**Day 1 (17 June 2018) Singapore – Shizuoka
Haneda International Airport
Shinagawa Train Station
Sunpu Castle Park
Various streets in Shizuoka
We landed at Haneda International Airport at about 9.50 am local time. We then had to take the Tokyo monorail to Shinagawa Station and Shinkansen (bullet train) to Shizuoka. After a long flight it was quite an experience, taking the public transport from one point to another with our luggage in tow. It was only when we got to our hotel in Shizuoka at around 2.45 pm that we were finally able to explore the city without our cumbersome luggage.
My first impression of Japan based on my observations at Haneda Airport is that Japan is extremely clean and efficient. At the Shinagawa station, I noticed that most of the Japanese commuters were walking very quickly as though they were going to be late and it was a Sunday. I also noticed the precision with which the Japanese pride themselves, as they ensure that trains arrive exactly on time.
Japan is a very clean country and the people very polite. Although the country is very advanced, the people are very humble and kind to everyone. It was very easy and convenient travelling around as the train stations were close to each other. Sunpu Castle Park in Shizuoka was very pretty with lots of flowers, making it very pleasing to the eyes. There was also a wide variety of food available to us and the people were also very approachable. To top it off, the weather was a very cool 19 degrees Celsius.
When I first arrived and got off the plane, I could already sense how quiet and simple the Japanese were. Nobody pushed past us forcefully us even in the busy train stations. Furthermore, on the trains, the Japanese would either be using their mobile devices, reading a book or catching up with sleep. Also, I hardly (if ever) saw any litter on the streets. Walking around Sunpu Castle Park, I felt the most relaxed I’ve ever been in a long time, with the trees, grass, perfect weather and simply watching the children play and interact with their family members and loved ones. The fact that it was litter free contributed immensely to my positive experience.
My first impression of Japan and Shizuoka is that they were very clean cities. The people in Shizuoka were very friendly and tried their best to explain things to us when they realised that we did not understand their initial statements. Shizuoka also struck me as a very neat and orderly city. For example, on the streets, the people would keep to one side, usually the left to facilitate the smooth flow of traffic along their walkways.
~ Wen Hui
Day 2 (18 June 2018) Shizuoka
Shizuoka Futaba Junior/Senior High School (Twinning Programme Day 1)
I think the school inculcates in its students a lot of good values, for example, I observed how the junior students always bow and greet their seniors. I also observed that the students are also very respectful to their teachers and I was told that if students knew that a member of the teacher’s family was unwell, they would often drop in at the chapel to pray for that person. The students were very hospitable and warmly welcomed us when we went to the our assigned classes. Almost every student opened up to speak to us and I felt very comfortable. It was as though I was in my own class in Singapore.
~ Eri Eliana
It was a really interesting experience this first day at the school as I met a lot of friendly staff and students, especially my buddies. They treated me very patiently and nicely, knowing that I did not understand what they were talking about in Japanese. My buddies would translate their conversations or class lessons to help me to understand what they or the teachers were talking about.
~ Joey Tang
One interesting thing that I learnt in Shizuoka was how they graciously put your needs before their own. For example, while I was queueing up to make waffles at dinner, my 2 buddies who were before me, offered their places to me. Although I declined the offer, my buddies waited patiently until my waffles were ready so that we could return to our dining table together.
I thought that everyone was sweet and nice . I waved to people I did not know and they all waved back. I also thought that the students were very accommodating, going out of their way to help me during lessons even when it would disrupt their own work.
Day 3 (19 June 2018) Shizuoka - Yokohama
Shizuoka Futaba Junior/Senior High School (Twinning Programme Day 2)
Shinkansen to Yokohama
The students are super nice and I made so many more friends over and above my assigned buddies. The other students in the class really tried their best to talk to us, for example, there was a classmate who really wanted to speak to me about BTS but was not very proficient in English, so she asked her friend to translate for her. She even gave me a ‘post it’ with here email and instagram account and told me that she would like to speak with me again. My buddies were also super nice as they bought me lots of gifts and really tried hard to talk to me, sometimes they had to look up a word in their Japanese-English dictionary just to explain something to me, their determination and perseverance left a deep impression on me.
Having spent two days at Shizuoka Futaba High School I have found the students to be very gracious hosts. They welcomed us so warmly that when it was time to bid them farewell, we found it a most difficult thing to do. I had bonded very well not only with my assigned buddies, but with their friends as well. One example of how gracious and genuine they were could be seen in their farewell for us. My buddies got us to stand in-front of the whole class so that they could present us with their farewell gifts which was a laminated group photo of the class taken the previous day and a thank you card. This made me reflect on how we had hosted them when they visited us in March of this year. There is much we can learn from our gracious hosts in terms of welcoming visitors to our school. Their kindness has left a very deep impression on me and I will miss them a lot.
Today was our last day with the students in Shizuoka Futaba High School, I was very touched by the actions of the teachers and students as they presented us with a memento of our visit to their school, a group photo with the class covered with hand written farewell messages. Quite a number of students shed tears as we parted ways. I was very grateful to have had these students as my buddies as we had formed strong bonds and connections very quickly over the last two days. After leaving Shizuoka, we headed to Yokohama where we spent the evening enjoying each other’s company over dinner while enjoying the soft cool evening breeze and the amazing view of the sky over the city.
Day 4 (20 June 2018) Yokohama - Tokyo
Yokohama Futaba High School (Twinning Programme Day 3)
Mother Mathilde’s Cemetary/ Foreigners Cemetary
I thought the Yokohama Futaba students were really enthusiastic and warm when we came. As we were having a school tour, we walked past a few classes, some of the students turned and waved at us and smiled brightly. they were really enthusiastic when I stepped into the class and most of them approached to talk to me. They were full of energy and were running around. It was a really different environment as compare to Shizuoka. However, due to the lack of time, I did not get to know my buddy as much as I would have liked to. The teachers at school were very kind and welcoming. The English teacher that was teaching was very kind and welcoming. She made the effort to mark our worksheet and gave it back to us during lunch. I also learned a lot from the teachers
The students were really welcoming; my buddies for example called my name when I came forward after the introduction. They linked our arms together and even called me cute. Yokohama Futaba looked really new and I was told that it was actually built many years ago. The teachers in the staffroom were also really nice.
The teachers and students were very welcoming and friendly to me when they met me. The school is like an old convent compound. We walked through many interesting corridors. The classroom doors also look very different from ours as theirs is a sliding door. The teachers did their best to engage us in their lessons.
We went to the Yokohama Foreigners Cemetery where Mother Mathilde’s resting grave was at. I’m glad we got to go as this was my purpose of going on this trip. I was really interested in how Mother Mathilde set up the various schools in Singapore and even japan. She put in great effort to build the school and we really wanted to thank her for that. As I was praying at her grave, I thanked her from the bottom of my heart for all she had done.
Day 5 (21 June 2018) Tokyo (Cultural Immersion)
Meiji Jingu Shrine
Meiji Jingu was very traditional and it seemed like I had travelled back in time. There were many traditional rituals the are not so commonly practiced in modern times. Being there was quite a spiritual experience. In contrast, Harajuku district, which was just across from the shrine, was noisy and filled with shops and people displaying the latest modern fashion trends. I felt that Harajuku appealed more to the younger generation. While Meiji Jingu and Harajuku were very different, the Asakusa Shrine area seemed to be a combination of the old and new. There were traditional crafts and food on offer in the shops leading up to the temple, but there were also trendy clothes and toys from popular children’s TV shows for sale. It was an interesting day for me.
Walking through Meiji Jingu shrine was a wonderful experience as it was very different from modern, developed Tokyo. We were completely surrounded by nature, which was very peaceful and magical for me. It was interesting to enter the shrine, as we had to perform a cleansing ritual which included washing our hands and rinsing our mouth before proceeding into the grounds of the shrine. We also got to purchase charms for various purposes like warding off evil and passing exams. There was also an area where we could write our wishes on a piece of paper and place them in a box at the base of a sacred tree. We then visited Harajuku which was chaotic with a large number people walking along a narrow street. It was fun to explore the various shops along the street and also to try the famous crepes and other food in the area. Asakusa was equally if not more crowded than Harajuku but we still enjoyed ourselves and sampled the traditional snacks on offer there.
I enjoyed the shrines most. Everytime we went to a shrine, I felt very much a peace. I felt that it was a place everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. I was very happy to see that within the shrines, there were places for visitors to connect with a higher power, for example, the Meiji Jingu shrine have a place for visitors to write their intentions and prayers which would be deposited in front of a sacred tree. I found that really cool. While exploring the streets of Harajuku, I notices a group of boys wearing cool outfits and giving out flyers. They were promoting their debut concert and were keen to invite anyone to their performance. Many local people took their flyers and listened to what they had to say. I noticed that they were really nice and respectful to each other. I hope Singaporeans can learn to support one another just like the Japanese people here in Harajuku.
Day 6 (22 June 2018) Tokyo
Denenchofu Futaba High School (Twinning Programme Day 4)
The school was very big and clean. The students were able to converse in English which facilitated easier communication. I learnt more about Japanese school culture in Tokyo from this visit. The teachers whom I met where very nice as as they made the effort to engage us. The only drawback was the inability to spend more time with our buddies due to the time constraint. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the English language classes which were very fun and engaging. There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm in the classes I attended.
The students in Denenchofu had good general knowledge and seemed to have similar interests as us. They were very eager to speak to us the moment we stepped into the class. The teachers too, especially the ‘native’ english teachers were very lively and fun-loving, making their lessons very engaging. The behaviour of the students in my class was quite similar to our friends back in IJ. They were very energetic and the noise volume was similar to what we experience in Singapore. The school had very strict handphone rules which stated that students could only use their phones after they had left the school.
I found the students in my class to be very humble and approachable. Although it took awhile for them to warm up to me, but when they did, we got along very well. During their Japanese class, the teacher asked me to introduce myself and when I mentioned that I loved ramen, the class applauded for a good 2 minutes! To top it off, the same teacher ended her lesson 15 minutes earlier to allow a question and answer session which she dubbed, “ask Ary-san questions time.” Denenchofu really reminds me of IJ with its loud, warm and friendly atmosphere. Although we did not have much time to bond with our buddies, I felt quite attached to them and when the time came to say goodbye, my buddy presented me with a card and we exchanged many hugs.
The students in Denenchofu were very warm and inclusive. When I first stepped into their class, many of my classmates immediately came up to me and began talking to me. During the PE lesson, my classmates made the effort to include me in all their games and they would encourage me to try harder whenever I hit the ball badly or missed the ball completely. When I did manage to hit the call, there were cheers and ‘high fives.
**Day 7 (23 June 2018) Tokyo - Singapore
We left early for Haneda International Airport this morning to do some last minute shopping for gifts and souvenirs of our trip to Japan. Our flight departed for Singapore at 11.30 am local time and we reached Singapore at around 5.30 pm to be reunited with our families.
All in all, not only was this twinning programme to Japan a fun experience, it was also a fruitful and enriching one. Although we were all on the same trip, I believe that all our experiences were different. I will definitely hold all the memories and friendships forged close to my heart. I really enjoyed gaining a better insight into the Japanese culture, especially the school life in the Futaba schools. It was really interesting to see the differences between the 3 schools as well as our own. Something I find truly amazing is, even though we may have been exhausted, we continued to encourage each other and lift each other’s spirits. In the course of this trip, I believe that I have truly felt the IJ Spirit and I hope that we have managed to allow the Japanese students to experience it as well.
It was a very fruitful trip as I was able to learn more about my friends and myself. I experienced the different cultures in Japan and saw people from all walks of life. I was able to improve my socialising skills as I made the effort to speak to people I barely knew. It was heartwarming to see how sincere our Japanese hosts were in everything they did and the effort everyone put in to make the trip a success. It was also a great opportunity to make new Japanese friends, growing so close that it felt like we had known each other for months. Being on this trip has really opened my eyes to life outside Singapore and made me realise just how small Singapore is. It was quite a hectic trip, but I felt that this would be one of the most memorable experiences of my school life.
I think this twinning programme was a good experience because it has helped me improve myself as a person. Through this trip I was able to learn to be more independent and how to be a leader. It has also taught me to appreciate everything that I have, from the time I have on this earth to the family and the friends who love and care for me. I learnt to treasure every single second because we were all given only 1 to 2 days with our Japanese buddies before we had to say goodbye. This trip has also enabled me to build new friendships which I treasure with all my heart. Before this trip, I did not have many friends from other classes but now, not only did I return with souvenirs and memories from Japan, I also have new and wonderful close friends. I never expected all of us to end up getting so closed but I am glad we did.
~ Eri Eliana
The twinning programme has really taught me many things. Firstly, I have gained many new friendships on this trip, friends from IJ and the Futaba schools in Japan. The students were all very nice and welcoming. As we had to wake up early on most days, I also learnt the importance of being punctual. The trip passed by very quickly and happily and I realised that time passes quickly especially when you are enjoying yourself, so we need to treasure and appreciate every moment we have. One thing that left an impression on me was the sewing class I attended. I felt that this was an important life skill and something we do not learn in IJ so it was very interesting and new to me. I am very thankful for the opportunity to have gone on this trip, for learning so many things and forging so many new friendships.