Tour of Japan | Cary Academy Goes to Japan 2019 – FAQ Part 2

Jul 31 | 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!

“Why do they do that?”

For example, why do they stay so quiet on the train? Since most Japanese cities are very densely populated, travelers are often surprised at how quiet it is. The trains/subways are particularly quiet, especially when one is accustomed to travel on trains in the United States. Our students this year actually downloaded a decibel meter on one of their phones to help them judge their volume compared to those around us. We talked with students about cultural differences and how in the United States we typically have a “individual first” mentality whereas group comfort is typically more important in Japan. You may have heard that the new Japanese era is “reiwa” – the character that is pronounced “wa” means harmony, but not musical harmony. It specifically relates to harmony within the social group. 

Another common question is why the Japanese remove their shoes when indoors. Most people know that the Japanese generally don’t wear shoes inside their homes, but we make sure that students are prepared to remove their shoes in some restaurants, temples/shrines, and even in the fitting rooms in clothing stores. We also have to be careful not to step with our clean socks on the dirty outside floor or step on the clean inside floor with our dirty shoes while taking them off. I’ve been to Japan five times, and I still don’t get it right all of the time! This is also related to “wa”, the concept of harmony within the social group. In this case, it’s a matter of taking special care to keep shared areas clean. Our tea ceremony gave us a great opportunity to learn about and practice “wa.” We also learned about “kei”- respect; “sei”- purity; and “jaku” -tranquility. Our host taught us how we can consider these four concepts as we participate in a tea ceremony. It was amazing how calm and focused we were during the calligraphy lesson after the ceremony!

“What is this?” 

This question came up pretty much every day, usually at least once during every meal! Students fell in love with conveyor belt sushi and wanted to try everything, but wanted to know what they were trying! This was also a common question in convenience stores, which we visited most days. This year’s group loved trying new snacks and drinks. “Straight Tea” and chocolate were both especially popular this time around. Another favorite was momiji manju, maple-leaf cakes filled with soft fillings in various flavors. It was fun to discover different flavors and compare the different bakeries’ styles. Students were also curious about pretty much everything at shrines and temples. “What is this gate? What are those little wooden thingies? What is this cow?”

Picking the right momiji manju
How the sushi comes if you order off the menu (iPad)
How the staff calculates your bill

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.

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