A Travelogue of a Westmont Middle and High School journey to Japan
We interviewed Alana Scott, one of our middle school students, about her experience during the recent trip to Japan organized by Westmont Montessori School.
That’s what I thought when I was told about the possibility of going to Japan with my school.
That’s what I said every day in Japan when I woke up to something amazing.
That’s what I felt when I was honored with the chance to write about it for my school and the Metchosin Muse.
So here I am, writing to you reader and beyond, about all those wows.
Let’s start with the beginning. Our vice principal, Jason Bowers got an email around this time last year from a parent at Westmont, oddly enough named Jason as well. Jason Holt. Believe me, there were countless cracks about it later.
What was one small email asking if the Middle and High schoolers would like to go on a trip to Japan for spring break took root and blossomed into an entire vacation and educational school journey, like how the cherry blossoms flowered while we were there. It took months of planning, but in September of 2022 both Jasons presented the idea to the parents of Westmont.
From there, 15 families between the Highschool and Middle School signed up their children to participate in Westmont’s first international trip.
In the early bright morning at a Zenkoji Monastery or in the depths of dark night at 643 meters high. Eating vegetarian or trying Takoyaki for the first time. Stepping through the back streets of Osaka or swimming and skiing in Nozawa Onsen.
We entered a place that everyone agreed was the most beautiful thing they’d ever seen. The TeamLabs Planets exhibition in Tokyo. It’s impossible to describe seeing it for the first time, which is spectacular for a school trip, but inconvenient for writing. A place not from this world in seven rooms. The most I can say about it is to go and see it for yourself, then come back and try to describe it.
Educating ourselves on creators not from the same backgrounds as us is important to grow as people and expand our ideas. We got the chance to do just that when we visited the online video creators exhibit at the Mirakian Museum of emerging science and innovation. We enjoyed learning about the Japanese creators and their lives as video makers. Something that we didn’t have to know any Japanese for was the lively beanbag toss game they set up. As much as I would like to say I won the entire time, I’ve got to hand it to my classmate Alex who had a much better aim than me. He also was the one navigating us most of the time, as we were left to our own devices (literally; google maps is a savior) to get ourselves from point A to point B. Or in some cases from Shibuya station to Yasukuni-jinja Shrine. From a place where an average of over 2.4 million people cross Shibuya daily to the same peaceful place where the emperor visits. Meiji Shrine, our first Shinto shrine. It was a calming and lovely experience, maybe not so much for the other prayers who had to listen to our banter.
Is it a good habit to get lost in science? Because we certainly got turned around once or twice (okay maybe three times) in the National Nature Museum. With showcases on unique Japanese sea life, lustrous rocks and gems, and the evolution of mankind. One of our favourite parts of the human exhibition was specifically the models showing what human life looked like at certain stages. In this last model you yourself got to go inside the glass case and be the example of modern human life.
We ended our city stay with a night trip to the Tokyo sky tree, 643 meters above the darkened streets we trekked along to reach it. At a dizzying height we could see miles away on the dim but illuminated horizon. It was enchanting to see so much of the city, quiet, but alive. With the golden lights spilling like tangled necklaces as far out as we could see.
Over the next four days we were allowed to roam the shops and restaurants, almost always having some sort of noodles for meals. On the second day, half of us rode up to the mountain in a gondola lift. The other half spent a slow-paced day out in town at the bottom. While up at the top of the mountain we saw all below. Skiing and snowboarding up high. The snow seemed like thousands of small diamonds somebody smuggled up and scattered. It was chilled enough to keep the snow but warm enough to not have to wear gloves. It was quiet except for the scraping sound of skis on the cold hard hills. Sliding and turning like a water skier on a pond surface. Sleek and cool landscapes. Silky and playful breezes.
On our way out of the town to Zenkoji temple we visited one of the cutest animals to grace the earth.
The snow monkeys.
Adorable little creatures in the Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano. A morning and a lot of photo storage was spent adoring the monkeys as they bathed in the hot springs and picked bugs from their babies and partners. We were even privy to a mother carrying her baby on her hips while walking by us.
We were back in a large city again and it felt great. Which shocked me since I’m not an urban person by any measure. But the metropolis felt like home in a foreign place.
We set off the next day, fueled by a breakfast of grocery goods to catch a wooden boat taking us down the Hozugawa river. Led by a crew of four captains with three in the front, and one steering in the back. We had a calm and lovely boat trip bobbing down the waters, unless we were in a rapid it was mostly a peaceful ride. When in a rapid, the waters churned a little more and the waves rolled into each other and our boat would rock and arms of water would splash us. Both the Jasons got hit by a particularly large wave.
Afterwards we shopped in the market area near the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. Which we then wandered through and enjoyed. It wasn’t too hot outside, but the shade was a relief. The calming nature of the forest was refreshing from all the walking, moving, and experiencing from the past 12 days. It didn’t last long, but I think it really helped all of us.
We then went on to the Ryoan-ji temple with its well cultivated gardens and large statue of the Buddha behind a long pool of water. Jason Holt informed us that it originally belonged to an aristocrat couple who were both very smart. But when the husband died his wife dedicated the plot of land to him and designed the entire garden and tomb, which was nothing to sneeze at, despite the pollen. It turns out the gardens are famous for their rock placement. Even though it was designed as a tomb, it still gave off a happy and peaceful atmosphere with the tidiness of the rocks and plants. Even the birds weren’t in a hurry.
I woke up the next day with a sore throat and was instantly eaten alive by terror. Had I gotten sick?
Last night smacked into me.
We had all crowded into a soundproof room with seats and a table. Two screens were situated on opposite walls. Everyone cheering and shouting along to the lyrics. Microphones and merriment. We sang our voices dry karaoking
We said our final goodbyes to the amazing country we had just spent two weeks in and departed the next morning. We were happy and fulfilled but ready to go home.
And now, exactly one week later I’m recapping all those crazy wows to you. I hope you enjoyed reading about our travel as much as we enjoyed going.
Westmont Montessori Middle School Student