In 2018 three Blackwood High School students visited Himeji, Japan accompanied by teachers Katrina Constantopoulos and Andrew Cavallaro. It was an experience that they will never forget and will treasure forever.
During this trip we all tried new things and pushed ourselves to become different people. We had many amazing new experiences going to a different country and living with a homestay family. To see how family and school life works in Japan was a real eye-opening opportunity, as they have a peaceful, not rushed approach to life and a different way of living. While we were there we meet the Deputy Mayor of Himeji, participated in a tea ceremony and went on a tour of the Himeji Castle. This was a very spiritual and cultural experience. Every day was a new and adventurous journey, from meeting new people and making unbreakable bonds to visiting shrines and temples with monks. A highlight of the trip was the connections that were made with our host families where we were immediately welcomed and made to feel part of the family. Families had planned activities for each afternoon and the weekends including a visit to Universal Studios in Osaka. We also experienced some different weather conditions including two typhoons. Our last days were filled with laughter and lots of emotion as the time to leave such a beautiful country was drawing near.
Whilst in Himeji, we sampled many different Japanese foods. These included katsu don, okonomiyaki, oden, sushi, takoyaki, soba, udon, karaage, gyoza, and sashimi. Tasting so many new foods was a unique experience that added to the entire trip. Breakfast usually consisted of toast with spreads, fruit, eggs and sausages. The bread used is called shokupan, more commonly known as milk bread. It is a thickly sliced, fluffy, tall bread made with milk, butter, flour and Yudane. This gives the bread its height and flavour. It is very common in Japan and very tasty. Every day we tasted a different cuisine for lunch. One of our favourites was okonomiyaki, a grilled savoury pancake with noodles and a variety of different ingredients. The sauces used are kewpie mayonnaise and a ketchup, Worcestershire and honey mix. Other favourites included udon – noodles served in hot broth, soba – noodles served with salad, karaage – a fried chicken dish, tempura ebi – a battered type of prawn which is lightly fried and ramen. Ramen is a bowl of noodles which contains a hot pork broth, bamboo shoots, an egg, nori (seaweed) and narutomaki, a kind of fish cake. Dinners each night were shared with our host families. Favourites were takoyaki, a fried and battered octopus or sausage ball, cooked on an electric grill as a family, gyoza, a fried dumpling with a meat, soy sauce, sake and sesame seed oil filling, konjac, a combination dish eaten with raw egg, sushi and katsu don. This dish consists of crumbed pork cutlets, egg and onion broth and rice. Deserts included dango a type sweetened rice balls, mochi which are pounded, sugared rice cakes and red bean. Overall, most of the food we tried was very different to Australian food, but was very tasty and added to the whole experience of our trip to Himeji.
Throughout this trip, we had the opportunity to go to different places in order to have a wider understanding of Japan. From traditional shrines to modern arcades, we experienced many aspects of the Japanese culture which broadened our view of the world.
Some notable examples of traditional places we visited included two UNESCO World Heritage sites. Firstly, we went to Himeji Castle, one of the major castles in Japan which retains its original structure. It was built in 1333, and is considered a symbol of Himeji. The second site we visited was an island, Miyajima, famous for its Torii gate floating on the water. It has been built in such way such that pilgrims can easily approach the shrine complex. We also visited Peace Park in Hiroshima and heard the historical stories from people whose lives had been impacted on and admired their strength and resilience.
The modern places we went to were as fascinating as the historical ones. Because the Japanese people enjoy entertainment very much, we visited a game centre to try out activities such as arcade games and karaoke. Not only were these places enjoyable, they let us learn what the Japanese enjoy doing during their free time. Going to different places is an enjoyable way to understand more about Japan. All these experiences gave us a 3-dimensional view of every aspect of the Japanese culture.
Hayden Chan, Laura Fewster, Isabella Stephens