweet trout, but the birds cannot swallow the fish, due to metal rings placed around their necks. It sounds cruel of course, but these birds are well fed, and live approximately twice the average lifespan of wild cormorants. They can however swallow small eels, after which they immediately lose interest in working. You can read more about Ukai – Cormorant Fishing here.

Day 29/35 – Thursday July 31st

We began with a visit to the extraordinary Museum of Musical Instruments in Hamamatsu. A city of engineering excellence (Honda Motor, Yamaha Motorcycles), it is also a city of superb craftsmanship. Kawai Piano, Roland, Yamaha and other excellent manufacturers of musical instruments are also based here.

The museum contains an amazing selection of musical instruments from around the world, with good descriptions and plenty of audio samples. There is everything from medieval stringed instruments from Europe, to wind instruments and samples from indigenous musical traditions. There is a room where you can play a wide range of instruments, and the staff often play the antique pianos, harpsichords and organs to explain how they gradually evolved as craftsmanship progressed. There is the inevitable gift shop, but it is quite quirky as well, and well worth a browse at least.


From here we headed to lunch. An eclectic menu in a faux German setting (only in Japan). Some of the students became fixated on the fresh pretzels. Didn’t see that one coming.

Next destination was the Nakatajima Sand Dunes and beach, a short (15 minutes) bus trip away. Hamamatsu is really close to the sea. It was only the handful of Japanese cities that in 1945 had to endure not only firebombing, but also shelling.

The sand dunes provide a vital nesting place for loggerhead sea turtles, who usually (if female) return after 20 years to bury their eggs. An endangered species, there are intensively active local groups trying to protect the eggs and the nests.

Today was a scorching hot one. In some places it almost looks like a desert. When we hit the sandy areas, some of the students asked if they could take their shoes off. “Yes. If you REALLY want to…”

About 30 seconds later we could hear the screams. Hot hot hot hot hot…… ouch.

Hats off to Howard for the question of the day. “Raise your right hand if you could see that coming?”

Once traversing the dunes, we could enjoy the ocean. Beautiful surf, beautiful beach, beautiful views.


Day 28/35 – Wednesday July 30th

Long day today (7am to 9pm) exploring Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. For more than a thousand years (794-1868), this wonderful city was the seat of the Imperial court, home to high culture, scandal, spectacular art and festivals, atrocious civil wars and constant intrigue. We chartered a bus to help the students see as much as possible, and today were joined by some Japanese students from the homestay families.

Leaving Okazaki, we headed west, through the Sekigahara pass, and after a brief stop at Taga in Shiga Prefecture, arrived in Kyoto. Our first destination was Rokuon-ji, better known by the moniker “Kinkaku-ji”. One of the most popular tourist destinations in the entire country, this was the first time in this program that the students had encountered large crowds (good practice for Tokyo). Getting from one place to another could be tricky at times, but we managed to see all the key parts of the temple.

The reflection in the pond of the gold leaf covered pavilion was beautiful, and we were able to see the karesansui garden and the “land ship” behind the Abbot’s quarters. Throughout the tour, we were constantly being joined by eavesdropping foreign tourists, which was a bit bemusing at times. We were able to get a good view of the layers of borrowed scenery and the inside of the famous Sekkatei tea house. The rustic “Nandin” post is amazing. Despite the crowds, we managed to stay on schedule and more or less on time.

Next on the schedule, nearby Ryoan-ji. With it’s superstar rock garden, moss gardens and pond, this was also fairly crowded, though not as much as the previous destination. Perhaps many of the tourists had already headed off to lunch (?). We were again frequently joined by other visitors, but it didn’t cause any problems. There is a model of the garden just inside the entrance, so that visually impaired visitors can understand the layout. It was also a good opportunity for our students to learn a little bit about tenji – Japanese braille. The garden itself consists of 15 rocks, carefully placed so that no matter where visitors or monks sit, only 14 are visible. It makes extensive use of borrowed scenery, and the oil stained retaining wall. Raked each morning, it is always different every day and every season.

From Ryoan-ji we headed to lunch, at a restaurant across the road from the beautiful Hirano Jinja. Lunch was great, with the students enjoying a wide ranging menu and, in particular, their desserts. They then had the opportunity to explore the shrine.

From Hirano we headed across town to the Mimizuka. This burial mound is a legacy of the two invasions of Korea made by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the late 16th century. Most Japanese people don’t know about it or it’s gruesome origins. The only other visitors were on a tour bus from an ethnic Korean school in Wakayama.

Next destination, the famous Kiyomizudera. Located on the hills on the east side, you can look down onto the city center. It is undergoing restoration, but there is still a lot to see and the forest is beautiful. Established in the late 8th century after a shogun hunting deer to provide blood to his pregnant wife, discovered a hermit living/meditating near the pure waters of the Otowa spring. Visitors believe that drinking the water brings good fortune. The buildings are constructed of wood, but no nails are used in the process.

One of the sites popular with the students was the Jishu Shrine, located next to the main hall. The deity enshrined here is supposed to help with love and relationships, and you always see visitors trying to walk from one love stone to the other. If you can do it with your eyes closed, you will find your love unassisted. If you need someone to tell you whether to move a little left or right, then you will require introductions and assistance.

Another popular site was the shrine of Okage-Myojin. The cedar trees behind the shrine are covered in nail marks (which possibly killed the trees). What happened was that when two women were hoping to marry, and found that they had a rival for the would be husband’s affections, they would then make a straw doll of their rival, sneak in during the middle of the night (a Ushinotoki-maiiri) and nail it into the back of the tree. When the rival came to ask the deity for support, their prayers would backfire and become a curse.

From Kiyomizudera we walked via Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka to Yasaka Jinja. These two, small, steep streets are sometimes narrower than lane ways. They are lined with small shops, cafes and ryokan. Good for souvenir hunting. After reaching the bottom of the hill, we cut across to Yasaka Jinja via tiny laneways, some (石堀小路) less than the width of outspread arms. After walking past the cafe where Charlie Chaplin, Prince Charles and other visitors would rest and recover, we entered Yasaka Jinja.

This shrine is located at the end of Shijo (4th street), and is the most important shrine during the Gion festival held each summer. Popularly known as “Gion San”, it is ancient. Visitors come to pray for protection from illness, recovery from illnesses suffered by relatives and friends, amongst other wishes.

After some free time for shopping in Gion, we headed back through Yasaka Jinja to our waiting bus, to head back home to Aichi.

Dinner was at Tsuchiyama in Shiga prefecture. We arrived tired but happy about 30 minutes ahead of schedule, and transferred the students back to their homestays.

Day 27/35 – Tuesday July 29th

kitsuke3kitsuke1Kitsuke (and Karaoke). Today the students learned how to wear a yukata (summer version of kimono) properly. The main challenge of course is learning how to tie the obi.

Yukata are made of light thin cotton, with intricate patterns available. They are a very common sight at festivals and other events during the hot humid summer. The Mikawa district n eastern Aichi has long been renowned for the quality of textiles produced, but you can buy good yukata at reasonable prices, or even second hand, and some of the students who had already purchased yukata during previous visits to Japan (but hadn’t/couldn’t bring them with them this time) were able to borrow.

ALC does not have washitsu (Japanese style rooms) on campus, so in the same way that rent a cooking studio, we rented some washitsu rooms at a local facility within walking distance. Added advantage, there is a Shinto shrine less than 80 meters (90-ish yards) away which was good for the outdoor photos.

kitsuke4kitsuke2Our Kitsuke teacher was Takahashi-sensei. As with the ceramics class earlier in the program, we always make use of the specialist knowledge that only professionals have.

And then the mystery tour component of today’s program. The students had been constantly asking “when are we going to Karaoke”. We had already booked a series of taxis, and with all participants still wearing their yukata, headed for lunch at a local restaurant. The reaction of the Japanese people (both other customers and staff) in the restaurant was wonderful and priceless.

So what do you do in a yukata after lunch? You head to the nearby karaoke hall. The students spent the afternoon singing, and the party was joined by some of the host families. Good times. Most also purchased some purikura as a souvenir.


Day 26/35 – Monday July 28th

asuke1Another hot day. We headed north to Asuke village and the beautiful Kourankei Gorge (香嵐渓). It is a popular place in Aichi, especially for the enjoying the red and orange colors of the leaves during the fall (autumn), but it is beautiful all year round, and during the summer, a great place for cooling off.

asuke2aFirst stop was a Shinto Shrine (in this case, Asuke Hachimangu) which apart from the interesting architecture was the first chance for the new arrivals to buy amulets, ask questions etc.

It is an interesting shrine in many respects, but we more or less had the place to ourselves. This made things easier to explain. A good place to show the constant overlap (in Japan) of Buddhism and Shinto on the same location.

From the Hachimangu we entered Kourankei Gorge.

asuke7This valley is gorgeous. Beautiful in any season, today it was providing shade and cool waters. Our first destination was Koujaku-ji (香積寺), a wonderful zen temple. We had the chance to meet the chief priest and conduct prayers for family and friends.

Lunch was in a thatched roof cottage nearby. Very few of the students have allergies, but one has “an aversion” to fish. Whether seafood or freshwater.

This will need to be fixed. Cunning plans are being devised.

After exploring Korankei, it was time to cool off a bit with a swim, and some talking with locals. Entry to this valley is free, so it is popular with the young, and for those with way too much time on their hands.

Due to less rainfall this summer than usual, the river level was low today, and jumping off the suspension bridge was actively discouraged (come to think of it, it always is).

As an inevitable result the only people jumping were various company presidents and senior management types. Look out for those rocks!


Day 25/35 – Sunday July 27th

Rest, recovery, and in some cases travel (to Takayama in Gifu Prefecture) with Host Families.

Day 24/35 – Saturday July 26th

Rest and recovery with Host Family.

Day 23/35 – Friday July 25th

Inside "Bic Camera"

Inside “Bic Camera”

First day of the study tour component of this new program. It was a VERY hot day, and the new arrivals were of course still jet lagged and not yet acclimatized. Our main problem today was heat & humidity, our main asset, very extensive experience.

We took the train to Nagoya (the nearest mega-city, 30 minutes away), and then headed to the nearest large air-conditioned facility – the huge electronics store (“Bic Camera”) near JR Nagoya, which is one of the 10 busiest train stations in the world. (Our return later was during rush hour, so by the time we reach Tokyo’s Shinjuku station on August 4th, they will be ready for the world’s busiest station). They are used to the trains and ticketing now, next step is Suica cards (more about that later).

Nagoya subway.

Nagoya subway.

Our next destination on the schedule was via subway. We missed the train by a few seconds, (hence the rare chance to take a photo of an empty platform) to Osu Kannon and the Osu arcades. On arrival in Osu, we took a break at the nearest convenience store for drinks and so forth, but on our way from the station area we quickly noticed that the students were physically discomforted and suffering from the heat. Combined with tiredness that means a potential health risk. So for safety and duty of care reasons, immediately changed plans and within 10 minutes moved to the cafe/restaurant at the nearby Nagoya Science Museum for a cool down and some further re-hydration.

Hawaiian style "Loco Moco" (?)

Hawaiian style “Loco Moco” (?)

We were probably being overly cautious, as everyone was OK, but it just wasn’t worth risking any issues of heat stroke. As a result lunch wasn’t quite as good as originally planned, but water and air-conditioning was essential. We will eat better next week.

From Nagoya’s Fushimi, we headed to the Sumo Basho. Day 13 of the 15 day tournament, it was fantastic. We were helped out by Mr Roger Huff, a former US Navy pilot with a keen eye for Sumo, who kindly volunteered to help with the tickets and explanations of some of the finer details of the Nagoya Basho and Sumo in general. A big thank you to Roger. He ran everything as smoothly as a Navy flight plan.

Arriving wrestlers

Arriving wrestlers

We watched a few of the wrestlers arrive (via taxi), but as it was so hot outside, retreated indoors. Ahhhh…. the wonderful engineering that is air-conditioning. Found some pretty good seats. Good for watching the wrestling bouts, and good for people watching.

The Nagoya Basho, a Honbasho, traditionally takes place in summer. Three of the six Honbasho held each year are in Tokyo, and summer is Aichi’s opportunity to enjoy some Sumo magic. The official “Summer Basho” is held in Tokyo in May, for reasons probably best left unexplained. The other two Honbasho are held in Osaka and Fukuoka.

The Sumo Basho takes place in the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium which is inside the historic precinct that is Nagoya Castle, a massive fortification built in the early 17th century, and destroyed during the fire bombings of 1945. The bridge between the station and the gymnasium crosses the castle moat. The seating in the gymnasium is modified specifically for the tournament via some pretty skillfully assembled scaffolding, and is interesting in itself. Unless you look really carefully, it would be easy to think that everything was permanent. Brilliantly done. By the final bouts of the day, it was a full house.

It was also great to finally meet the great Musashimaru, as he was in front of us when we were buying ice cream. If only we had a camera. Take a guess as to what he was buying!

20140725_8Towards the end as the higher ranked wrestlers appeared, we were surrounded by wonderfully noisy and knowledgeable fans, a great atmosphere, and when the top Yokozuna was defeated (only his second loss in this tournament), the crowd threw their cushions into the air as part of the traditional celebration. It was a great day.

The students who participated in the Study Component of the program have been given homework for the weekend. Unit 11 of the Kanji workbook.


Test/review on Monday of course.

All students will spend the weekend with their host families.


Day 22/35 – Thursday July 24th

Last day of classroom based learning.

Last day of classroom based learning.

Today was the last day of intensive classes in the study component of the program. The beginner level class has reached chapter 15 of “Minna no Nihongo Book 1”, not bad progress at all for 3 weeks.



They should be able to reach chapter 19 by the end of the study tour component of the program (August 6th), but from chapter 20 onwards, will need some professional assistance. Over to you, hard working teachers of Japanese abroad.

Lunch was a long lazy all-you-can-eat yakiniku. It was tabehoudai, with a lot of beef, never enough onions and garlic, some surprisingly decent sushi, and possibly way too much ice cream. We were joined at lunch by Yumiko-sensei. The students are really quickly improving their conversational proficiency.

Still awake. In the airport limousine bus.

Still awake. In the airport limousine bus.

After the ice cream etc, we hit the kanji. Today was unit 10:


Then it was time to head off to the airport. All members of the intensive study component of the program are continuing on, but joined by 9 new participants arriving for the study tour component. The flights arrived on time, and all arrived well, albeit tired. No lost luggage. No problems at all.

Welcome to Okazaki!

Welcome to Okazaki!

Not a single chance for Declan to order Atlantic Lobster, Tomato & Potherb Bisque (オマール海老のビスク). He doesn’t need it, but is still noisily complaining about it. Should just shut his face.

After arrival in Okazaki, everyone was personally introduced to their host families (there was a lot of hugging when the “repeat” customers met their host families from last year – it can be difficult, but we try to keep the connections), and all are safely home for the night. Photos later. Time for some sleep.

A noisy Canadian has landed.

A noisy Canadian has landed.

Tomorrow is a slowish “Shopping & Sumo” day, with a special guest (a secret for now). By Monday the new arrivals should be over their jet lag and somewhat acclimatized, and then we will step up the pace.

One last thing for tonight, wherever you are, an enormous THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU!!! to every single person who has helped make this program possible. It is a rare chance to create something new, unique, and focused. It could never have been done without your valued help and support.

Day 21/35 – Wednesday July 23rd

Morning classes, good progress, followed by lunch at a local okonomiyaki restaurant. The characters お好み焼 are really simple, and the students can read them, and break down the characters. The kanji okonomi 好 includes the radicals for woman and child, and it means “to like”. Surprised? The kanji 焼 includes the radical 火 (fire) on the left , and literally means to fry/cook. So “okonomiyaki” basically means you just use the teppan or grill on your table to cook whatever you like. Not very complicated cuisine. The students did it really well. They should know the word 鉄板焼き (てっぱんやき) very soon. 🙂

For extra practice (and because Declan wasn’t feeling well, bad case of 夏バテ) lunch and the kanji clinic was conducted by Emi-sensei. 有難御座います!


Day 20/35 – Tuesday July 22nd



Back from the long weekend, and into intensive classes. Listening comprehension is really accelerating now, which is one of the many reasons why for this program the students are in homestays. Vocabulary building is continuing well, and increasing the speaking skills. The ability to answer questions and hold an evolving conversation entirely in Japanese. Not bad at all for 3 weeks.

Lunch was again in a different location (near the main rail station). Good healthy food, and devoured. The sashimi was an unexpected bonus.

In the kanji clinic, another unit was covered. The students are increasing able to recognize the radicals and deconstruct the characters.

Day 19/35 – Monday July 21st

Today is a public holiday (“Ocean Day” – 海の日 / うみ の ひ). Students are resting and hopefully(!?) doing some homework while spending the day with their host families.

Day 18/35 – Sunday July 20th



Rest day. Heavy rain was expected today, but it turned out to be absolutely perfect weather. The optional tour was to Sakushima in Mikawa Bay, and to Gamagori went well. Sakushima island is a gem, with awesome seafood. Fresh clams, local eel, excellent shrimp and produce. The population of the island is only 262 people (according to wikipedia 2014). There are possibly more tourists than residents on weekends.

Installation on Sakushima.

Installation on Sakushima.

We walked to an ancient kofun (burial mound), enjoyed some interesting art installations, and after managing to get ourselves slightly lost, or more precisely “temporarily geographically embarrassed” according to Declan, enjoyed a walk along the seashore and beach until we weren’t lost anymore.

From Sakushima we then headed to the bay side city of Gamagori to see the Fireworks. The 90 minute display was amazing. The reflections in the calm waters of the bay were as beautiful as the intricate patterns above.

It was Gamagori’s 60th Fireworks festival, and it appears that the budget was higher than usual. The heart shaped fireworks were great, brilliant designs and incredible engineering. The fireworks industry in Aichi is based on a large number of small businesses, but it designs and produces more than 80% of Japan’s fireworks. These are the most complex and intricate fireworks in the world. Looking forward now to this year’s Okazaki Fireworks, which are many many times larger in scale.

Day 17/35 – Saturday July 19th

Rest and More Homework! with Host Family.

We had some serious thunder, lightning and rain this morning, but it seems to be clearing up. Optional trip available tomorrow to Sakushima (an island in nearby Mikawa Bay) and to the Gamagori Fireworks Festival.

Day 16/35 – Friday July 18th

Today is the end of a long (and for two days, extremely hot) week. On a Friday we always do a field trip, and the original plan was to hike up Kuragari Keikoku. The views from the top are extensive, and on clear days you can see as far as Hamamatsu and Mount Fuji. However, as part of our duty of care, in addition to a request from our students, the heat issue made us change the itinerary. Duty of care, looking after our student’s health and welfare, is absolutely always going to be our first priority.

So instead of hiking up a steep mountain in high heat & humidity, we took an air-conditioned train to Nagoya. A mega-city, but a manageable one. Nagoya Station is currently one of the 10 busiest train stations in the world (by passenger numbers), but everything works like umm, clockwork. Our plan was the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and technology, and then the extremely awesome Nagoya City Science Museum.

First destination, the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology. It is a fascinating place. The first part is textiles (the real source of Toyota’s capital), and the second part is automobiles. If you ever want to see the 200 years of the Industrial revolution truncated to a 2 hour tour, this is the place you really need to be.


Taylor (Canada)

Taylor (Canada)

We had lunch at “Brick Age”, which is named because bricks were uncommon until the Meiji/Taisho era during which the Toyoda family built their business. It was a good meal, though it was also a very weird meal in certain aspects. Tomato in a dessert?


It worked, but…


From the 1924 Toyoda Automatic Loom, Type G (it was so revolutionary that it basically reinvented the industrial revolution, as well as underwriting what later has become known as “Toyota”), to the latest Plug-in Hybrids, this place has it all.

The students loved it.

After the museum, the plan went temporarily haywire. We were heading to the Nagoya City Science Museum. Arriving at the museum, we discovered that not content with taking every Monday off, the museum is also closed for some reason on the 3rd Friday of every month.

Plan B. Call a local. They will know what to see. Local suggests Nagoya’s “Denki Bunka Kaikan“. After a bit of a walk around looking for the place, we discovered that it was also closed, due to it being the 3rd Friday of the month…

Lazy b@+t@*ds!

Plan C. Call another local, but he couldn’t pick up. So a quick google, call Nagoya Castle and confirm whether they were open or not. They were, so we got to enjoy some hiking anyway. We rested and re-hydrated when we reached the castle.

Nagoya Castle is huge. It is a reconstruction, as the castle became a military base during the Meiji Period, and the stone walls and wooden buildings stood no chance during the firebombings of 1945. The exhibits though are informative – and properly translated…


…well for most of the time at least.

It is a visitor friendly place (the coin lockers are free. You need a 100 yen coin but t is returned to you when you unlock the locker), and the views from the top of the Tenshuku very extensive. You can see the Suzuka and Yoro mountains, and Gifu castle in the distance. The whole area where Nagoya is located is very flat, a floodplain for the rivers, and two bays supporting industry and massive ports (more than 50% of Japan’s seaborne trade).


Day 15/35 – Thursday July 17th

Morning classes with Yumiko-sensei. Learning how to order food in restaurants, how are to ask questions, plus a lot of conversation practice. Listening skills are improving rapidly.

Lunch was in a new place a short stroll from the school. The Sashimi was fantastic, and the Tempura likewise. We had a long discussion about aspects of Japanese culture, to the point where the Kanji became homework.


Day 14/35 – Wednesday July 16th

Brilliant thinking.

Brilliant thinking.

The program has been running for 2 weeks now, and the days are flying by. The students have been making good progress. Grammar acquisition and conversational skills are improving rapidly, and at an accelerating rate, Kanji is very quickly from “something review” to “something new”.

One of the students was more than a little bit disappointed to learn that the characters for Kimono (着物) essentially just means “something you wear”, in the same way that Tabemono (食物) just means “something you eat”.

Kanji is really simple most of the time. Why need to over complicate?

The secret is always (almost always!) the “radicals”. The radicals give hints not only to meaning of a character but also to the possible/probable pronunciation. Japanese is a much easier language to learn to read than most people realize.

Give Kanji a lash perhaps? Yes?

tiger2_lunchToday was also the first really hot day of the summer. Just over 35 degrees celsius (about 95 degrees in American/foreign talk – please, get with the metric system already), and very, very humid.

We had been spoiled a bit until now as it had been a milder summer than usual. Summer has definitely arrived now. Unfortunately, instead of walking to a restaurant a few hundred meters away, we decided to bicycle (it was only 8 to 10 minutes maybe, but it felt like 30 something) to a Tonkatsu place just up the way. One of the students decided that the bicycle seat was too hot, so he took a shoe off and sat on it as he rode his bicycle. Brilliant thinking. Well done.

Hats off to logic. Tomorrow we will walk to somewhere closer.

Lunch of course, and as always, was fantastic. Tonkatsu implies fried pork etc, but it was a pretty healthy meal. We take the students to a different place everyday (for the full 35 days of this program, they will never have lunch in the same place twice). One of the best things about Japanese culture is the food. いただきます!

Day 13/35 – Tuesday July 15th

The perfect dessert. Green tea ice-cream.

The perfect dessert. Green tea ice-cream.

The perfect lunch.

The perfect lunch. 刺身セット

Hot and humid weather in Okazaki now, as the rainy season has finally given way to summer. Our classrooms are air-conditioned and comfortable, and the dress code is casual.

The students are doing well, commuting by bicycle or train, and making good progress on grammar, listening comprehension, vocabulary and reading skills. Bright and intelligent. Speaking skills are coming along gradually, but as a student lamented today, the days are flying by all too fast.

Our lunch today was at another restaurant nearby called Chikubu (竹生). It is a really nice place, traditional style, and our first visit since the spring. We enjoyed some really good sashimi, and then our Kanji review was interrupted by the unexpected arrival of dessert.

(We put the Kanji review aside of course, ice cream has precedence).

Day 12/35 – Monday July 14th

Unagi (鰻)from Heaven

Unagi (鰻)from Heaven

Intensive classes continued this morning, and the students are powering their way through “Minna no Nihongo I”. They reached chapter 12 today, though some revision will be needed. There is enough time. Listening skills and pronunciation are improving rapidly.

Today’s lunch was unagi (eel). This is a common lunch in central Japan during mid-summer as eel is believed (in folklore) to give strength against the summer’s heat and humidity.

Recently it has become increasingly expensive, but we thought it was important enough to try. The students are eating everything, so no dramas. After lunch, it was Kanji study time. The students are doing really well with the “KUN” readings, but the “ON” readings will need review.

In the evening there was an optional trip to Nagoya Dome to watch the local team “Chuunichi Dragons” take on the visiting team from Osaka, the “Hanshin Tigers”. The home team won, but the visiting Hanshin fans are amazing.


Day 11/35 – Sunday July 13th

Rest and Homework! with Host Family.

Day 10/35 – Saturday July 12th

Rest and Homework! with Host Family.

Day 9/35 – Friday July 11th

Today’s field trip was to Gamagori, a city on the shore of nearby Mikawa Bay.

Approach to Yaotomi Shrine.

Approach to Yaotomi Shrine.

We began with some kanji review on the train, and then when we arrived in Gamagori headed to an island called Takeshima. It was low tide, you could have walked across to the island if that was your preference. We didn’t as we have to observe things called insurance and duty of care. With a perfect cool sea breeze though, it was a nice walk across the bridge.

Beach time.

Beach time.

Gamagori is fairly close to Okazaki. The typhoon appeared to have scared off most of the tourists, so it wasn’t crowded, and later in the afternoon we had the beach entirely to ourselves. The shrine is called Yaotomi. The legend is that you should never go there with your spouse/significant other as the deity (a female deity in case you are wondering) becomes jealous and causes the relationship to fail.

There were very few people there today, either because it was a weekday or because of the typhoon. Maybe both. The only people ahead of us were a couple. Presumably from out of town and unfamiliar with the legend. Let’s wish them luck.

Takeshima at low tide. The water in Mikawa Bay is quite clean, you can collect & eat shellfish.

Takeshima at low tide. The water in Mikawa Bay is quite clean, you can collect & eat shellfish.

The shrine itself is interesting as are the views. The ports of Mikawa Bay, together with those of neighboring Ise Bay, handle just over 50% of Japan’s seaborne merchandise trade. Motor vehicles are the largest export (by value), and they are also one of the largest manufactured imports. Almost every Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Mercedes, Porsche etc that you see in Japan arrived via Aichi. As today was immediately after a typhoon, the skies were fairly clear. We had good views of the Atsumi Peninsula and windfarms to our south.

Part of Laguna Marina.

Part of Laguna Marina.

The original plan was to take a boat out to Oshima, an island with a nice little beach, but due to the business decisions made yesterday with the typhoon in mind, this wasn’t possible. Instead we headed by bus to nearby Laguna, a bayside resort with good restaurants, a large marina, and a lovely beach. Nice sandy bottom with no pebbles or large waves. It was fun watching fish jumping while hawks soared overhead. We saw some flying fish as well. They are really fascinating.

The beach and the water temperature was perfect. Some extra color was added to the day by some visitors (from Yale University and the Tokyo Institute of Training). Unfortunately the rest of the extra color was added by sunburn.

The students will spend the weekend with their host families (we don’t allow SPHSS students to participate in the weekend field trips except in special circumstances). In particular, spending the weekend with the host family always helps with listening comprehension skills. Classes will resume on Monday morning. The students already have homework of course, though next week we will start piling on a lot more homework. Why not?


Day 9/35 – Friday July 11th – 09:00

Goodbye typhoon. It passed through in the early hours, and we now have a perfect blue sky!

Day 8/35 – Thursday July 10th – 13:45

For safety reasons, we have postponed the Kanji clinic until Monday. The students have returned to their homestays. The typhoon is expected to pass through tonight. We have 3 backup destinations (including “2 wet weather” destinations) for tomorrow if the typhoon doesn’t co-operate with our schedule.

We did however, have a good lunch, and the students had the chance to have little bit of conversation with the sushi chef/owner. Amberjack, salmon, squid, bluefin tuna, absolutely superb sea urchin, sweet prawn, roe… The students loved it. It just kept getting better. The secret to incredibly good sushi is not just the freshness of the wonderful seafood, but also the perfection of the rice. Really good quality vinegar combined with good salt, and the selection of this year’s highest grade variety of rice grains. Hats off to the sushi chef.

Q: “What was the best part of lunch?”
A: “Everything!”


Day 8/35 – Thursday July 10th – 11:50

All students and faculty arrived safely this morning. Classes are now complete with good progress being made. It is raining, but the rain is not as heavy as expected. We will decide during lunch as to whether to do the Kanji clinic or to postpone. At this stage though it looks like the full effect of the typhoon will probably not arrive until tonight.

Day 8/35 – Thursday July 10th – 09:00

It is a bit wet, and a bit breezy, but classes are going to proceed today as scheduled. We will be monitoring the progress of the typhoon on an hourly basis, and will make sure that if we need to cancel during the day, that all students make it home safely.


Day 7/35 – Wednesday July 9th

Tiger v's Tempura

Tiger v’s Tempura

The students are making good progress with grammar acquisition and listening comprehension. Knowledge gaps are gradually being closed. One of the challenges of this program is that the curricula of Japanese language programs taught at high school level abroad varies widely from country to country and from school to school. Our teachers average 10+ years of experience, including teaching at university level. As always, all classes are taught in Japanese only, but the feedback from the students today over lunch was that the explanations made by the faculty are so good that there is no anxiety anymore about being in a full immersion environment. Their listening comprehension skills are about to make a large leap. They are pretty much adjusted to the climate and timezone now, so naturally we are gradually increasing the amount of homework provided.

The plan for lunch today was unagi (eel), but the restaurant is undergoing some minor renovations, so we’ll postpone unagi until another day. Instead we headed off to a fantastic nearby sushi-ya…. only to find that they are closed on Wednesday.




Never mind, we can go there tomorrow. Another 200 meters and it was tempura time. We enjoyed マグロ天ぷら (tuna tempura). Was a pretty good feed. After lunch, it was kanji time again. The students are now gradually moving from sight recognition to vocabulary building. They are pretty good at remembering the meanings of the kanji being taught, and the KUN readings, but not so much the ON readings. We will keep making make daily adjustments.

Our main concern for tomorrow is not homework, but a large typhoon. The typhoon is currently about 1000 kilometers (approximately 620 miles) to our southwest. It is a large typhoon, but will weaken quickly, especially when it makes landfall in Kyushu (the southernmost of the major islands of Japan). We are expecting it to pass by us to our south, so tomorrow will probably be a rainy day. There is however the possibility of the typhoon coming closer than we would like, raising the issue of strong crosswinds. In Japan there are announcements made on NHK (the publicly owned national broadcaster) if schools are to be closed due to wind, heavy rains/floods etc. As the safety and welfare of our students is our first priority, we will close for the day if a warning is announced. All homestay families have already been informed. On the brighter side of life, the day after a typhoon passes by, usually brings blue skies and a nice breeze. Should be a perfect weekend.

Day 6/35 – Tuesday July 8th



minnanonihongoClasses continued today, with the students making good progress. The main text being used is Minna no Nihongo I. By the end of the three weeks, each student will be above the equivalent of Level 5 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.

As with the lessons, the book is Japanese language only, however it is accompanied by a separate book with English explanations of the grammar and translations of the sample sentences etc. It is a pretty good, well resourced textbook. The study materials for the Kanji clinic are from the same series.

Lunch was (by student request) a visit to the local CoCo Ichiban. Pretty good and healthy food, followed by Kanji revision. Sight recognition of the characters is coming along nicely.

We ended the day with a visit to Minami Park. The public swimming pool is now open. Only 60 yen for entry, and until the school holidays begin, almost totally empty. The weather turned hot and muggy today, but heavy rain is expected in the next few days dues to a typhoon to our south.

Day 5/35 – Monday July 7th

Intensive classroom based instruction began today. At this stage it is mostly review, with the teachers searching for and identifying knowledge gaps. Homework was issued of course, as nothing about this program is “Mickey Mouse”. Then it was Nihongo Cafe time ‘not an actual cafe). This is an informal class held during a long lunch and for this program it is also the designated “Kanji Clinic”.

From early next week, or more likely later this week, it will be the program participants ordering the food, etc. It is a good chance to test skills, and interact with native speakers of Japanese who aren’t instructors. As with lightning, we’ll go to a different restaurant or location each and every day. Every time the students place an order, it will be with someone they have never met before. Before the end of the program, they will have the chance to place a reservation or food order by telephone.

By Wednesday (July 9th), the students will have learned the following characters, and by the end of the 3 weeks of the study component of the program, just over 220 characters. This will include the ON/KUN readings, providing a fairly useful vocabulary platform to work from during future studies.


Lunch was great (肉そば yay!). But sorry, we were too hungry to take photos.

Day 4/35 – Sunday July 6th

Rest and recovery with Host Family.

Day 3/35 – Saturday July 5th

Rest and recovery with Host Family.

Day 2/35 – Friday July 4th

The program began today, with interviews and level checks, followed by a day trip. We commenced with a visit to Tokoname, starting with the Takita residence. From the Edo Period (1600-1868) through to the Taisho Period (1912-1926), the Takita family managed a business based on a small fleet of wooden ships and interlinked warehouses. They traded mostly between the towns and cities lining the coasts of Ise and Mikawa Bays, but also as far east as Edo. Now a museum, the residence gives a classic insight into the day to day life of a prosperous merchant family.


Next we made ceramics with Kondo-sensei, a Master of Traditional Crafts (he isn’t old enough to be listed as a “Designated Intangible Asset” etc). He is very patient, always teaches using Japanese only, and is very adept at fixing problems when over-enthusiasm turns a nicely developing cup into an unintended Objet d’art.

Those power wheels can be tricky at times.

The firing of the kiln will be in mid-August, so the completed items will be shipped in late August or early September. There is nothing more authentically Japanese than a nice piece of pottery. Especially when everything you did wrong has been fixed by a Master of Traditional Crafts!


While we were there, we picked up the ceramics made during our Field Trip to Tokoname back in May. Pretty good results from the kiln.


Lunch of course, was awesome. All dishes made from local produce. The students loved it. They are going to eat very well throughout the program.


In the afternoon we headed to nearby Ono-machi, an old town on the coast with narrow winding streets. During the Kamakura Period (1185–1333) it became an important shipping center in the trade between Ise and Mikawa, and was regarded as strategically important by Oda Nobunaga. We visited Kaion-ji, a Rinzai sect Zen temple, associated with Myoushin-ji in Kyoto, and the mortuary tablet of San-shichi Nobutaka (one of Oda Nobunaga’s sons). We ended the day at nearby Rurigahama, which claims to be the world’s oldest sea bathing beach. It being a weekday, we had the place to ourselves. The nice cool sea breeze was an added bonus.


Day 1/35 – Thursday July 3rd

We have one student who had his flight cancelled and has arrived later than scheduled. It gave Declan the chance (excuse??) to head to Nagoya Airport to indulge in his favorite soup – Atlantic Lobster, Tomato & Potherb Bisque (オマール海老のビスク), which he definitely shouldn’t be eating.

It is a long way from Chicago to Nagoya, and Tiger is tired, but happy. We still don’t know how he stayed awake until transferring to his homestay in Okazaki City, but he was smiling and chatty most of the way. Tomorrow, the program gets going.


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