Educational Tour and Cultural Exchange of FI Schools- Philippines and Japan, 2019

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     November 2 – 10, 2019 marked a memorable learning experience for the participants of the Japan Cultural Exchange. The delegation was composed of fourteen (14) junior and senior high school students with two (2) teacher chaperones from Sacred Heart School – Hijas de Jesus of Cebu City, six (6) students with one teacher chaperone from Stella Marris Academy of Davao City, and two (2) high school students with one F.I. sister chaperone from Manresa School of Parañaque.

They got to see the rich historical and cultural heritage of the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, and Matsue.

   TOKYO: The educational tour started on November 2, 2019 with a meet and greet of the English – speaking Japanese tour guide who could understand the Filipino language at Narita Airport in Tokyo. The delegates checked in at The Warehouse Tokyu Rei Hotel in Kawasaki City where they experienced a cold weather and low temperature in the afternoon. It did not dampen, though, the excitement of the delegates for their first and last preparations as a big group for their dance presentations which they performed at Shotuko Gakuin School in Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture on the seventh day of the trip.

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in front of The Warehouse Tokyu Rei Hotel in Kawasaki City

     The second day of activities provided an opportunity for the delegates to attend a Holy Mass in English at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Kojimachi, ChiyodaKu. Sr. Flor Florece, FI gladly met the group at the entrance of the church. The group is grateful to Sr. Flor Florece, FI whose warm welcome and accommodation made the occasion to be with the Lord in the Holy Eucharist possible.

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 @ St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Kojimachi, ChiyodaKu with Sr. Flor Florece, FI

The group proceeded to a museum to appreciate Japan’s pursuit for technological advancement at the National Museum of Emerging Science.

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A sumptuous lunch at a local restaurant prepared the delegation to enjoy the Japanese’s awesome preservation of beliefs and traditions in
Senso – ji Temple and Nakamise Shopping Street in Asakusa. The delegates walked through the narrow streets with many Japanese locals and foreign tourists. Not far from Asakusa, the evening became mesmerizing as the delegation went up to the impressive observation deck of the world’s tallest tower with its amazing neo-futuristic design architectural design, Tokyo Skytree, in Sumida. The view from the top offered panoramic views of the river and city’s many colorful lights. The glass floor was scary but fascinating that one had a great fun to do in a once – in - a -lifetime opportunity well worth paying to go right to the top.

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Tokyo Skytree

   KYOTO: The third day offered the group an experience to be onboard a bullet train from Shin – Yokohama Station bound to Kyoto to visit old castles and temples in southern Japan. After an almost three – hour ride to Kyoto, the delegation got to taste a Kyoto cuisine in Oshokujidokoro Kinkaku. The famous Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), a Zen temple in northern Kyoto, whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf was a sight to behold. It is an impressive structure built overlooking a large pond, and is the only building left of Yoshimitsu’s former retirement complex.

      The gorgeous style of the Nijo – jo Castle showed the Shogun Tokugawa’s prestige who ruled Japan for over 260 years, and it remains an eloquent testimony to their power. Inside the palace are several masterpieces of Japanese art, most notably the painted screens of the main chamber, where the shoguns met the daimyo (high – ranking warlord- administrators) who sought an audience. Everyone enjoyed walking on the famous “nightingale floors” which were designed to squeak when stepped on and thus would alert the guards for intruders.

     The climb on the unspoiled historical alleys of Ninenzaka Slope and Sannen – zaka Slope was quite memorable for one cannot help taking pictures of this nostalgic and dreamy scenery of Japan’s good old days. Several male and female Japanese dressed in yukatas and kimonos stroll around, enjoyed shopping, or sipped Matcha green tea. The two slopes are approach to the famous Kiyomizu - dera Temple (literally “Pure Water Temple”), a Buddhist temple which is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site. Walking there was a truly magical experience with people dressed in traditional wear, its impressive viewing platform, three – storey Koyasu pagoda, and the medicinal pure waters of the Otowa Spring. The walk was exhausting, but the thought of heading to Universal Studios, Japan or USJ after an hour and forty – five minute bus ride promised another day full of excitement and adventure.

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 Nijo – jo Castle

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The famous Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion)

     OSAKA: The day started with a Japanese breakfast at Hotel Kintetsu Universal City located right in front of Universal Studios. Everyone wanted to beat the long queues of every ride so each one was in a hurry to proceed to the entrance before it opened at 8:30 in the morning. Exploring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Wand Magic, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, The Flying Dinosaur, Hollywood Dream – The Ride, The Amazing Adventures of Spider – Man, Jurassic Park – The Ride, JAWS, and Space Fantasy are the top rides and attractions of USJ that one, young or adult, should not miss aside from the plenty fun attractions to keep any visitor busy all day. The group went back to the hotel, satisfied and extremely happy when the theme park closed at 9 o’clock in the evening.

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Universal Studios Japan

     HIROSHIMA: The fifth day offered a serious content as the group wewnt to the historical Atomic Bomb Dome, the Cenotaph for Atomic Bomb Victims, and the Peace Memorial Park and Museum. Before heading to the historical sites, the delegates  experienced making their own okonomiyaki for lunch at a local restaurant. The visit gave the group a deeper understanding of the suffering caused by war and nuclear weapons and the true value of peace. The group offered a prayer service at The Peace Bell in the Children’s Peace Monument and sang the famous John Lennon’s song, Imagine, then put some paper cranes in the display area.

    The tour inside the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum touched the hearts of the delegates as they saw the displayed possessions from the victims of war, photographs, and other documentation. Indeed, the museum conveyed to the world the realities of the atomic bomb, advocated world peace, and the abolition of nuclear weapons. The evening ended with a reflection and processing of experiences by small groups inside their respective hotel rooms.

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                                                     Prayer serviceat Sadako Monument   

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Peace Memorial Park

     The next day in Hiroshima was a once – in – a – lifetime opportunity to visit the Mazda Museum which houses the different models of vehicles since the company’s foundation in 1920. The car enthusiasts among the delegates were privileged to look into the technology of its automobiles and the prospects for its future developments. The tour passed through an actual vehicle assembly line where visitors could see a variety of different car models being produced by humans and robots alike. The delegates had an opportunity to ride and take photos of the shop that featured Mazda goods at the end of the 90 – minute tours.

     The delegates enjoyed the museum showcasing the history, culture, and the secret of the deliciousness of the okonomiyaki in Hiroshima and tour the sauce factory using robots at Otafuku Sauce Wood Egg Museum. Everyone leaves the museum with a sample of the famous otafuku sauce. After an hour – bus drive from the museum, the group heads to Itsukushima Jinja, also known as Miyajima (“Shrine Island”), a small island in Hiroshima Bay, via a ferry boat to see the Itsukushima Shrine. The orange Great Torii Gate marks the entrance to the shrine. Luckily, the delegates get to witness a ritual of family offering in the shrine. It is the most amazing spiritual getaway for people in Japan who strongly believe that it’s “home of God”.

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     YONAGO: The three – hour bus drive from Hiroshima after a half – day tour in Miyajima made the delegates exhausted and hungry. An overnight stay at a hotel in Yonago with a heavy dinner was a relief to prepare them for the most – awaited event of the cultural exchange in Matsue City the following day.

     MATSUE CITY: The delegates’ arrival at Shotoku Gakuin High School culminated the objectives of the cultural exchange. A program that showcased an exchange of the rich culture and tradition of the three big islands of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao through dances and the Japanese song numbers marked the beginning of a relationship among the young brothers and sisters in the family of St. Candida.

     Each Filipino delegate met his/her Japanese brother and sister and attended classes the whole day for a two – night stay with the host family. Each delegate was immersed in the Japanese way of life and the three – month preparations way back in the Philippines was a big help for him or her to be confident in communicating and living with the Japanese family, using common polite expressions and showing appropriate behavior with finesse and propriety.

    It was an absolutely wonderful and heartwarming short immersion which made every delegate treasure the memories and will forever etched in his or her heart. Tears and hugs were shared by the delegates and the host families as expressions of love and gratitude for the gifts of persons, love and presence.

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       OSAKA: The bus ride back to Osaka was quiet after having said goodbyes to each delegate’s new family in Matsue City. Everyone reminisced the unforgettable experiences and fell asleep in a five – hour bus ride passing through tunnels and mountains with trees covered in autumn leaves. A stop – over at Tottori market for lunch awakened everyone for it gave a break from the solitude of one’s reflection. The visit to Osaka Castle which involved a lot of walking and climbing to its tower measure one’s strength and stamina. The view from the top of Osaka’s skyline and landscape was worth the effort. The sprawling castle grounds were surrounded with cherry blossom trees that bloom in summer time.

       The delegates started to feel nostalgic of Japan and its magical beauty on the last night before heading back to the Philippines. However, like any other visitor or tourist in Osaka, one could not miss going to Dotonbori, one of the most iconic areas in Osaka. The bustling commercial street of restaurants, shops, and playhouses with all the flashy 3D signboards is a must – visit for every tourist. Of course, every delegate went to shop the Walmart of Japan, Don Quijote, a popular store that sells just about everything at a cheap price. Its location in Dotonbori is special because of its huge, oblong, yellow Ferris wheel along the Tonbori River Cruise. Then, the delegates  experienced making his or her own takoyaki, Osaka’s soul food in a local restaurant. Everyone ate takoyaki to his or her heart’s delight before a night rest.

   The educational tour was truly a memorable and unforgettable educational experience that gave the delegates a wider perspective to appreciate God’s marvelous creations and masterpieces. The Japanese lifestyle and industry encouraged the delegates to practice “magis” by doing more for the Lord in the service of other people as brothers and sisters.

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The FI school delegates left Japan thru Kansai International Airport in Osaka on November 11, 2019, bringing with them wonderful memories of friendships and camaraderie with the other members of the family of St. Candida Maria de Jesus.