Tour of Japan | Cary Academy Goes to Japan 2019 – FAQ Part 1

Jun 17 | Evan | No Comments |

Sometimes when you’ve visited a place a few times, it can be easy to forget all the little things that you noticed when you first visited. Traveling with someone who has never visited a place helps you to remember what you first noticed and to notice new things as well! Teenagers are especially fun to travel with because they’re not afraid to ask questions. The next couple of blog posts will focus on the “frequently asked questions” that this year’s group asked. Perhaps you’ll have some of the same questions when we visit Japan!

“What is this for?” 

For example, what is this plate for? A traditional Japanese place-setting includes many small plates and bowls, each for a separate dish or topping. Settings usually have a unifying theme or motif, but are often different shapes and patterns. Simple pottery pieces or lacquered wood with subdued colors are common. Our host and cooking teacher in Tokyo, Kyoko, showed us which plate to use for her delicious gyoza, katsu chicken, radish and carrot salad, etc. The gyoza was our students’ favorite. Kyoko uses a technique to both steam and fry the gyoza using the same pan. In Kyoto, our guides told us about the various plates used to serve our udon, tonkatsu, and other dishes. A few restaurants we visited even had a guide about what each container on the table contained. Ramen is one exception to the multiple-plates rule. It typically comes out in a huge bowl. Eating soup with chopsticks was a new experience for students, but luckily we had Frank from the blog 5 AM Ramen to tell us the ins-and-outs of eating ramen!

There were many versions of this question when we visited shrines and temples as well. Students were especially curious about the troughs of water with bamboo ladles near the entrance of most shrines and temples; these are used for ritual ablutions before prayers and offerings. Students learned to perform ablutions like the Japanese do, as well as how these rituals influenced the general cleanliness of Japan’s cities. Since cleanliness is seen as “holy” and ritualized cleanliness was a part of what was once daily religious practice, even secular parts of Japanese society value cleanliness and prioritize cleaning in public spaces. Subway stations, platforms, and trains are conspicuously clean, even in the busiest areas of Tokyo!

“How do we do this?”

Our students are excited to participate in many different activities (what we call “experiences”) while we’re in Japan. Many require a bit of coaching, and we’d often hear the question, “how do I do this?” Our guide in Nagoya, Machiko, showed students how to pull a fortune at a temple or shrine and what to do with a less-than-lucky fortune. She also showed them how to make an offering at the shrine by clapping, bowing, and, of course, depositing a coin and ringing the bell! During our day with Machiko, students also rode antique bicycles and learned how to walk on stilts at Meiji Mura, a unique park filled with Meiji Era (1868-1912) buildings that have been moved from all over Japan. 

We visited a few different arcades during our trip, and students really enjoyed the classic drum game “Taiko Master”. Once Evan showed them the basics, they were off. This prepped them for our lesson with real taiko drums in Kyoto. The Taiko Center is housed in a fairly non-descript building in Kyoto, but it’s really interesting inside! There are several sound-proofed rooms within the narrow building, making the best use of the space to create rooms that feel large and open. It’s hard to believe how quickly students picked up the basics of taiko drumming; maybe all the “Taiko Master” practice helped! 

It was interesting to see how video games and physical activity often go hand-in-hand in Japan. There’s the drum game I already mentioned, dance games, musical games that require you to stand and tap different lights, and tons of VR games! On this trip, “Ninja VR Kyoto” taught us how to “be a ninja.” It was silly and so much fun! We tried a few different activities, including two virtual reality “tests” using a VR headset and dart competitions to test our aim and focus. 

This summer, Japan Photo Guide by Evan Pike was once again able to offer a spectacular trip to Japan just for Cary Academy students. Katie Taylor, 6th grade Language Arts teacher and Japan enthusiast, co-led the group with Evan. We began our trip in Tokyo, then traveled to Nagoya, Hiroshima, and Kyoto before returning home from Osaka. This post is written by Katie Taylor, a 6th grade teacher at Cary Academy and Japan enthusiast. Read about our 2016 trip to Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Kyoto or see all reports from the 2018 tour of Japan or 2019 tour of Japan.

2019 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour | Tokyo Portrait Session

Jun 14 | Evan | No Comments |

During my cherry blossom tours of Japan, we almost always have a portrait session in Kyoto with a real maiko or geiko but during the 2019 cherry blossom photography tour we also had a portrait session in Tokyo with a model living in Tokyo. Last summer in Tokyo I photographed the same model so it was good to work together with her again and everyone created some nice portraits in Tokyo.

Tokyo Cherry Blossoms
Tokyo Cherry Blossoms

The two photos above are courtesy of and created by one of our group’s photographers, Daniel Leffel. Take a look at Daniel’s website for more excellent photography not only of Japan but all over the word.

During our portrait session in Tokyo we started with some street photography in the Harajuku area and then moved to Yoyogi Park for cherry blossoms in the background.

The 2019 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour took a small group of photographers to Japan. We started in Tokyo and continued to Hiroshima, Miyajima, Himeji Castle, Kyoto and Mt. Fuji from Shizuoka and from Fuji Five Lakes. Here is the trip report from the 2019 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour of Japan and the 2018 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour of Japan. The 2020 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour of Japan is already planned and live! Limited spots are available for the 2020 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour of Japan, with first booking already reserved!

See the gallery below for more portraits of our model portrait session in Tokyo during cherry blossom season.