In November, Harker seventh graders made a special “make-up” trip to Japan that was originally scheduled to take place last May, but which was canceled due to fears caused by the H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic. “The kids waited nearly 500 days from the time they first applied for this trip in fifth grade to actually going in seventh grade!” said Jennifer Abraham, director of global education.
Chaperones during the trip were Abraham, middle school teacher Vandana Kadam, lower school teachers Eric Leonard, Mary Holaday and Grace Wallace and upper school teacher Adam Nelson.
Upon their arrival in Tokyo, the group stayed in a hotel, and the next morning went to Harker’s sister school, Tamagawa Gakuen, where they received a warm welcome. “We were greeted by a group of cheering kids, happy to see their Harker buddies after nearly a year apart, and their families,” Abraham reported. “Our kids did a great job with their Japanese speeches at the welcome.”
Since the group arrived in Japan during a three-day weekend, they went sightseeing around Tokyo, climbed the Tokyo tower, went shopping and visited Mt. Fuji. “Tuesday was our one and only day at the school,” Abraham said. Morning was spent in classes, and in the afternoon the kids took a tour of the beautiful, wooded, 130-acre Tamagawa campus. Kids collected Japanese maple leaves, which they used to make imprints onto special paper they made into cards. They also attended a calligraphy class where the students wrote their names and other symbols.
“Wednesday we all met up again at the Yokohama Arena to spend the day together sightseeing at the Yokohama Museum and Sankei-en Japanese garden,” recalled Abraham. The students got the chance to see a Japanese green tea ceremony. That evening, the students spent time with their host families and chaperones at a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. The next day, they had the wonderful opportunity to witness Tamagawa’s 80th anniversary celebration at the Yokohama Arena. Performances were by students in Tamgawa’s first through graduate grade levels. Advancement director Joe Rosenthal and his wife, Blanca, traveled from the U.S. to witness this special occasion. The spectacular show was watched by more than 12,000 people.
Thursday night – through many tears from Harker kids, their Tamagawa buddies and the host families – the students said their good-byes. Friday, the group set off by bullet train to Kyoto. “The weather was beautiful, trees bright yellow,” Abraham said. “We visited Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), where we were met by a man who had attended Tamagawa from grades K-12. He had close ties to the GP so gave us a special tour not available to regular tourists.”
On Saturday, everyone took another bullet train to Hiroshima, and took a ferry out to the Itsukushima shrine, a Shinto landmark. “When the tide is in, the main gate of the shrine appears to be floating on the water,” Abraham recalled. “We arrived when the tide was out so were able to walk right out to the base of the gate.” Later, at the Peace Memorial Museum, the travelers had a moment of silence before entering the museum in honor of those who were killed by the atomic bomb. The museum contained many vivid displays of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. When asked what she thought of the museum, Agata Sorotokin said, “It makes me want to make the world a more peaceful place.”
In the morning of their last day in Japan, the students visited Himeji Castle, situated on top of a high hill. Some last-minute shopping was done before everyone set off for the airport for their flight home.