Post written by Kyra Jani, Secondary School student
This summer, a few of us went to Japan for an exchange programme organised with the help of AFJ (Association of Friends of Japan), for a period of ten days. We visited Okayama, Tokyo and Hiroshima. It was an exciting and amazing trip, where we had fun, but also learnt about Japan’s unique culture and prestigious heritage.
I think the best part about this trip was that we lived with host families. They picked us up at the airport and were so welcoming, they made us feel at home and comfortable as soon as we met. We immediately bonded over our similar interests in cartoons and music. On the one hour ride back to their house, we got to know everything about each other and were comfortable with each other, just like a family would be.
Although we only stayed with them for a few days, we immediately saw how different their culture and daily schedule was, compared to ours. They had to wake up very early in the morning and make their own breakfast, clean and wash the dishes and then the children would leave to go to school, by the local metro. However difficult it must have been for their mother to look after her own three children and the two of us, she still did so religiously. They took us to supermarkets to buy all vegetarian snacks possible and made us feel at home by trying to talk to us in Hindi.
I remember, before we went to the Okayama Gakugeikan High School, a common meeting point for us, where we were supposed to sit in their classes and see their teachings styles and the atmosphere present in their schools, I was extremely nervous. I wasn’t sure if we would fit in with the students and if we would be able to mix around and actually make friends. However, five minutes into the school and all the nervousness washed away, for everyone who saw us, stopped in their tracks, smiled at us and said “Ohayōgozaimasu” which means ‘good morning’. Their school timetable, and the way their school operated, was very different compared to how our school functions. We had a few classes where we sat in their homeroom class and studied subjects with them and in a few classes, we played games that introduced us to Japanese culture and introduced them to Indian culture.
The first class we had was homeroom where we introduced ourselves to the class that we were going to be with for the rest of the trip. We also had a Japanese session where the teacher kindly got us templates of basic Japanese words and helped us write these words and our names. One thing that surprised us was that everything they learnt in math class we had been doing the previous year and could actually solve sums on the board, which showed us that no matter how different the culture was, Math is a common language! We also played dodgeball and baseball with them during PE class and presented a PPT on the different states of India, in their English class. During the presentation, we told them about the numerous languages in India, and how most of them are connected to Proto Indo-European languages and Sanskrit. The Japanese being people who appreciate different cultures and traditions, loved our presentation on languages and made us present it four times, to four different classes. We were thrilled to learn that they were so intrigued by our languages and the strong connection between Japanese and Sanskrit, through religious words. For example, the Japanese word Sotoba comes from the Sanskrit stupa (pagoda) or even Ashura from Asura (deity).
One thing that we found quite surprising was that after reading time, the students spent forty minutes cleaning their whole school, from the bathroom, to each classroom, to the field. They took brooms and mops and cleaned the whole school, all by themselves. This shows how different their upbringing was and how disciplined they were expected to be.
They even had unique clubs like the drum club and cheerleading club, which was an enjoyable experience for us to try. When we had to leave to go to Tokyo, we were extremely tearful and our homeroom class made us cards and posters, so we would always remember and cherish our time at the school.
Another remarkable memory from this trip, was our visit to Hiroshima. We visited a local graveyard, the Hiroshima nuclear museum and the spot at which the bombs were dropped. While we were at the museum, we saw artefacts like clothing, pen caps and bottles that were left behind after the blast. There were many pictures of people that suffered from this blast, people who had cancer, people whose skin was ripped off and people who survived. There were informational videos that had survivors being interviewed and there wasn’t one person who left the room without crying. The museum also spoke about how we should stop using nuclear weapons and make this world a safer place.
When we learnt about the bomb, we also learnt about Sadako, a young girl who died trying to make a thousand paper cranes, which according to myths, would save her life. After she died, many of her classmates came together and completed the number, and it has been tradition ever since then. When we went, we made around 200 cranes, around 20 per person, to honour this tradition. We tied all the cranes together on a string and went to the centre of Hiroshima, to place them with other wreaths, made in a similar manner.
This trip was definitely one we will never forget, from the amazing experiences to the culture and our host families, we absolutely loved and enjoyed this trip!