Toyota Teacher's Travelogue
Konnichiwa and welcome to the 2007 Toyota International Teacher Program to Japan participant travelogue!
We are a group of 40 educators, representing 26 states, who teach a wide range of classroom subjects. We’ll travel together through Japan from June 21 – July 7, 2007 for 12 days of Genchi Genbutsu (go and see!) learning about the history, education system, environment and industry of this amazing country. Our journey begins in Torrance, California at the headquarters of our program sponsor, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.
The Toyota International Teacher Program to Japan was started in 1998 by Toyota Motor Sales, in partnership with the Institute of International Education in Washington, DC. This program has provided an opportunity for more than 400 U.S. educators to experience Japan and to bring those experiences home to their classrooms and communities. Teachers have participated from all over the U.S. and this year almost 500 applications were received for the 40 spots.
We hope that you will keep reading this travelogue to learn more about us and our travels in Japan!
July 7, 2007
We are back home from the trip now, and the experience was nothing short of fantastic. We are already seeing our teachers from the trip emailing each other as they find articles and stories that pertain to what we saw. All of us are anxious to dive into our lessons and apply our many findings about the global economy and international cooperation that we saw firsthand in Japan.
Our last stop before coming home was Tokyo. What can one say about Tokyo? It is one of the biggest cities in the world and yet one of the safest and friendliest. It is one of the richest cities in the variety of offerings it provides its visitors; from the shopping area of Ginza to the fashion trendsetting districts of Harajuku, from electronic specialty houses to the bustling Tsukiji fish market, from the tourist filled Asakusa Temple to the serenity of the Meiji shrine. It has been a unique experience with something to offer each of us.
We will miss Japan very much, but we are ready to take home our memories and experiences and to share them across our own great nation.
Linda Maier (NY), John Griffin (AL)
July 4-5, 2007
The surprise of coming from Hiroshima and Takayama to Tokyo was indeed a shock to the system. Tokyo is such a huge modern city with people and things constantly on the move.
We've had several speakers related to the environment and history here in Tokyo. We especially focused on Japan's impact (both positive and negative) on the environment both nationally and internationally. Tokyo is where we have seen the best examples of household and community recycling, but we've also heard that there are two million registered cars and trucks on the roads of Metropolitan Tokyo.
We've also had the chance to do some exploring on our own. Several of us visited the Tsukiji Fish market very early this morning. What an amazing place! We saw gigantic tuna being auctioned off, and literally thousands of other kinds of fish and marine life. It really puts into perspective the amount of food consumed each day in such a large city. Others in the group also visited the Ghibli Museum. This is a museum dedicated to the works of Miyazaki Hayao who is known best in the US for the animated movies "Spirited Away" and "Princess Mononoke". Located in the suburbs, it was also a good chance for us to see the day-to-day lives of the people of Tokyo.
Our final evening of the program was spent on a Yakatabune boat in Tokyo Bay. We learned about the history of Tokyo Bay from a 5th generation fisherman who has been active in protecting the bay from environmental degradation and land reclamation. What a beautiful way to wrap up the program!
Red Environmental Group: Devery Rodgers (CA), Kristen VanDusen (ME), Gaea Wimmer (KS), Jeffrey Wright (KY)
July 4, 2007
Half of the group had the chance to spend the last three days in two small mountain towns: Takayama in Gifu prefecture, and Ainokura in Toyama prefecture.
We boarded the train in Nagoya, and traveled along the river and up into the mountains. As we moved out of the big city we began to see larger houses, then larger rice paddies, and then the mist parted and we saw the mountains.
This area has traditionally been known for its forests, wooden crafts and talented craftsmen. They built unique small temples and intricate wooden parade floats used during the spring and fall festivals called matsuri in Japanese. In contrast to these highly stylized floats, we also saw beautiful handicrafts in the farmer's market. These crafts were so simple, yet very elegant, taking into account the natural beauty of the wood and wood grain.
The craftsmen of the area also known for building a special style of house called Gassho, which are large a-framed dwellings built around a fire-pit. The steeply sloped roofs kept the snow from piling up during the winter, and created a space in the third floor where silk worms were kept and silk thread was produced. The math teachers among us are already working on classroom lessons revolving around the geometry seen in the Gassho houses.
The last night we stayed in one of these Gassho with a local family. They served us traditional foods from the area, vegetables and herbs collected from the forest, river fish roasted around the fire-pit, mushrooms, and rice. Each dish was delicious, and served with a simple elegance in the hearth room. After dinner, the families told us about their lives, as well as the history and tradition of the area. We were also learned how to perform on their traditional festival dances called the Kokoriko
We are sure that it will be a big adjustment to go from the calm and quiet of this area to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.
Takayama Industry Group: Denise Howard (TX), Mary Beth Immediata (NC), Jerome Janisch (SD), Lyle Taylor (KY)
July 2, 2007
Today we visited the island of Miyajima, just south of the city of Hiroshima. It is such a beautiful, picturesque island. It felt different than most of the places that we have been. There were few people, but so many temples and shrines. The free roaming deer on the island were not what we expected to see in Japan.
We did see the island as a very touristic place. However, it was very interesting to see the mix and coexistence of Buddhism and Shinto. We learned that most people in Japan are simultaneously Buddhist and Shinto.
We were moved by the image of Torii gate floating in the water. We enjoyed the beauty in nature and the mix of old and new and were again struck by how open and helpful the citizens are to help find places and answer questions.
Tourist industry seemed very advanced in Hiroshima, however, the absolute best part of the trip being able to interact with local students in such a meaningful way. The students were honest and genuine in all conversations, always giving, and not expecting anything in return. The students really worked hard to arrange our visit, but were still very enthusiastic and energetic. We sincerely hope to keep up communication and dialogue with students. The volunteers made the whole experience resonate, even going through the Peace Museum which was very emotional. Peace to them is not a concept; it is a part of life.
Hiroshima Industry Group: Jennifer Boggess (OH), Teena Bolton (IL), Ann Curtis (CA), Michael Delligatti (IL), Kamilah Williams (MD)
June 30 – July 1, 2007
Half of the group selected to visit Hiroshima as a part of their split program activity. As a part of the visit, we spent two days with local students and young professionals. Meeting and interacting with the local Hiroshima volunteers was the most significant. We saw the city from their perspective. It also made a difference that many of the volunteers were a generation younger than the U.S. participants.
Interactions with students were so important. We sang songs, learned about culture, danced, laughed. An amazing bonding experience. We took a city tour guided by the volunteers where we saw varied parts of history, and day-to-day life of people and city of Hiroshima.
We found the people of Hiroshima would go well out of their way to help visitors for any reason. We were amazed how the locals had turned hatred into love for peace, which was overarching over all things. We did not feel any bitterness towards us as Americans at all. If the shoe was on other foot, could we do this?
The city of Hiroshima is very picturesque with rivers running through it. We had many opportunities to purchase items for our classrooms and found it to be a very walkable, convenient city. The Hiroshima Peace Museum was very sobering, thought provoking and very well done.
Hiroshima Environment Group: Brian Kane (UT), Linda Mayfield (TX), Ford Morishita (OR), Devery Rodgers (CA), Jeffrey Wright (KY)
June 28, 2007
Today we had the opportunity to visited Hiyoshigaoka High School and Tonan High School in Kyoto. As educators, the chance to visit a public high school was one of the most important parts of our program in Japan. Getting to talk to the students was a key part of the visit and we truly enjoyed meeting fellow Japanese educators in the same subject areas to speak with and hopefully email with. Our hope is to set up some kind of communication between our students and those we visited.
Our first observation: Kids are kids! We felt like we were in our schools at home, especially when walking around school and speaking to the students The students were very animated and acted just like our own students would. The subjects that the students said they liked and didn’t like about school were the same.
We got the impression that students were happy to be there, felt safe and comfortable. We knew that the teachers and administration were very supportive of the students and proud of their school. At the same time, felt they were a normal/typical school in Japan.
Students were very heavily involved with after-school clubs and sports. They seem to do a great deal of practice. Many student’s English level was good, for other students who’s level was not as high, we communicated through gestures and drawing pictures.
Education Blue: Richard Belinchi (HI), Glenn Delcarpio (LA), Terese LeFavor (CO), Chelonnda Seroyer (AL), Alicia Walker (MO)
June 27, 2007
Today we had a whole day with Alex Kerr at his art and culture program called Origin. At this school we learned what he calls the 4 pillars of Japanese culture – Shodo (Calligraphy), Waraku (Martial Arts), Noh (Japanese Drama), and Chado (Tea Ceremony). These four art forms incorporate concepts like attention to detail, the importance of making the most of each moment called ichi-go ichi-e, and respect for people and things; all of which seem to form the basis of much of Japanese culture.
At first the intricate movements and extreme attention to small details are difficult to master, but after practice it becomes almost second nature. The mysterious quality of Japan was brought to a more human level by having this personal contact with such accomplished sensei. We felt that the experiences and insight offered were well beyond the average experience of an American tourist.
Upon return to the classroom, we hope to use the idea of ichi-go ichi-e to help us appreciate the amazing experiences and special company of all of our colleagues on this program!
Red History Group: Victoria Dougherty (NY), Laurence Marcial (PA), Cecilia Moix (TN), Lisa Sterling (NC), Douglass Woodrow (WA).
June 26, 2007
Today was our first full day in Japan!
This morning we had our in-country orientation. Dr. Laurence MacDonald, a former Fulbright recipient and an expert on the Japanese education system, spoke to us for two hours on the educational system of Japan (and we would have stayed for two more!)
He told us about a typical day in a Japanese school, the different role of teachers in Japan, and how the Japanese education system is changing from a curriculum based on rote memory to a more integrated approach which helps prepare the entire child.
We were surprised to find out that educators at the elementary and middle school level in Japan fill the role of friends and guidance counselors for the students, instead of disciplinarians. They will most often let students solve their own conflicts, and not get involved. He explained to us that the students are responsible for the welfare of the group, including resolving their own fights.
After Dr. MacDonald’s presentation we were left with some questions that we look forward to answering during the school visits.
We also heard from Alex Kerr, author of the book “Lost Japan”, a book which includes much about the culture and people of Kyoto. After that we got to explore the city on our own!
One of our favorite places was Ryoanji – the Zen rock garden. It is an incredible experience for all of the senses – there was even a distinct smell that seemed to encourage quietness and introspection.
Sitting among rocks
Without knowing the questions
Only small answers
- Joshua Bridger
Kyoto is a quiet city, filled with contrasts: ancient temples in between modern skyscrapers, geishas walking to work between business men commuting home – it seems that understanding this contrast might be the key to understanding this city.
Red Education Group: Normal Mota-Altman (CA), Amy Pint (PA), Keri Polevchak (KY), Thomas Redfern (PA), Chuchun Tsai (VA)
June 25, 2007
We are finally in Japan! After traveling by bus, plane, feet, and bus again – we were welcomed to our hotel in Kyoto.
Our first impressions of Japan are varied. We saw lots of technology in our one and a half hour ride from Kansai airport to Kyoto. Most of the technology seemed to be created to increase human comfort when living in densely populated areas. The raised highways were surrounding by noise-reducing barriers, which help shield the people who live mere feet from these crowded freeways.
This consideration for people is also apparent in the way you are treated as a customer. Bell-boys, waiters, and people on the street go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. Japan has certainly gone well above and beyond the call of duty to make us feel welcome to their country.
Blue History and Culture Group: Joshua Bridger (MA), Kelly Frascht (IA), Joel Key (NY), Elizabeth Meyers (LA)
June 24, 2007
We started the Program at the Japanese-American National Museum. It was a powerful experience and a great introduction to the relationship between the U.S. and Japan, past and present.
We started the day with a talk about the history of the Japanese immigration to the U.S. and the discrimination that they faced once they arrived. Irene Hirano, executive director of JANM, also explained the role of the museum in promoting people to people diplomacy – a very personal approach to improving cultural understanding. This was reinforced by the presentations of two surviving members of US battalion 442, Japanese American soldiers who served in WWII and by the docents of the JANM who shared their personal stories. We were all impressed by how powerful history can be when related from a first-person perspective.
For our introduction to present US – Japan relations, we were also honored to hear from the Japanese Consul General of Los Angeles, Mr. Kazuo Kodama. It was very interesting to see how both countries are greatly influenced by the policies of the other. He explained that Japan is currently at a crossroads, trying to redefine their role in the international arena. We’ll be excited to see how these new policies are influencing the people and the education system when we get to Japan!
Traveling Alumni: John Griffin (AL), Linda Maier (NY)