This will be the first of a few posts to try and cover everything we managed to get to in Japan (it was a jam-packed itinerary!) and I’ll begin by introducing the gang. Our group comprised of 10 (including me), 8 teachers and two ASTA representatives: Vic Dobos (CEO) and Peter Turnbull (Vice President). We were a diverse group with representatives from nearly every state/territory across both Primary and Secondary levels: Alex Fowler (SA), Tanya Rihak (NSW), Andrew McGregor (SA), Nathan Curnow (WA), Shannan Fletcher (WA), Sandy Davey (QLD), Paula Taylor (ACT).
The flight from Sydney to Japan (9 hours) would sit in my middle range for length of flights. You definitely start to hit that stage where you still can’t believe you haven’t landed yet and you’ve managed to watch all the movies that were on your list. But it’s not soul destroying like a Sydney to Los Angeles (14 hours) where you can see other passengers on the brink of an existential crisis. Luckily our entire group was seated on one row so I had the pleasure of good company to keep me sane. In particularly, Andrew (a South Australian Primary Teacher) and I bonded over a similar taste in movies and attempting to beat high scores on some iPad games he had brought with him.
After arrival and some transport we reached our first destination, Chiba! As we had arrived on a Saturday evening, we would not have the opportunity to visit a school until Monday and instead were visiting the Shinshoji Temple and the Narita Museum of Aeronautical Science. It was in the morning that we met with two of our Japanese guides/translators, Setsuko and Toshiko, who would be accompanying us for the majority of this trip. This was the first point at which we would engage with Japanese culture in full, and we were not disappointed in any way. From the very moment we first glimpsed the main entrance it was simply breathtaking.
The temple was founded over 1000 years ago and the oldest building on site, Komyodo, was built in 1701! Our tour guide took us through the majority of the site but it was enormous and would have taken most of a day to get through it. The entrance gate, So-mon, was particularly fascinating as it contained a number of features of importance. For example, the first two sculptures depicted two figures, one with a mouth open and the second with mouth closed. These respectively represent two verbalisations: “Ah” and “Un”. Together they form Ah-Un, a symbol representing the understanding of two people without the need for words. From what I could gather, this was a prevalent concept historically when Japan was considered a monoculture and had very limited interaction with the outside world.
If that wasn’t enough to admire the craftsmanship and the meaning behind those figures, the gate also featured two more figures of similar size to ward off evil spirits and a full cast of beautiful carved zodiac spirits around the border. Seen to the left, they had even invented a list of Australian equivalent zodiacs! I was very pleased to see I’m a Komodo Dragon! We also had our first encounter with Japanese wildlife, a preying mantis – hanging out on a beautiful stone sculpture just watching the world.
After a delicious lunch, our next destination was the Narita Museum of Aeronautical Science. On arriving I saw my first example of mascot culture in its full glory – Narita has the most adorable mascot (seen to the right). I immediately bought a coin purse (to handle the millions of small coins you collect) shaped like the Narita mascot to show my tourist side. We were given a guided tour through the museum where they had some truly incredible displays. These included the front section of a Boeing 747, a cross section of the Boeing 747 with a Mini inside to show scale, and the largest moving model of a Boeing 747 that could be controlled by visitors (there was a loooooong line).
The culmination of the tour however, was the most exciting where we got to see and operate three separate engines that have been used in a variety of planes. These included a 4-piston plane engine, a 7-piston star engine (typically used in blimps), and a jet engine (also used in some helicopters!). Of the three, the jet engine was by far the loudest and you could see the distortions in the air from the heat it was generating.
Finally, to round out an exhausting first day, we moved on to have a delicious dinner at a Korean BBQ restaurant! Having never experienced one before, it was very exciting to cook a huge selection of tidbits on the grill in the center of our table.
Thanks for reading this one! I initially had intended to bundle days 1 and 2 together but it was simply far too large! Over the next week I’ll put up bits and pieces as our sponsors – ASTA and Latitude Travel Group – managed to pack in three weeks-worth of activities into 8 days!