North America, Asia · 13 Days · 49 Moments · June 2015

SLCS 2015 Japan Tour

27 June 2015

Sunset at 38,000 feet
Just boarded our plane for Houston! See you soon! (I will update with the last batch of photos when we arrive in Houston)

26 June 2015

Fuchie High School
Fuchie High School
Fuchie High School Tea ceremony, Taiko drums, Aikido (martial arts)
Fuchie High School School tour, Taiko drums, tea ceremony
Tokyo, Day 3 Pokémon Center, Shakey's Pizza buffet (we couldn't help ourselves, we were craving pizza)

25 June 2015

Tokyo, Day 2 Sorry, no time for explanations... We've been so busy!
Our first full day in Tokyo: we visited the Asakusa Kannon Temple, did some shopping, and then visited the Meiji Jingu Shrine.

24 June 2015

It's been a busy couple of days! We were back on the bullet train for a five hour ride to Tokyo. We visited Akihabara and had dinner at Denny's (which is surprisingly good here!), and then did some shopping while half of our members went to maid café.

23 June 2015

Also visited the Glover Gardens, former home of a Scottish industrialist that helped to develop Nagasaki in the mid- to late-1800's. The grounds were lush with flowers and greenery, and the view of Nagasaki Harbor was beautiful. We also found a store that had lots of anime goods, and the kids went a little crazy... (^_^)
Visited the Nagasaki Peace Park and Museum today. Also visited ground zero of the nuclear blast that leveled the city and instantly killed 75,000 people. The black spire in the photos is there to mark the spot above which the bomb was detonated. We also learned that Russia has more nuclear bombs than the U.S. does, and that both countries continue to develop and test these weapons against the wishes of the good people of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

22 June 2015

We also did our laundry tonight (excitement!!), and in the process, discovered that Japanese dryers are woefully inadequate when it comes to quickly drying clothes. It took nearly 3.5 for all 15 of us to finish, and we did not get back to the hotel until almost midnight...
We also visited "Jigokudani" or "Hell Valley", so named for its hellish appearance created by all the natural hot springs that boil up through the rocks and fissures on the mountain. There was also a pervasive smell of sulphur in the air because of the constant flow of steam from within the earth.
Stopped by a little town called Obama (小 [oh] small, 浜 [bama] beach), which has many, many natural hot springs. We got to soak our tired feet and legs in some almost painfully hot, natural hot spring water.

21 June 2015

And finished the night with another round of Karaoke!
Went shopping at the huge shopping mall, Canal City. The kids hit a game center, and we're pretty lucky, as many of them walked out with prizes (but also a few hundred yen less than they went in with). Dinner was Udon soup, and the portion was huge and delicious.
Dazaifu Temple
Our first stop today was a saké brewery, followed by a visit to the famous rock garden at Ryoanji Temple, and then Dazifu, where we fed some very large Koi fish.

20 June 2015

Finished the day with a visit to a Karaoke Box. Kodi and Tommy sang "We Didn't Start the Fire" Sterling gave us his deadpan (but hilarious) version of Justin Bieber's "Baby, Baby, Baby" Rachael, Maya, and Lindsay gave us "Call Me, Maybe" Nicole and Sterling duetted with "All Star" Sarey, Shannon, Rachael and Sterling crooned "Let It Go". And I am running out of synonyms for "to sing"...
On our way to Fukuoka, we stopped briefly at the bridge connecting Honshu and Kyushu. We stopped by Fukuoka Tower, where we had a spectacular view of the countryside and ocean, and then had some dinner. Justin was one of the few people to like one of the items included in dinner, so everyone gave their extras to him. He was underwhelmed. (^_^) Tommy discovered some of Japan's famous plastic food, and proceeded to treat a fake cup of beer like an ice cream cone... (ʘ_ʘ)
At the bridge again, we took off our shoes and stuck our toes in the cold stream flowing by. The rocks were quite slippery, so we had to cross using our hands.
Iwakuni We crossed the Kintai Bridge and then took a ropeway to the top of the mountain to see Iwakuni Castle. The panoramic view was breathtaking. The weather is sunny, hot, and a little humid.
Our hotel was oceanside, and we had breakfast at the restaurant on the 23rd floor, with a gorgeous view of the bay. Took a quick walk in the park before heading out for the day.

19 June 2015

Dinner was the oh-so-delicious Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki. I met the gentleman who prepared out dinner during our last tour in 2013, as well as a Japanese-speaking chef from Fort Wayne, Indiana!
The island also has wild deer, and a snooty dachshund or two....
We then took a 10 minute ferry ride to the sacred island of Miyajima, where we enjoyed the Floating Temple and its iconic Torii gate. The tide was out, so we were able to walk out to the gate. The kids more than than I imagined they would with the barnacles and other sea life that clung to the pillars... (^_^)
Hiroshima A two hour ride on the Bullet Train delivered us to Hiroshima. We met with, and heard personal accounts from two survivors. Many were moved to tears. One of them, Mr. Kosei Mito, apparently a famous survivor, has a blog (in English) as well as a film in which he relates his story:
Early start this morning as we head to Kyoto station to board the bullet train to Hiroshima. Will update with some pics as soon as we do something pic-worthy... (^_^)

18 June 2015

Did a lot of shopping today! We had some delicious ramen for lunch, and then shopped some more. Heading back to the hotel now with an exhausted group. We've walked nearly 8 miles today!
Day 3 --- Started the day off with a kimono fashion show, and then took a rather lengthy bus/train ride to visit Osaka! Stopped at a Mister Donut at Osaka Station for a quick snack/recharge.

17 June 2015

Dinner was sushi and udon (thick noodle Japanese soup) And there was much rejoicing. (^_^)
One last shrine visit in the pouring rain...
Todaiji Temple The largest wooden building in the world—Todaiji Temple. Joe and Sterling undertook a challenge where they had to crawl through an opening at the bottom of a pillar (30cm in height). In doing so, it is said that they will have no trouble getting into "paradise".
Inari Shrine
The water here flows from a natural spring. Drinking from one of the streams is said to give long life, good health, or success depending on which one you choose.
Kiyomizu Temple The Love Stones - a pair of stones are positioned at opposite ends of the walkway. If you touch the first, and then walk to the other with eyes closed, it is said that you will find true love. ( ˘ ³˘)♡
The Golden Pavilion Our first stop is one of Japan's iconic temples! The students also got the opportunity to sit on The Emperor Stone — a throne-like rock outside a famous tea-house in Kyoto — upon which the emperor of Japan actually sat.
Breakfast at the hotel before heading out.
Morning in Japan Managed to sleep through the night without waking up once. Time to make the rounds and see how the kids fared and to make sure that they are up and ready for breakfast and the day's events!
No one was waiting for us at the airport (!) — apparently EF Tours didn't notify their staff in Japan of the changes to our travel plans, and so did not send anyone out to meet us. After a quick text exchange with our tour director, we were told to take taxis to our hotel in Kyoto, over 1.5 hours away. (EF Tours paid for this.) The fare was about $300 per car, and we had five cars, so this mistake wound up costing them (not us!) a lot of ¥en. Finally got to the hotel around 12:30 AM. All told, we have been on the move since Monday at 4:00 AM, and it is now Tuesday 12:30 PM Michigan time; a total, door-to-door, of about 32 hours. It has been a grueling day... We start at 9:00 am tomorrow. Off to grab whatever sleep we can, and then jump right in!

16 June 2015

We've arrived in Tokyo! Because of our late arrival, we have been routed to JetStar Airlines. We should arrive in Osaka tonight around 10:00. It's been a long day...
Our first view of Japan as we descend through the clouds. Ready for our adventure to begin!

15 June 2015

いってきます! We're off!
Slowly but surely We're on the plane! Woot! Our next update will be from Japan!
Our flight to Tokyo has been delayed by about 1.5 hours. We should still be able to make our connection in Tokyo...
Aaaand United has canceled our flight to San Francisco. But — we are now flying direct to Tokyo, and then transferring to Japan Airlines for the final leg of our flight. This is actually much better routing than our original itinerary, so hurray!
After a long wait to get through the TSA checkpoint, a quick jog to the gate, and we're off!