Tour of Japan | Cary Academy Goes to Japan 2019 – FAQ Part 3

Aug 01 | 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!

TeamLab Planets

Can we do that again?

Of all the questions our students ask, our favorite is “can we do that again?” or its twin, “can we stay longer?” Most students’ favorite experience on our trip was visiting Team Lab: Planets, an immersive art installation is Odaiba, one of the newer areas of Tokyo created out of reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay. Team Lab is an artist collective that creates pieces unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. At “Planets”, we jumped in giant bean bags, walked through knee-high water with digital “fish” floating in it, and walked through strings or lights and a room of giant floating spheres. Elements of the installations were static, but typically you’d never experience the same room the same way twice. Your movements and the timing of your visit, combined with the movements of the people around you, create a unique experience each time you visit. Students wanted to go through another time after we finished!

TeamLab Planets 2

Students also really enjoyed Orizuru Tower in Hiroshima. The top of the tower has an amazing observation deck that overlooks the “Atomic Bomb Dome” and the Peace Park and provides a beautiful vantage point to see the entire city and the nearby mountains. “Orizuru” means crane, a reference to the ubiquitous paper cranes associated with Sadako and the children’s peace monument. Students especially liked the slide (yes, like a playground) that made up part of the path down from the top of the tower. They wanted to walk back up and slide again! Other popular “repeat” spots included arcades, ice cream shops, and covered shopping arcades like Teramachi in Kyoto. It’s fun to return to a favorite store or restaurant when I visit Japan, and it’s so rewarding when students want to return too.

That’s it for the “FAQ” and our 2019 trip report. We’re excited about the 2020 trip. Traveling in Japan is always a great experience, and we hope that our students will stay curious and keep asking questions!

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.

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.

2019 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour | Kyoto Geiko Portrait Session

Jul 21 | Evan | No Comments |

In 2014 I received a request to arrange a private tour in Japan for a photographer and his family. There were a few photography opportunities requested such as spending time with a master sword smith as he worked to to take portraits of a real maiko, geiko or geisha in Japan. So it was in 2014 I first started working with this (at the time) maiko and during the 2019 cherry blossom photography tour of Japan I took portraits of her for the first time as a geiko (she finished her apprenticeship and earned new title).

I’ve really enjoyed working with her and creating portraits in Kyoto with her year after year and hope to continue to bring small groups of photographers to take portraits of her for many years to come in Kyoto.

The photo below is 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.

Kyoto Japan

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!

Here is a gallery of more geiko portraits taken during the 2019 cherry blossom tour of Japan.

2019 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour | Mt Fuji

Jul 18 | Evan | No Comments |

I’m always a little anxious when Mt. Fuji is included on the plan for our photography tours as mountain can be quite shy hiding behind clouds days at a time. For the 2019 photography tour of Japan during cherry blossom season, we had 4 nights planned in the Mt. Fuji area. Two nights in Shizuoka Prefecture and 2 nights in Yamanashi Prefecture.

It’s certainly possible that we could have had 4 nights with no mountain to photograph but luckily, Mt. Fuji was kind enough to make a few appearances on different days during our photography tour of Japan! While we had Mt. Fuji in view during the tour, the cold weather that helped hold the cherry blossom earlier in the photography tour of Japan, finally caught up to us. The cherry blossoms around Mt. Fuji were just a few days before full bloom so we had to search for the few cherry blossom trees that were ahead of the rest. The good thing about Mt. Fuji though, even without cherry blossoms, there are always fantastic photographic opportunities.

The two photos below 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.

Fuji Five Lakes Area
Shizuoka

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!

Here is a gallery of more photos taken of Mt. Fuji during the 2019 cherry blossom photography tour of Japan.

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