One significant modern rite-of-passage for young people in Japan are school trips. Generally, there is a school trip for elementary, junior high, and high school levels. For Junior High students, the school trip occurs in the second year and is three to four days in another prefecture. For students in many schools in Okinawa, the school trip destination of choice is Kyushu.
This year, I was able to go on the school trip as the photographer for two of my junior highs. I even live tweeted the trip. This year Kumejima‘s Nakazato, Kumeshima, and Nishi Junior Highs went on a four-day trip through several of Kyushu’s prefectures.
As you might suspect, traveling from a small island in Okinawa to one of Japan’s four major islands with over a hundred second years is a logistical nightmare. I doubt its something that could happen in America, yet it happens all around Japan every year. Accompanying each class is a homeroom teacher, administrator, and nurse (and me this year).
We met at the airport early where students had plenty of time to check in baggage, ensure nothing was forgotten, and then listen to speeches and farewells from family and staff. Part of the trip is to give many of the students opportunities to speak and hold positions of responsibility, so several students also gave speeches. Before too long, bags were checked and we were through security.
We flew to Okinawa, where our tour guide met us. Part of the reason the trips are even possible is that they are planned far in advance with the help of professional guides who can schedule things with enough of a safety buffer to make all connections, plus troubleshoot any problems that arise.
After Okinawa, we flew to Fukuoka City in Fukuoka Prefecture. There we grabbed our bags and loaded onto tour buses where we met our bus guide. Unlike the tour guide, who worked to organize and assist us on the trip, the bus guide actually led us throughout the four days, providing interesting information on points as we rode. Our first destination was right in Fukuoka.
One of the most famous shrines in Japan is Dazaifu Tenmangu. It is especially important for students as it is dedicated to the studious. Students pray for good grades and buy charms to help them in their studies and tests. When I went with my students from Kitadaito a few years ago, the second years brought wooden plaques (ema) that the third years had made. Those ema had wishes and hopes for their upcoming entrance exams, so the second years acted as their proxies in delivering the wishes to the kami.
After passing a street full of small shops we arrived on the shrine grounds where the bus guide pointed out some of the history of the shrine. She led us towards the main gates. The path crossed over two bridges and past several smaller shrines, statues, and sacred trees.
At the main gate, students washed their hands and mouth at a spring to purify themselves before entering the shrine. There were long-handled ladles which one could use in the right hand to pour water over the left, and then tip up to let water wash the right hand.
After entering, students prayed at the shrine. First they tossed 5 yen coins (the number 5 is lucky) clapped to call the attention of the kami, bowed, prayed, clapped, and left.
Afterward we headed behind the shrine to a restaurant where bento lunches were awaiting us along with grilled mochi. Students ate in groups and then were given free time to shop at the shrine stalls for charms and gifts before exploring the rest of the shrine and the shops along the way back to the buses Though they were told not to buy food since dinner would be provided later, but a few snuck snacks.
After wandering around for a bit I made my way back to the awesomely designed starbucks and had a macha tea latte.
On to the Hotel
After the shrine, we jumped back into the bus for a long bus ride down to Saga prefecture and our hotel. Along the way we stopped at a rest stop to give everyone a break and take a few pictures. Before long we ended up at Takeo Century Hotel where the students were welcomed by the large hotel’s staff. After a few speeches, students went for their rooms before dinner.
Dinner was an extravagant affair with local flavors presented in many small dishes for each person. The two schools I was traveling with ate in a dining room set aside just for us.
After dinner, students were fitted for their ski wear for the next day and then held meetings where they talked about their experiences, filled in guide books, and went over the next day’s activities.
The school trips really are an amazing experience, and I feel lucky that I’ve had the chance to go with three groups of students. Each time has been different, though the major places we’ve visited have been roughly the same. The real experiences I’ve had on school trips in Japan are featured in the upcoming novel Revenge of the Akuma Clan the sequel to Samurai Awakening.