Japan 2015 Expedition

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Japan 2015 Expedition

Two years ago when I was originally selected for the 2015 Japan Expedition, I knew very little of what I would be getting up to besides a rough itinerary. I knew the people I would be travelling with even less. Now that we have returned from the expedition I can easily say that it was the best experience of my life.

We spent thirteen days in Japan including five staying in a Tokyo hotel. Before this, we spent the majority of our trip travelling across the island from Osaka to the capital city. However, the very first day was spent visiting the Jamboree as day-visitors. Getting the opportunity to meet so many people from different countries as well as sampling the vibrant and happy atmosphere of the Jamboree itself was an excellent starting point for the expedition: setting the tone for the days to come. 

Next we travelled to Hikari City to reunite with the Mayor and some of the students who had visited us in Orpington a year earlier. We were welcomed warmly and ate Japanese interpretations of traditional British dishes such as fish and chips and beef stew. After a brilliant welcoming ceremony which included a drums display, we met our respective host families with whom we would be staying until the next morning. When we came back together on the mini-bus ready to visit some Hikari schools, we all had different stories to tell such as visits to the karaoke bars, spas, shrines and night time walks on a beach lit up with thousands of colours.

The schools and students greeted us equally warmly. On reflection, many of my group commented that they felt like celebrities as, on arrival, we were met by cheering and clapping people on both sides of us. The tours were also very busy as we rushed to several different locations engaging in various activities such as a museum visit, using bamboo stilts, and watermelon smashing until finally, at the lodge where we were staying overnight, we were all treated to our own kimonos and experienced a summer festival set up by the students.

Next we visited Miyajima Island which is an island covered in shrines and is only accessible by ferry. Its famous Otoru gate stands proudly in surrounding ocean greeting the visitors on the ferry as they sail past. Here we spent several hours exploring the shrines and buying gifts for our families and friends as well as making several new friends; the local deer were surprisingly friendly. 

After this we had the most incredible privilege of visiting Hiroshima Memorial Park on the day of the seventieth anniversary and just in time to witness the passing of the flame that had travelled around Japan. The visit also included some time in the memorial museum which had artefacts from victims alongside their stories. This was the most solemn part of the trip, but I feel that I am truly lucky to have had such an important experience on such an important date.

Just before we left for Tokyo we embarked on our climb of Mount Fuji. This too was a very important experience; however it was much more physically demanding. We were given packs of snacks to keep our energy levels up as we climbed. Most of the way up involved actual climbing of rocks or steep stairs embedded on the mountainside. 

We reached the seventh station of nine after about five hours of climbing and rested for a few hours before waking at two in the morning to reach the summit for sunrise. Being above the clouds and watching the sun rise above them made me truly speechless. ‘Beautiful’ cannot justify how awesome the scenery was. The descent was easier; however it still took many hours.

Finally we arrived for our five days in Tokyo. Navigating the Metro took up a lot of time across the five days however each destination was worth the journey. This part of the trip was much more relaxed than the former and our activities made us appreciate what an expansive, diverse and pretty city Tokyo is. We met Asimo, the Honda robot, went to the oldest and largest Buddhist Temple in Tokyo, attended an Anime convention, petted some cats in a Cat Café, saw Pandas in Tokyo Zoo, and all dressed up for a nice dinner and some relaxing free time on Tokyo beach. Despite thinking we would not have time, we even managed to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

Having returned home, I was shocked to feel how much colder Britain is than Japan, where a fan is a constant necessity. After two weeks of a Japanese diet, knives and forks were almost alien to me as were my normal foods. However, we have all taken a lot more than nostalgia for the heat and an appreciation for Japanese cuisine home with us; we all have wonderful memories and have had life-changing experiences that are already helping to shape the brilliant people we will grow up to be, thanks to this opportunity of a lifetime.

Written by Catie Owen, Expedition Participant

This page was last updated on 31 January 2016 by David Goodwin