An 11-day trip to Japan this June capped off the school year for 18 Princeton Day School students in 9th-11th grade. The students were the latest group to participate in PDS International Travel Programs, an extension of the Global Studies Program, which has developed cultural explorations in India, China, France, London, Rome, and, this past spring, the Island School in the Bahamas.
Upper School history teacher Dave Freedholm, who has led many trips to China and India over the years, and Upper School technology coordinator Lauren Ledley, who previously taught in Japan and speaks Japanese, led the trip and developed the itinerary. A third trip leader and former colleague of Ledley's, Maggie Ninjo, teaches in Japan.
Key explorations included Hiroshima, Miyajima, Yakage, Kyoto/Nara, and Tokyo. The group spent a full day at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum learning about the factors leading to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and its devastating consequences. Students had the opportunity to reflect on and discuss its impact on world relations today. They also spent a full day exploring the island of Miyajima, which included a hike to the top of Mt. Misen, enjoying the deer that co-exist with humans on the island, and trying delicious eel and oysters.
A visit to the rural town of Yakage, where Ledley formerly taught, was a unique experience for everyone. A formal greeting ceremony with the mayor kicked off the day, but it was the amazing agenda arranged by the Japanese senior high school students that energized the group. Activities to introduce Kagura (a local Japanese dance form), the opportunity to join the after-school tea ceremony or calligraphy clubs, and time for conversation groups were among the highlights. Said Ledley, "Our students raved about this experience and exchanged social media contact information with many of the Japanese students they met. The enthusiastic engagement of the students from both coutnries was particularly rewarding for all involved,"
Other highlights included exploring Kiyomizudera, Fushimi Inari and other famous temples and shrines in Kyoto, and ordering styles of ramen from all over Japan via a vending machine system at the massive Kyoto station department store. In nearby Nara, a must-see was the giant statue of Buddha at Todai-ji. Tokyo was a fitting finale, with its sheer volume of people, intensely complex subway system, and seemingly endless opportunities to shop for Japanese souvenirs and fashion goods. As Ledley says, "The trip went so smoothly and the students significantly expanded their cultural frame of reference. We hope to offer another Japan trip opportunity for future groups." -Melanie Shaw