So, here you are. If you are reading this page, you are probably considering a Japan Trip or maybe already have one organised. Here you will find some useful, fun, time-saving and unforgettable tips for taking a highly successful school trip to Japan.
Here is a fantastic source of information set up by Jan Chalmer. Once you have signed in once, you should be able to access the site again and again.
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Whether it is your first or tenth trip to Japan on a school trip, it is always handy to hear what is popular, working, what to be careful of and some wonderful things to include or set up for your trip.
I am outlining here a possible timeline of events leading up to your Japan trip. The reason for this is that I found it very daunting the first time that I had to organise everything by myself; which is the most likely scenerio if you are a primary school teacher. I had to start from scratch, which was very time consuming. As a result, I want to try and help other teachers to set up a fantastic experience without a lot of undue stress.
This is a model for Queensland schools. Should you be in a different state, please use it as a rough guide only.
Below are ideas for a successful and culture-rich school visit to the Land of the Rising Sun. Some ideas here are from me, others from teachers and lecturers. If you have some fabulous tips to share, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will add the ideas to the page.
Booking your trip
I advise choosing a company who knows Japan very well and caters for all different budgets, preferences and needs, such as Saizen Tours on the Gold Coast. This saves you time and you are confident that you are staying in quality, well-priced accommodation. Saizen also has access to tour bookings that are hard to get, or impossible with no contacts; like Mazda factory in Hiroshima and the Maiko Experience in Kyoto, just to mention two.
Purchasing a Japan Rail Pass
These make public transport so easy and economical. Rail passes can be used on the Shinkansen, all JR lines, some JR buses and the JR ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima. The vouchers for the pass must be purchased outside of Japan and once you arrive, it is necessary to exchange the voucher for a Rail Pass. Again, Saizen Tours can arrange all of your Rail Passes should you decide on purchasing these.
You can also purchase Rail Passes on-line; http://www.jrpass.com.au/The site provides an opportunity to learn about the passes as well as purchase them…..without even leaving your seat.
Purchasing a Cash Passport
Which airline and airport?
Which airline and airport? It is beneficial to check different options for airlines and airports to make your trip as smooth as you can. If possible, a direct flight is preferable as it is so easy and students are fresher once they arrive in Japan. For example, Jetstar flies directly to Narita airports from Gold Coast Airport which is great for Gold Coast schools. Qantas flies from Brisbane directly to Narita with baggage and entertainment included which is handy.
Where to start your trip?
Some teachers find it better to begin in a smaller city rather than a huge city like Tokyo or Osaka. This can be a way to gradually ease yourself into Japan due to the fact that a number of people suffer from culture shock if they have not done much travel before and are confronted by the huge megapolis, and the crowded streets, stations and trains etc. If you fly into Narita Airport in Chiba prefecture, Narita City can be a wonderful introduction to Japan. Flying into Kansai Airport, I recommend taking the train straight from the airport to Kyoto and beginning your trip with the beautiful sights that Kyoto has to offer. Japan Rail Pass vouchers can also be exchanged at the JR Office in Narita International Airport and Kansai International Airport which makes it efficient.
Where to stay?
Accommodation is very important. It must suit your budget of course, however I think it is important to be walking distance from the station. Getting buses and taxis is time consuming and expensive. If you can walk to the station, it makes it much easier for you and the whole group. There is a wide range of price and style of accommodation. Traditional Ryokan (Japanese style accommodation) are fantastic for a cultural experience. Youth Hostels are excellent also as location and price are generally very good. An experienced Tour Company like Saizen can take care of all of your questions and bookings for accommodation. You can then be assured that your accommodation will be best suited to your needs, freeing you up to do other aspects of planning and preparation.
So many places……where to visit?
Regarding your itinerary, Dr Leigh Kirwan, Japanese language lecturer at Griffith University on the Gold Coast and President of the MLTAQ, sums it up well when he says that “the keyword is contrasts”, explaining how it is best to give students the very best range of experiences you can. Dr Kirwan acknowledges that you will visit the large, built-up cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima, however recommends visiting a smaller town in the beautiful mountains of Japan so that you can appreciate the real beauty of the country.
Some possibilities are Nikko or Hakone near Tokyo or Takayama, situated two and a half hours from Nagoya. The possibilities are endless here. Just keep in mind that you do not want to spend more time in travelling to a destination than you have to explore once you arrive. Also there needs to be sights and activities to do in the town. New attractions and tours are opening up all the time. For my 2013 School Trip, I have included the Ninja Village in Mie prefecture as an alternative to the Kaiyuukan (aquarium) in Osaka on our last day in Japan to give the students an unique experience, not to forget learning Ninja tricks and dressing up like Ninjas.
Costing for your trip
Once you receive the quote from your Travel Agent, look over it closely to see what is included and not included. For example, all breakfasts are probably included, however lunch and dinner are most likely not unless you have booked a full day tour. Also temple and shrine entrances and local buses can only be purchased in Japan so will probably not be included. You then have 3 options
- tell the students to take extra money to cover these costs, depending on the length of your trip, maybe $200 – $250. This is separate from spending money of course.
- Collect the money from the students before the trip. You can do an estimate for meals and entrances that will be very close. I allocate 1000 yen for lunches and 1500 yen for dinners. If you have a special restaurant in mind like to Ninja themed buffet restaurant in Kyoto, you will need to add extra for this. The safest way is to then put all of this money on a Cash passport which can be arranged through your Travel Agent.
- Add all of this onto the original cost estimate for the trip. Then the families know from the start how much money will be required and all of this can be collected through the Payment Schedule.
I have done the first option with a high school group and it was fine. They had to budget and it was a very worthwhile experience for them.
In 2011, 2013 and 2015 I did the second option and it worked perfectly with a primary school group. We carried the Cash Passports, changing money as we needed. Parents knew that their children would be eating wholesome meals every day and the students could just use their money for spending money.
Different amounts for under 11 year olds and over 12 year old students.
The biggest difference here is the cost of trains in Japan. Children under 6 are free, then 6-11 year olds are half price and from 12 years old, the fare is an adult fare. This means a big difference for purchasing JR Passes and will be up to $200 or even more if your trip is longer. The price difference needs to be made very clear to parents from the start. Once they understand why, they are generally fine with it.
Some Other Useful Tips
- Remember that the 10% consumption tax needs to be added in to costings, otherwide there could be a not-so-welcome surprise at the end when you balance your budget.
- Setting up a Payment Schedule is essential. It is such large amount of money, that you need to be informed of families making the payment deadlines, and be confident that when you receive the invoice for the final amount 65 days before travel, that the money is in the school account and ready to be transferred across.
- Make the families aware from the start that the students are off-setting the cost of the teachers. At my school, this is one of the things that families have to actually tick and sign that they are aware of. This is a safeguard for you and makes the costing very transparent.
- Mobile Phones and Contact. Teachers will need to set up International Roaming on a 3G ( or higher) phone. This is one of the requirements for approval from Education Queensland International. A word of warning; incoming calls are at your expense at the high international rate so you will need to keep incoming calls brief or eliminate them as much as possible. Mobile phones can be rented before you travel which is also recommended. Phone cards can be purchased before you depart and used from Public Phones in Japan which is very cost effective method of contact while you are away. Wi-Fi is available at many places in Japan, making it ever so easy to have regular contact with parents and family. Some places all around the world have blocked VIBER, however normal email/Facebook and social media will be able to be accessed.
- You will need to set out very thorough safety procedures for your trip. What happens if a student or teacher becomes separated from the group, for example in a busy station? Where do you meet? What does the rest of the group do? How long before you call the police in Japan? How long until you call home? We have a lanyard this year that all students and non-Japanese speaking teachers will wear. It states that they are lost, to please call me, that I speak Japanese and my mobile number. We thought this was the most effective strategy to re-unite anyone as quickly as possible.
- Using Japanese as much as possible. You can make your trip very language-rich by doing such practices as explaining some parts of your itinerary, prices of items, information about your accommodation and so much more, in Japanese. Of course not all students will understand. You can can translate into English afterwards or get other students to explain it to the group.
- PowerPoint or movie presentation after you return. Even after the tour is over and you are back in Australia, you can show a video or a PowerPoint of your adventures for other students who were not able to participate. It is also a good way to entice prospective students into considering your next trip.
- Involving as much of the school community as you can in aspects of the trip. Again there are so many ways to do this. Making 1000 cranes as a whole school or class or lunchtime Origami Club and then taking these and placing them at Sadako’s memorial in Hiroshima is a wonderful activity. Many students can be involved in folding the cranes, then threading them and preparing the bag holding the precious cranes. If you then make a movie, PowerPoint or posters of this, all teachers can share it with their classes on Hiroshima Day, or Peace Day as it is often called, on August 6th.
7. Setting up Learning Experiences on tour. There are many things you can do to enhance the language experience on the tour. For example, on a longer train journey, it can be fun to hand out a sheet giving some examples of Japanese haiku poems and ask students to compose one of their own. It is a wonderful group experience to have students read out their haiku after dinner that night. Quizzes are another great idea for longer journeys. They may be asked to give the name of the station where the train stops at 10:17 if it is one which would reinforce kanji students have been learning, or how many seats there are in the “green” first class car, if you want them to be aware of such amenities. It might even be get-to-know-you items earlier in the tour, such as the students who are born in April, or who has the lightest baggage.
8. Language and Culture lessons prior to departure. These may be at lunchtime or some schools even hold them after school. Not only language and culture benefits are to be had, but students also get to know each other and you will also get to know them prior to the trip. Crane making and threading and preparation is also incorporated into these lessons of course. The group effort required for this is very empowering for the group.
9. A Secret Santa Activity. Students are given someone from within the group to buy a secret present for at some point of the trip. You set the amount, whether it be 100 yen or 500 yen. These presents can either be exchanged in Japan or at a get-together-debrief-meeting once you return. This si a lot of fun and great for team-building.
10. You can do some wonderful cultural activities while travelling on longer trains for example. On a longer train journey, you could hand out a sheet giving some examples of Japanese haiku poems and ask students to compose one of their own. It is a wonderful group experience to have students read out their haiku after dinner that night.
11. Quizzes are another great idea for longer journeys. Students may be asked to give the name of the station where the train stops at 10:17 if it is one which would reinforce kanji students have been learning, or how many seats there are in the “green” first class car, if you want them to be aware of such amenities. It might even be get-to-know-you items earlier in the tour, such as the students who are born in April, or who has the lightest baggage. The possibilities are endless here.
12. Safety and manageable group movement is a high priority. Here are a few things that may make your group movement smooth and efficient.
- have matching caps or hats for the whole group. Red, yellow or aqua – something bright and quickly and easily identifiable. At a glance, you can identify your group and they can find you quickly also. Matching T-shirts also works well, or maybe something original.
- make groups for movement. Team leaders can be teachers, parents (if on your trip) or senior students. Practise lining up in your groups (yes, like practice drills) before you go. Have a routine for lining up in groups, one for single file movement and students will be familiar and comfortable with this. Numbering off in Japanese can add to the language experience as well.