Tour of Japan | Cary Academy Goes to Japan!

Aug 28 | Evan | No Comments |

Cary Academy is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary this year and as a proud alumnus from the early years, I couldn’t have been more excited to arrange and escort a group from one of my favorite places to another of my favorite places, Japan!  Besides family and friends, Cary Academy and Japan have influenced my life more than anything else and combining them was a lot of fun for me and a very special experience and tour of Japan to plan!

After the line below this paragraph, the rest of this report on our trip to Japan is written by Katie Taylor, a 6th grade teacher at Cary Academy and Japan enthusiast.  I came to Katie with the idea of bringing a group to Japan late in 2015 and certainly could not have done the trip without her support, advice, preparedness, kindliness and patience.  Thank you very much Katie!

I had the pleasure of first traveling to Japan in 2012, and I’ve wanted to return ever since! I enjoy sharing my love of Japanese culture and history with my students, and I was so glad to have four of them and two of their parents travel with Evan and me to Japan.

Outside a ramen restaurant in Kyoto

Outside a ramen restaurant in Kyoto

We began our trip with three nights in Tokyo, right across the street from the Tokyo Skytree. This is a much less busy area of Tokyo, which made it ideal as a home base for traveling with students. The famous part of the Skytree is of course the tower itself, but beneath it is a nice shopping area with lots of good restaurants. There’s a whole floor of Made in Japan souvenirs which are of high quality, which was a major bonus! The subway station underneath the Skytree made the rest of Tokyo easily accessible as well.



Cooking Lesson

On our first day in Toyko, we connected with a fantastic local chef, Kyoko, for a cooking lesson. We learned all about special ingredients used in Japanese cooking and little tricks for making difficult dishes “just right”. After cooking, we stuffed ourselves with all of the delicious food: gyoza, tempura, sea bass, gyunomiyaki (beef rolls with vegetables inside), fresh pickles, and delicious spices and sauces to go with each.


My favorite was the gyoza, which I’ve actually made twice since I’ve been back in the US following the recipe Kyoko gave us. I’m not exaggerating when I say these gyoza are the best I’ve tasted!


While the food was delicious and fun to make, the most interesting part of the visit was getting to spend time in Kyoko’s home. We were able to see how the Japanese make excellent use of small spaces, as well as several ways that Buddhism and Shinto are integrated into modern life. Kyoko and her husband were both so hospitable and helped make our first day truly memorable.


Edo-Tokyo Museum

Appropriate for kids and adults, the Edo-Tokyo Museum is an excellent way to learn about the history of Tokyo and how it developed from the village surrounding Tokugawa’s castle to the metropolis it is today. There are models of various sizes and interactive exhibits as well. You can actually sit inside a kago or test your strength carrying buckets as peasants would have 400 years ago. There’s a life size traditional house, Kabuki theater, and recreation of Nihonbashi. Our students loved seeing models of so many buildings that we’d talked about when studying Japan in History class.

Jump Theme Park: J-World Tokyo

J-World caters to fans of old school anime like Dragonball, new classics like Naruto, and the newest popular shows like Kuroko no Basket or Haikyu. There are sections dedicated to various shows with interactive games, videos, and a few rides. This is not a theme park like Six Flags, but more like a “themed” set of activities. Our favorite part was all the opportunities to take fun photos and pretend to actually be in the anime.


Checking Out a Few of Tokyo’s Many Wards

One of the joys of Tokyo is just walking around and looking at buildings, watching people, and finding neat little shops and cafes to enjoy. We spent some time doing this in Harajuku, stopping in a cute candy shop on “Cat Street” and checking out a retro café that is a favorite of our guide. We also shopped and people-watched in Akihibara, mostly in the enormous Yodabashi Camera store.


We did the tourist-required crossing at Shibuya station, but first we watched the crowds cross. A crosswalk seems like an odd tourist destination, but it actually gives an interesting insight into how Japan works. The crossing across from the station in Shibuya is one of the busiest and most congested intersections in the world, but it runs smoothly and politely day after day because of the Japanese focus on “gaman,” or patience.


The Skytree

Tokyo Skytree celebrates 5 years of operation this year, and it still looks brand new. The views are beautiful, the maps and guides are useful, and the staff are friendly and helpful. We all enjoyed looking at the map and finding various famous places in the views around us. It reminds me of the Space Needle in Seattle, but much bigger! The owners and designers have put a lot of effort into connecting the Skytree to Japanese culture. The color, height, location, and even elevator themes all have connections to Japanese culture and history.

Next stop, Miyajima and Hiroshima and then finally Kyoto!


Leave a Reply