PUKE - HARA 2018

Day Sixteen - Universal Studios


Today was Universal Studios and it was an incredible day! We got up nice and early for breakfast and headed off so we could be there for the opening. We all entered as a big group and very quickly moved off to our first ride; Hollywood Dream. We express passed our way to the front of the line for a quick roller coaster to start our day off. Following this we all had a scheduled in time for Harry Potter World. Fair to say there were a few students who were really excited to be there. It really was magical to be there. It was themed like the movie, had a musical backdrop and such cute little shops in the village to make you feel as if you were in Hogsmead (a reference some may know). There were so many options for things to look at and we had 25mins before out first ride so we spread out and hit the shops. Quite a few students purchased some Harry Potter paraphernalia. 


At 10.30 we met outside the first Harry Potter ride; Harry Potter and the forbidden journey. The ride was a mixture of roller coaster, motion master and 3D movie. It was great. Usually at theme parks we tend to split off into smaller groups but for this one we spent most of the day together as a big group. From Harry Potter world we all trooped off to Jurassic Park where we stood in line - in a rather hot sun - for about 50mins before cooling off as the boat style ride splashed down at the end. Next on our agenda was the Flight of the Dinosaur ride which is the most intense rollercoaster that they have at Universal. The rail for the ride is above you and you are strapped in (including your feet/legs) then your seat is titled back so it’s like you’re positioned to fly. Then the ride takes off at speed with a lot of twisting, turning, upside down and back to front action. The kids were absolutely buzzing afterwards. Kim and Raewyn not so much! Now we were also very lucky to get on that ride because we had express passes. Without them we would have had to wait in a 300min (yes 5 hour) line.


Then it was time for a lunch break at 50’s style diner before we headed off together to ride Jaws which was a bit tamer. From here we split off into two groups. Those who would like to line up and  ride the Hollywood Dream rollercoaster (first one) again but do the back drop version where you do the whole ride backwards. The other group headed off for Spiderman ride and some shopping. I took the group riding the Back Drop and we waited in line for a whole 2 hours. It sounds like a long time and don’t get me wrong it was….but it was also a lot of fun. The group were all playing games together, heads up, slaps etc and talked to each other and other people in the lines. Akshay even began singing Toia for some Japanese people in the line. As we got to the front of the line our excitement kicked up a notch and we hopped on the ride and chose a song to play out of our personal speakers (a cool feature of the ride). Just about everyone chose Taylor Swift, Shake it off, and danced (in their seats) and sang along as we climbed the hill backwards to then be dropped. What an awesome ride it was. Nicole even said “it was the best moment of her life.”


From here we all split up into smaller groups as people took off to use the final hour and a half to catch another ride, shop or even just chill out. No doubt everyone had their own highlight from the day.


After arriving back at the hostel we showered, had dinner and then got into the thick of packing bags so that every last little purchase could fit. A bit tricky for some people! Then it was time for bed for our final day tomorrow.


Not many photos taken today as realistically it was a lot of line time and no photos on the ride. But here are the photos from the day HERE.


Day Fifteen - Koyasan 


Day fifteen was our first day out in Osaka after a night at the youth hostel and the plan for the day was to head to Koyasan, which nearly didn’t happen because of weather warnings and damage to the area from the previous typhoon. Howveer, as the day dawned we were promised a great day and headed off to catch our first train. On the way the first bout of rain struck us and as Duncan commented it’s the kind you’d call “big ol’ fat rain”. 


We reached the safety and cover of the train station after not too long and then caught the first of a fair few trains. The ride out took about 2 hours and along the way we were joined by Honey Mama and Honey Gigi who used to live in Hara Mura and have hosted the Raewyn before. They showered us with gifts of food and drink - everyone got at least 3 donuts from Mr Donut and plenty of canned apple juice. As we got nearer to Koyasan we hopped off our train (in the rain) and transferred onto a cable car that lead us up a really rather impressive and steep hillside to Koyasan which sits up the mountain 876m high.


Before arriving I think we all pictured Koyasan to be a small place and just ‘another temple’ but in reality Koyasan was actually quite big (for the location) and we had a very interesting and enlightening day. 


We were met at our first stop by our guide for the day; Nobu, a Bhuddist Monk. Nobu turned out to be worth his weight in gold as a he lead us through the cemetery, then further on as we visited many different temples and shrines. Along the way he explained a bit about the religion, beliefs, practices and faith of the Japanese people. The two main religions in Japan are Shinto and Buddhism and he talked to us about how in the past the two religions fought with one another but showed us how now they sit along side each other in harmony. We could also see it in the different plots in the cemetery as he showed us how to recognise shinto graves and Buddhist ones. The most important part of the cemetery we visited was the temple for Kobodaishi who was the founder of buddhism in his area and in Japan. In this part of our visit students had to remain quite quiet for a long time, no photos were allowed to be taken and they took part in a short prayer session that gave everyone some time for reflection.


Nobu gave us a lot of information and insights to consider and one of the first ones he talked about was from a sign as we entered the area that said:

“Make the most of your life, for other people and for yourself” & “Focus on the now. Make your life alive.”


This was something that I think became a thread for the rest of the day that Nobu weaved his stories and information into and I think highlighted for us how we have been and should continue to make the most of the experience we are all having in Japan.


Now this day was one of those surreal and mind opening experiences for everyone. No doubt that everyone left the tour with something to consider or a story that struck them. This post would be rather long if I was to explain everything/retell all the stories so please ask your kids what stood out for them. What I can tell you is that our kids were all troopers as it bucketed down for most of the day and they walked through the rain listening to Nobu, asking him questions and taking in the whole experience.


We left Koyasan at about 3pm and headed back towards Namba for a night of shopping. Along the way some had little naps and others just chatted away. This shopping was an intense experience. There were a lot of people, a lot of light and a lot of noise. As it was our last big shopping time many used this time to make their final big purchases for the trip. There were a lot of happy faces at the end. Then it was time to head back to the Youth Hostel for showers, laundry and bed. Sleep was going to be very important for our next day out at Universal Studios. 


Day fifteen pictures HERE.

Day Fourteen - Osaka/Kyoto



Today was another early start (I’m thinking that’s all there will be) and we were up, breakfasted and on the bus by 7.30am - champions. We were off to the station to head for Kyoto on the bullet train. What a great way to travel. When we arrived me moved to a rather luxurious bus and headed for our first temple of the day - the Golden Temple/Kinkaku ji.


The Golden Temple really is a sight to see. It is set in a stunning surrounding garden and the top two layers of it are covered in real Gold Leaf. Seeing it nestled in the garden and the reflection of it in the surrounding water was breathtaking. As we walked through the gardens students were able to use some of their smaller change to throw into a wishing bowl. It became quite a challenge.


After a big lunch we headed off to the Kiyomizu-dera (Pure water temple). This temple was in the mountains in Kyoto and was up a long steep tourist shopping street. We all met at the top for a group photo before heading in and checking out the Temple. One significant part of the temple was the Romance Pathway. There are two big rocks about 10m apart and the story goes that if you walk from one point to the other with your eyes closed, without going off course, you will have a smooth romance path. The kids had a good time attempting the walk, which was particularly difficult given the high number of visitors at the temple. Next we headed further into the temple grounds and the students were able to line up, use special cups on the end of long poles and collect water from the mountains to drink which is meant to be good luck. After this we were able to split into small groups and make our way down the tourist shopping street and back to the bus.


Our final stop for the day was to Todaiji temple, about and hour away from where we were. This temple was situated within a large park that was home to a large population of deer. These deer are not scared of people at all and in fact the children were able to purchase special wafers to feed to the deer. Mr Sweeney gave them some money to purchase the crackers and feed the deer. The kids really enjoyed patting and feeding them but realised soon after running out of crackers that the deer would reman persistent and became somewhat annoying. A few people had the deer nibbling on their clothes even. After seeing the deer we headed off closer to the Temple. When you see the photos they will look good but they really wont do it justice. This particular temple is MASSIVE! It houses a giant Buddha an the kids were particularly excited about the challenge of fitting through the Buddha’s nostril (a small hole in the base of a structural pole). Most of the kids were game enough to have a go at it and then myself and Duncan plucked up the courage to have a go (check out the photos).


From here we had our final bus ride to Osaka and our Youth Hostel where we will stay for the remainder of the trip. This is the final stage of the trip and things are really rushing by. Tomorrow we are off to another temple area before our trip to Universal Studios on Sunday. Will keep you updated as much as possible - our internet here is TERRIBLE!


Day 14 photos HERE.



Day Thirteen - Miyajima Island


It’s been a busy/long last few days. Only just now getting some to get on top of the blog - we are currently sitting on the bus from Kyoto to Osaka so using the time to get you up to speed.


So, Thursday morning we were up nice and early after our big day out in the Peace Park the previous day. Breakfast was a buffet up on the top floor with an absolutely stunning view over the nearby canal and the Peace Park (we are in a really great location). After food, we headed off to near by 7-Eleven to buy our lunch and we noted that the rice balls are becoming a fast favourite for food on the go.Then we headed to the nearby canal where we caught a boat out to Miyajima island. The trip was about an hour and everyone made the most of the time to either catch up with each other or catch a little more sleep. 


Once the boat docked we headed off along the trail towards the gate and saw our first ‘friendly’ deer of the trip. These deer are considered to be sacred, messengers for god so they are very protected and wander the town freely, hassling tourists for food and rubbing their wet noises up against the people who get nice and close. We walked trough the gate together in nice little groups and took pictures, keeping our eyes out to see if there were any married couples having photos taken (it’s a very popular wedding photos location). Then we headed off our walk up to ropeway but some students mistakenly thought that was the actual walk we were doing… boy were they in for surprise. Everyone got into groups and headed up the first of two parts to the ropeway with a max of 6 people to a cable car. I got pictures of all the groups before they headed off - enjoy!


As the cable car headed up the mountain a really rather impressive view materialised before us. Overlooking the shore of the island, looking over back to Hiroshima and showing us all the oyster beds in the water. After the first part of the ropeway everyone had to get out of their cable cars and transfer to a bigger one that can fit up to 30 people in it at once. On the way up we all got split up a bit but later on we had a rather squashy trip back down with the whole crew and some unfortunate other tourists - but that’s getting ahead of myself. As we arrived near the top the rope way ended and we headed out to a lookout point for more photos and for a lunch break. After all of the food was consumed we split into two groups - the group hiking up to the top of Mount Misen and those who wanted to stay back. Kathryn and I took Daniel, Akshay, Zeal, Bryah, Jordan, Sammy, Mikaela, Caleb, Coeghan, Max, Asahi, Ryan, Leah and Teagan on the walk which was only a half hour hike but it was still a good challenge. It consisted mainly of steep slopes (up) and staircases. The kids raced ahead on the way up and met us at a temple for a photo before streaking ahead to the lookout at the top. From there our view of the island and ocean only improved and we could even see back down to where the others were near the rope way (we didn’t know at the time but they managed to get photos of us too from their point).


After some great group shots we started the walk back down and the pace decreased considerably for the kids and actually we got to have some really great conversations on the way down. Caleb asked us about why the no device rule was put in place for the trip and when we explained the concerns the devices created in our last few trips they agree it was a great idea. They even said it was cool that everyone was talking to each other and that were playing lots of games together. So cool for us to hear and reinforces what we had been observing about them over the past week. Akshay and I talked a bit about school and class, Kathryn talked to Dan and a few of the other boys and then towards the end I got to walk with Sammy, Mikaela, Teagan and Leah and we just chatted about lots of different things. Again, a really enjoyable experience for us to see the kids in a different way and get to know them more. They really are a great group with great individuals. We had some pretty impressive walking stats for the day too - 21,642 steps, 14.98km distance and 58 flights of stairs.


The other group (Kate, Rose, Aria, Nicole and Makayla M) stayed back with Mr Sweeney and Miss Austin, taking in the views and enjoying the fresh air and chatting with each other. We were away for about an hour and when we returned we all hopped back on the rope way and back down the town we walked through on the way. As we walked through the kids were all given time to stop and browse all the shops and some serious buying started happening.


Kate, Max and Ryan all purchased samurai swords (decorative ones) and were really stoked about it. Kate was grinning from ear to ear for the rest of the day. Kim really took it up a notch and bought just about anything that wasn’t nailed down (enjoy Alan). When we retuned from Miyajima we all headed off to the shopping street from the previous day to (surprise surprise) shop some more. Here some of the others took a charge in shopping. Nicole and Sammy bought shoes, Ryan purchased a hoodie, Kim carried on buying things, Kathryn and I jumped in and got some shoes, Duncan got shoes, Asahi bought a deer head, Caleb got shoes, Daniel bought some striking glasses, and honestly I started losing track after that. A few chose to not come shopping, I think they’re waiting for Universal Studios perhaps.


Following the shopping we went back to the hotel, got ourselves organised and then headed out for dinner which was Okonomiyaki. This dish is a real Hiroshima specialty and I have supplied photo/video footage to help illustrate it. The kids all ate them and most enjoyed them - some thought it was perhaps a little too much cabbage.


At the end the kids got up and showed their appreciation to the restaurant for having us (and closing themselves to all other patrons) by performing Toia and the Haka. In the small space and the excitement of all the fizzy drink they pulled off an incredible performance. All too soon it was time to head back to the hotel for prep for the next day and then some well needed sleep.Before we headed out for dinner I had about two mins to get a few words from the kids:


Caleb - I enjoyed Hiroshima atom building.

Aria - My favourite thing today was the deer and it’s mum

Zeal - My favourite thing was all the different memorials and buying lots of clothes.

Coeghan - I liked the temple today and I still love Disney hate.

Asahi - I liked seeing my grandma and I bought a deer hate.

Sammy - I enjoyed going for the walk it was surprisingly difficult but it was really good and I bought some really cool shoes.

Daniel - The best thing was going for the walk.

Kate - The best thing that happened was that I bought a samurai sword and I love it!

Bryah - The best thing was patting a baby deer and I bought a mask for my brother.

Max - My favourite thing that I bought was a samurai sword, I’m going to use it to stab my brother (he laughed when he said this - so definitely joking!) and an Aides T-shirt.

Nicole - I bought some shoes and I love them, and Kylie Jenner has them and I feel like a beast. I also bought my brother something.

Leah - My favourite thing has been the peace park and I bought some presents for my family.

Mikaela - My favourite has been the peace park and Hiroshima is really cool and I really like the walk today.

Akshay - I enjoyed walking today and seeing the scenery and I bought…. Uh wait it’s a surprise.

Makayla M - I really enjoyed going to the peace park and hanging up the cranes and I bought a jumper.

Teagan - My favourite thin was walking up the mountain, it was hard but really fun and I bought a few presents and jumpers for myself.

Rose - I really enjoyed the gondola trip today and seeing the Hiroshima memorial and my roommate.

Jordan - I really just enjoyed the peace park overall. It was amazing.



Day thirteen photos/videos HERE


Day Twelve - Hiroshima


This morning was another early start but the saying goes “the early bird catches the worm” but for us “the early bird catches the bullet train”. We were off out of the hotel by 7.40am and on a short bus ride to the train station. The students got another taste of the early morning busyness of Tokyo stations and how you move around busy spaces like that. We jumped on the bullet train for Hiroshima which left at 8.50. The bullet train really is a lovely way to travel. The train itself can travel unto 300km/ph, has recliner seats, wifi, snack trolleys and plenty of leg room. While on the train many took a chance to catch a few more z’s, and just relax for the four hour trip. It also gave me an opportunity to play catch up on the blog.


We arrived in Hiroshima to be greeted by another stunning day and carted our gear off to our hotel where we put it into storage before heading off to the peace park and museum in Hiroshima. 


The museum was a real eye opener for everyone about the reality of what happened when the A-Bomb was dropped in Hiroshima and how that event then continued to affect Japan. What made it really real and relatable for the kids was all the stories about kids their age who were at school in the area when it happened.


After this museum we headed into the peace park and to the monument paying tribute to Sadako, a girl who had been a young girl when the bomb had been detonated. At the time she had faced no issues from it and had grown into a very athletic and busy school girl. Around the age of 10 she got really sick and was diagnosed with Leukaemia, a common disease affecting those exposed to the radiation of the atom bomb. While she was in hospital she had heard that if you fold 1000 paper cranes then you could have a wish. She worked constantly to make these paper cranes, some no bigger than a finger nail. She made well over 1000, showing her commitment and determination to get better, even though doctors had said she was terminally ill. In September Sadako passed away from her disease. Sadako’s classmates from school had visited her while she was in hospital and knew all about her paper cranes and decided that to create a tribute to her and share her fighting spirit with the rest of Hiroshima and the world. The school was responsible for organising an amazing structure in the peace park with a figure of Sadako and paper cranes on the top. Every day hundreds of people visit this part of the park and all throughout the year schools and individuals visit to see the monument, ring the bell and hang paper cranes in the display cabinets next to the monument. Kate and Rose hung the cranes on behalf of Pukekohe Intermediate and then the group got together for a photo in front of the cabinets. It was really amazing to see all the contributions of paper cranes from all over the world and the heartfelt messages of peace. After this we visited the A-dome which is a building that, prior to the Atom bomb being dropped, was a space where exhibitions were shown. Then during times of war it was used as a military base. When the A-Bomb was dropped the building was about 600m from the hypercentre and the building suffered a lot of damage and everyone inside was killed instantly. The iconic dome on top still holds its structure and during the time of rebuilding there was a lot of public support for leaving the building as a monument. It was really interesting to learn more about the families that had relatives that were killed on injured.


After this we stopped at one final monument. The monument was erected to pay tribute to the 6500 school children (around our students age) who had to come to Hiroshima and be the clean up crew. The majority of these students died from poisoning or falling buildings. 


(Sorry for the mini history lesson).


After leaving the Peace park we split into two groups; those who wanted to shop and those who wanted to walk around the park and back to the hotel. Bryah, Rose, Makayla M, Kate and Aria chose to walk with Mr Sweeney to walk back through the park to the hotel and relax a bit more after yesterdays full on day. The rest of the groups headed off to a nearby shopping street for an hour or so. What was great was that it’s a street that we will be heading to again tomorrow which meant that for once people got a chance to look and consider over night before jumping into anymore purchases. Something that is great as we get closer to the end and as pocket money dwindles. 


We all then met up again at 6.15pm to head out for dinner. We walked through a balmy evening to a nearby buffet restaurant where everyone stuffed themselves full of their favourite mix of Japanese and western style food. Then it was time to head back to the hotel for a collection of laundry bags from the kids. Then time for an early night (for the students) while we did a fair bit of trekking back and forth from a nearby laundromat. It’s currently 10pm and we’re still waiting on the last few things to dry but it will set us up nicely for the next few days. 


Tomorrow we are off to Miyajima island so more info and photos to come. For photos from today click HERE.

Day Eleven - Disneyland


We had an early start for Disneyland but no one really seemed to mind when you could think ahead to where we were going. We were showered, breakfasted and packed ready to head off by 7.30am and the kids got their first real taste of early morning Japan train riding. As it was a Tuesday there were a lot of people heading to work and the term ‘squeezed in like sardines’ came to mind as the first of three different trains we caught rolled up. There was a lot of talk about us not being able to fit from the kids but they were shown what do to with their bags, how to move through into any spare spaces and told how many stops we had before we had to get off in case they couldn’t quite see everyone else. As we changed trains moving down lots of stairs and escalators the kids also got to thinking about how far underground we were and how odd to them it seemed. Especially for all the people who worked in the shops down there. Living their days underground and not seeing natural light. 


After our three different trains and a fair bit of standing we all arrived at Tokyo Disneyland with more than a little excitement. The fabulous Yasu organised our tickets and before too long we were inside, making plans for meeting later and then bursting off in different directions. Because we spent our days a little differently depending on each group I asked the kids to tell me their absolute highlight from the day to share with you:


Sammy - My favourite part from Disneyland was not the fact that we had to wait in line for quite a while but Space Mountain. Space Mountain wasn’t the longest ride we did but it was definitely the best one because it had lots of sharp turns and it was dark which is way better. It was like an indoor roller coaster. That was my favourite - it was really hot though it felt like 30 degrees but apparently it was only like 24 degrees. 


Nicole - I had a pretty lit time at Disneyland. It was really fun and my highlight was all the Mountain rides; Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain because they were all more thrilling but Space Mountain was probably the best because it was dramatic like the whole time. There was always turns or dropping it was so much fun. I really liked buying stuff too.


Raewyn - I had my first Mr Donuts, Donut in 6 years and it was so good. My favourite part of Disneyland was seeing the kids excitement and the light parade where they behaved like little pre-schoolers waving at all their heroes on the floats.


Jordan - My favourite part of the day was going on Space Mountain because you couldn’t see what was coming and you didn’t know what was going to happen. 


Teagan - My favourite part of Disneyland was the parade at the end and the fireworks because it was really fun and enjoyable. 


Asahi - At Disneyland, we went on Space Mountain twice and the second time around there were these guys that were Japanese soccer players and they started clapping and chanting and me and Akshay were behind them so we started singing along and then everyone started singing along. It was pretty fun.


Leah - I really loved the fireworks at the end after the parade.


Zeal - My favourite thing about Disneyland was space Mountain because it was the best ride and the fireworks were pretty cool too.


Akshay - My favourite part of Disneyland was when I went on Space Mountain, the second time we were chanting with this soccer team that were there and it was really fun and I liked the fireworks. 


Coeghan - My favourite part about Disneyland was buying my gangster hat and the light show was cool and Space Mountain was cool. Especially when the soccer team was there and they were doing their chants and stuff.


Daniel - My highlight from Disneyland was Space Mountain and the fireworks. 


Megan - I really liked it at night time seeing the parade and fireworks. It was spectacular and I felt like a little kid watching it. I loved watching the kids faces too. 


Caleb - My favourite ride was Space Mountain and I enjoyed the parade and fireworks. 


Mikaela H - My favourite thing was the parade, it was really cool because I made eye contact with Elsa and Ana from Frozen and they waved back at me when I waved at them. It was really cool and the lights and fireworks were awesome. It was a really fun experience.


Max - We went toDisneylandn yesterday and I was with Megan, Asahi and Ryan and we went on rides and stuff and the best was Space Mountain. 


Ryan - The highlight for me was Space Mountain where the guys started chanting. The same as Akshay and Asahi really. 


Aria - My favourite part of Disneyland was Space Mountain.


Makayla M - My favourite part of Disneyland was the rides and the end show/parade and the fireworks. 


Bryah - My favourite part of Disneyland was the light parade and the fireworks. 


Kate - My favourite thing that happened at Disneyland was definitely Space Mountain and I was laughing the whole time because Bryah was screaming and it was fun.


Rose - My favourite thing at Disneyland was the night time fireworks and the parade.


Kathryn - My favourite part of Disneyland was the turkey drumstick because it tasted like ham,  Space Mountain and the light parade/fireworks.


Kim - My favourites were the caramel popcorn and the electric show.


Mallory - My favourite was the electric parade, and spending the time together with the whole group at the end of the night. Cool to see the kids having a great time. 


So at about 5pm Mrs Woods and I started claiming some bench seats for us all to sit at and enjoy the night parade at 7.30pm (that’s how early you need to start getting your spot) and then as other joined us they took turns to head off and do another ride, get food or go shopping before the light parade began at 7.30m. The kids were so excited by the parade floats and waved and shouted out at all their favourite characters. It’s one of the many moments of the day that make Disneyland special. After this we all moved to a good vantage point overlooking the trade mark castle and the rest of the grounds to watch the fireworks display. Another special moment to share with each other.


We left Disneyland at about 9.15pm (a very long day) and it was clear that many of the kids were eager for showers and sleep. We trained our way back to our hotel, stopping off at a McDonalds for a quick bite to wash down all the other equally nutritional food from the day before finally getting back around 10.15 and getting off to bed with another really early start coming the next day and the prospect of getting bags packed for travel. As I’m typing this we’re currently on the bullet train to Hiroshima so more details to come tomorrow. 


A wonderful day at the happiest place on Earth - check the photos HERE.

Day Ten - The Great Tokyo Cycling Tour and more


Our morning was a pretty early start on Monday as well all had to meet up at the council building by 7am. The morning start proved to be a little harder than usual after the typhoon which made its presence known in Haramura the previous night. It really rained hard and the wind ripped through making it a great night to be tucked up in bed. At night a few families lost power and as the morning dawned quite a few others had lost power too - including parts of the village where there are traffic lights. Thankfully the storm had passed through over night so that as well all met at 7am a beautiful day was beginning to come through and everyone felt comfortable enough to be back in shorts.


The farewell at the council building both a happy and sad experience. Happy in that everyone had so enjoyed their time in Hara, met so many wonderful people, made new friends and lived a Japanese lifestyle for a week. The sad part was having to say goodbye. After the formal speeches from the mayor and Mr Sweeney our group got up on the council steps and performed a fantastic haka for everyone who was there. Then they invited the Japanese students to join them for one more, which was just another reminder of how close our students, schools and nations have become in Haramura (see videos). Then all too soon it was time for the final goodbyes and there were definitely a few wet eyes, many hugs and we all leaned out the windows waving until they were out of sight. 


As the bus took off we began our trip to Tokyo. Along the way we stopped for snacks and toilet breaks and the kids got to watch a movie - Karate Kid. Around 12pm we stopped at a park near Nueno for a lunchbreak and enjoyed sitting in the sun watching people move about. The kids all seemed to still be buzzing about talking about what they did over their weekends and looking forward to what was to come over the following days. Then we piled back on our bus and headed to The Great Tokyo Cycling Tour where we split into two groups. Group one was Mrs Woods, Duncan and myself which meant the students were Nicole, Sammy, Makayla M, Teagan, Mikaela H, Leah, Zeal, Caleb and Jordan. The other groups went with Miss Austin, Mrs Woolliams and Megan to a mall for a spot of shopping. 


Now, this is where things can get a little tricky for me as we tend to move/mix and do things in different groups over the remainder of our trip so when I write the blogs sometimes it can be a little narrow in the sense that I am not always with all the groups etc. However, you should get a good idea of what we’ve all been up to and I have no doubt everyone will be able to tell you more detail when they have returned. 


So, back to the cycling. Our group was the first to cycle and we were excited for it. It was a stunning day in Tokyo and the temperature was sitting around 26-27 degrees. We went over the safety briefing, loaded up our bikes with water and then away we went. The bike ride was around 10.5-11kms and boy was it something special. Everyone got to see a different part of Tokyo others may not get the chance to see when sticking to the normal tourist trail. We went through some industrial, commercial, residential areas and even got to stop at a shrine along the way (both groups visited different temples/shrines so please ask more about them - we do have photos of both). There were a couple of little accidents along the way but nothing causing broken skin, maybe a just a bruise and a little embarrassment. After our fast and furious trip across parts of Tokyo we were back at the base where we cooled down with some ice creams before the other group turned up and we switched places heading off to the coolness of an air-conditioned mall while they had their turn pedalling the streets of Tokyo. 


Once the second group had finished their cycling trip we all joined up again and headed of to our hotel where we are staying for two nights. After we arrived, we unloaded our bags, took hasty showers and dressed before heading off to dinner at a Korean BBQ restaurant. This is always a fun experienfe for the kids because they get to select what they would like to eat from a buffet and then they can cook it themselves using small BBQ’s that are built into each of their tables. What we found really interesting was the number of students who loaded up their plates with meat without reading the signs and ended up (without knowing it, even still) some offal. It goes without saying that the all you an eat dessert and drink was also hit.


After filling our tummies we headed out into the warm Tokyo night for some shopping. The original plan was for us to head to a nearby market (two train stops away) but by the time we had eaten and the time needed to travel we figured there wasn’t much point as the group would only have about 25mins to spend there so we made new plans and took the kids to another area called Akihabara which is referred to as “electric street”. A place where they are incredibly tall buildings stocked with tech goods, arcades, gaming software, comics and all things just a little bit nerdy. We all split up into our little groups (although we all ended up in the same places) and took to the shops to see what could be found. Some purchased headphones, some phone cases, some bags, and some just had a play on a few of the arcade machines around.


As it reached 9.30pm we all headed back to the hotel for a good nights sleep knowing that Disneyland was the following day and we were going to need all the energy we could get. So for all the picture/video highlights from day ten click HERE.

Day Eight and Nine - Homestay Weekend


Thankfully everyone has done their homework (to varying degrees) so we are currently on the bus from Hara Mura to Tokyo and I and now typing up what has happened for everyone over the past two days. I would suggest reading through them all as a lot of people spent time together over the weekend and you can get a bit more detail that way. I’m just typing out what they’ve written so everything is straight from them - including and potential spelling and grammatical errors :)


There will be an update from today’s activities and fun along with photos for you tomorrow.


Aria - Japan is awesome, my homestay experience has been awesome. The family is lovely. One thing that surprised me was the food it’s not as strange as I thought it would be. My favourite thing so far was the shipping malls. They are huge and there are so many stores. Although I get homesick, being in Japan is amazing and trying all the drinks and food boba tea and poppin cookin. School was also really cool. The kids were kind and it was actually fun. I love the shopping malls and the stunning mountains. I love Haramura.


Sammy - My weekend was very full on. On Saturday we went to Tokyo to do some shopping. There were so many people there is was hectic I’ll tell ya. The shopping was very good though. The food in Japan is soooo amazing. We had candy floss that was as big as my backpack which btw is very big. Sunday we went this big lake which had this foot spa by it. That was cool, well hot actually. We went to lots of 100 yen shops which are like $2 shops but bigger and better. I’m very thankful for everything. Both my homesteads have done a lot for me and they treated me like royalty. I will never forget them and our friendship.


Caleb - On Saturday (with Coeghan, Asahi, Zeal, Teagan and Makayla) we went to a pool in Matsumoto. It had four slides, lazy river and wave pool. On Sunday we went to karaoke. I sang 5 songs. It was a good time and we went with the first group that hosted.


Coeghan - Friday night I went to Calebs house and had fireworks and stayed the night. Saturday we went to a big waterpark and after we went to a big mall and had some dinner. After dinner we went shopping. Sunday we went to karaoke and had a good time. 


Leah - Saturday - Today I went to pick up my homestay from her boarding school and it was really nice to see her again. Then we went to the mall which was really cool because there were heaps of different stores. Inside the mall there was a big arcade, there seem to be way more of these in Japan that in NZ. I’d been to one on Friday night and it was really fun. For dinner we went to the sushi place which was way different to the sushi restaurants in NZ. You order it from a screen on your table then it comes on a ‘train’ to your table from the kitchen the food was really nice. Sunday - Today I went to a mall in Matsumoto with Mikaela, Saki Hinami, Nicole and Misaki. There were some really cool stores but we found a store with so much cool stuff so we spent the rest of our money on stuff from there. The whole day was really fun. After that we went to karaoke with a few other puke kids and that was super funny. It’s really sad to think we’re leaving our homestay students tomorrow. I really enjoyed my time with my homestay family and they were always so nice to me. I don’t really want to leave. 


Rose - Saturday - Today I went with my homestay, her mum and younger sister to Suwa. First we went to an ancient re-built castle and had a look around. At the top of the castle their was a viewing balcony where you could see all of the town, including the town and mountains beyond. Next we went to an Italian restaurant for lunch. I presume we went their because earlier in the day I said I like pasta. Howver, the food was better than I expected and I loved the salad bar. Before we went home we stopped at a video store which I get anything at and a supermarket where I bought things to make Anzac biscuits later on in the day. In the end I had to compromise  on some the ingredients but my family liked them anyway. In fact, they brought them to dinner at my homestays grandparents house where we sat on thin mats to eat. I got to try ‘expensive mushrooms’ which I thought didn’t taste as good as normal ones. On Sunday I met up with Aria and her homestay and went to a big mall together. After shopping there for a few hours buying things ranging from chocolate to squishys we all traveled to the food court where I got to try bubble tea for the first time ( I really liked it). My favourite place to go in the mall had to be the Photo Booth where we had fun poking silly faces into the camera. Afterwards we all went to a karaoke bar in Suwa and although I was awful at singing I still had loads of fun trying. 


Mikaela H- Friday - Today was a really fun day mixing with the elementary students. We did dances, games and took lots of photos in the gymnasium. Im going to miss the Japan schools and the students here so much. This morning at the welcome ceremony the Hara kids did their school song and its so amazing to listen to because, even for their young age, they are so much better than any school in Puke. They’re all really good at performing. My favourite today, out of the six grades had to be the oldest ones. Their dance was long but they did some awesome moves/tricks and were always in sync. Lunch today was pretty good, I didn’t seem to like the sardines and the green tea custard thing as much as the Hara students did though. After school Nicole, Makayla, Sammy, Daniel, Akshay and I were all at Sammy’s homestays house for a party with some of the younger homestays. This party included karaoke, teaching them the Dhaka, asking about our homestays boyfriends and girlfriends and a true kiwi dinner; pizza and coke. Saturday - Today was a relaxing day with my homestay family. I had a really nice sleep-in until 10am. Breakfast was a poached egg, hashbrowns, cereal (special K) and green tea. Then Saki and I went to a farmers festival in Hara where I tried baked and crushed rice. We went to ‘7-Eleven’ and her dad bought lots of candy for us and after that we went to a department store and I got some gifts to take home. When we got back we watched some movies in the living room - which is really different to NZ because you sit on a cushion on the floor, they have no couches! Sunday - Final full day in Hara :( - Today there were lots of photos; family photos and photos with our homestays friends etc. Pretty sad day because I’ll miss my friends here, its been a really fun week with lots of new experiences. This morning my family drove to a mall in Matsumoto which is about 50mins out of Hara (Matsumoto if known for Matsumoto castle). We met up with Nicole and Leah with their families and we were shopping there for 2ish hours buying Starbucks and gifts to take home (because thats all we could afford because we thought we would be fine without getting extra pocket money - but nope). After that my family went to an art museum which had Saki’s calligraphy Art on display and later on we we joined some of the other homestay families at this karaoke place. It was a fun and loud night. 


Kate - Today I went to an ice cream factory and there was free ice cream there! I had two so that was fun! (I mean free ice cream is always fun). Then we went shopping for groceries and I found a lot of good gifts there. Then we went grape picking. We had so many grapes after that and they were so diverse, so many different kinds. After that long day we went back home and I got presents! And it was food so I wasn’t disappointed. Oh! And also! The day before that I learnt how to ride a uni-cycle. I have managed a full metre without hands, but the I fell off. (If you try a uni-cycle expect to fall off over and over again). I now have 8 bruises from it. One on my tail bone, one on the left and right side of the inner of my thigh, two on both my shins and by far the worst on is the one on my right ankle. It hurts a lot when I touch it and it’s a bit swollen. I just recounted - it’s 11 bruises. Me and Hina were doing a drawing contest together and the first challenge was a cake. I beasted that one, the judges (the mum and grandmother) have good taste but the next one was a tree and Hina said this one was going to be a hard one. But I thought pfffft whatever, it’s trees! So I decided to go realistic and the grandmother like it so much that she got me to sign it and put the date on it. She asked if she could keep it and I said yes. She got super excited and happy. Then she started praising it where they praise their ancestors then put it in a special drawer. Long story short, I felt special.


Jordan - Saturday - In the morning we got up and me and the family had Japanese hotcakes/pancakes. We went to Mount Fuji and 9am and were there all day. We left at 3pm and went to their grandparents house. We took photos there and played games for 3 hours. Then we went and got Ramen for dinner - I had Soba noodles and something I can’t remember. Overall it was a great day. Sunday - On Sunday we woke up and I cooked them French toast we bought on Saturday. They loved it so I showed them how to make it and wrote down the basic recipe. After that went to the Matsumoto castle which was awesome, I took 64 pictures. It was six floors but the third one didn’t have any windows so it looked like it was only five. It was mainly used as a storage floor. After the castle we went to a farewell dinner for me that all of the family came to. So I felt special, over all it was a great day. 


Nicole - On Saturday I met Himamis dad for the first time because he’s had business in China. We went to the the arcade and were there for a few hours, it’s so addictive. I won two things; a mini Pooh bear and a squishy toy. On Sunday we went to the mall it was huge. We met up with Mikaela and Leah. I bought a Mickey Mouse pencil case d an alien (off toy story) teddy thing. For lunch we had KFC it was the best chicken in the world. 


Akshay - Saturday - been having lots of fun so far this weekend. I went shopping in the morning and bought a few things like snacks and clothes. After was arcade time and towards the end I started to win jackpot coins. I won so many we had to give them out to people, I felt very generous. Then lunch was Italian, which was pretty decent. After was Karaoke and let’s just say I suck at singing. Dinner was dumplings which I learned to how make, they were very good. Sunday - Yet another good day in Japan doing lots. A about 8am we drove about three hours to a ninja park. It was very fun dressing up as ninjas and completing activities such as ninjas house tour maze and things like throwing shirkens and stuff like that. We also completed an obstacle course which was very dangerous but fun. We had burgers for lunch, then headed to a sports shop which was a couple of hours away. From there was dinner, where we ate good food and said speeches about week in Hara-Mura. I will be very sad leaving Hara tomorrow. - Hi Mum! 


Max - On Friday night I was really tired so I had a shower ate my

Dinner and went to sleep. On Saturday Kazu and me went to Leah’s homestay. She wasn’t there so we played wii party then we went to game st arcade in Chino. We played Mario Kart for two hours which was really cool because I won all the time. On Sunday I woke up at 7am (new PB) then we had breakfast then we all piled into the car, got onto the motorway, missed a couple of exits and made it to the mall. First we went to the arcade and played more Mario Kart. When we were finished to Village vanguard and they bought me a fidget cube and some

Haribo gold bears. After that we went home. 


Ryan - on Saturday we drove two hours to an acapella competition that my homestay dad was competing in. His group came third. We took a packed lunch which was yum. On Sunday we played board games in the morning and then we went to bowling in Suwa. Followed by dinner at the sushi train. I got to pick some sushi and I picked lots of seafood ones. 


Asahi - on Friday night Coeghan and I went to Caleb’s house for a party and we stayed the night there. We ate octopus dumplings and had fireworks. On Saturday I went with my homestay to Matsumoto castle. It was really interesting and really well thought out. Afterwards we went to this massive swimming pool and met up with Caleb, Coeghan, Zeal, Teagan and Makayla M. There was a huge lazy river that went around the whole thing, 2 water slides, a wave pool and spas. After the pool Coeghan, Caleb and I went to a buffet but you deep fry your own food. After a while it got sickening and fatty but there was also a white chocolate fountain so that’s pretty cool. 

On Sunday I went shopping with my homestay and then at 3pm we went to karaoke. I sang every song beautifully but everyone hated on my singing and kept turning my mic off. 


Teagan - Saturday - we went to Matsumoto castle and the stairs were really steep. The steepest stairs were like 40cm apart. After that we went to a burger place called MOS Burger. I had a pork burger. We then went to the pools. We were there with Caleb, Coeghan, Asahi and Makayla. Me and Makayla were hanging out with the host students. We were there for around 4 hours. We went to a sushi place we had to wait for 35mins until we got to sit down and eat. I had some Karage (fried chicken), chicken, and beef sushi and this ice cream sundae thing. 

On Sunday we went shopping. We went to the supermarket and bought heaps of food. We also went to an arcade and I’m pretty sure it was rigged. We went to the 100 yen shop, I bought a lot of things there. I spent about 1800 yen. At 3pm we went to a karaoke bar. It was pretty fun and Asahi was really loud and annoying. We sang a lot of songs and were there for about three hours. 


Daniel - on Saturday I went shopping and spent all my money. After that we went to an arcade and that was fun. Sunday I went to a ninja park with Akshay. It was fun and I got tired doing the games. 


Bryah - Saturday - today my family and I went to lots of places including Suwa shrine, nidec sankyo where you can put a small music tune into a music box or stuffed toy. My song was the Harry Potter prodalog and I put it in a toy owl and I named it Hedwig. Later in the day we went to a small Japanese castle. After that we went to a 100 yen store and I got some cool stuff. For dinner we went to a sushi bar and I had 9 plates of sushi. It was amazing. Sunday - today was amazing. First Mimi and I met Makayla and Momaka in a huge mall and we went shopping for 5 hours. I got a cool tshirt for my brother Nate. After we went shopping we went out for dinner at this really nice restaurant. The food was amazing. 



Makayla M - Momaka and her family are all so nice. On Saturday we all went to the pools. The place was like an indoor theme park, it was so relaxing. After the pools they took me out for dinner. I got to eat traditional Japanese food, it was delicious. On Sunday they took me shopping. The place was like Sylvia Park times by 3. There were shops I didn’t even know existed. Shops like a shop called ‘Wego’ I bought some clothes from there. I loved every moment that I have had. 


Zeal - Saturday - we first went to Matsumoto castle which was cool. Then we went to the pools with Caleb, Coeghan, Asahi and their students. We had fun and went down the slides and then we had food at a sushi train and that was nice. Sunday - we went our for gifts for mates and then we went to the arcade and then got KFC. Then we went to Karaoke with the first host students. Overall it was a good weekend and I got lots of extra stuff. 

Day Seven - Hara Elementary School


Today we had our day at the elementary school which is quite close to the Junior High. We arrived around the same time we did at JH and were welcome into the school through the gym. The gym at the elementary is a fantastic space for playing so as we walked in many kids were running around making the most of the large space to play with a wide range of sports equipment. 


We were given a new “NZ Homeroom” for the day and once we were all there we went over the program for the day before heading off to our welcome ceremony. Our welcome ceremony had all of the students there from grade 3 - 6. The grade 3/4 students as you can imagine were incredibly cute. The ceremony started with a formal welcome from their principal and our response was given by Asahi who, again, did a wonderful job. Following this our students did their performance items. Due to time restrictions, they were only able to present a few items so they did the National Anthem, Toia and the Haka. They did a fabulous job but the highlight for the elementary school was definitely the haka. As the boys started up all the 3/4th graders began to giggle and then went into a little-stunned silence as they got into it. At the end some of the boys, in particular Akshay, decided today was the day to pull some impressive pukana, which they all loved.


After our performances we had a quick break before heading back on stage to watch a performance by the 3rd grade….the whole third grade. It was absolutely delightful! Like, the cutest thing you have ever seen. They were so impressive with how well rehearsed they were, and in time and professional for such young children (6). I did begin videoing the performance but the light was quite bad for filming from where we were so I wasn’t able to catch much unfortunately. I don’t know if video would do it justice anyway. After this they invited our students to play a game with them. The game has two teams on each side of the hall and two hoops placed in the middle; one red and one white. There are a lot of red/white bean bag type balls placed around each goal (red around the red and white around the white). When the whistle is blown both teams run in and shoot as many of the bean bag balls into their hoop as quickly as they can before time runs out. Once the whistle is blown again then everyone has to stop and they are counted up to see who the winner is. It was adorable to watch and of course our big kids had a great time playing (see the video). They played three rounds and our kids got very competitive but the white team (which had Akshay, Zeal, Rose, Nicole, Sammy, Teagan, Ryan, and Jordan in it) were the winners in the end. After a speedy clean up they were all given some free time to play with the 3rd graders and man they were cute (yes I am gushing a little - but it really was cute). Our students instantly became friends/big brothers/big sisters to the little ones and high fives, cuddled, piggybacked and carried them around until the play time was up. The session with the little ones ended a big high five line up before they headed off to their classes and we stayed in the hall to meet the 4th graders.


The fourth graders all did a great performance for us. They train for it all year and actually performed their pieces at a festival the previous weekend. After their performance our students got to join them for a game - which they loved. To begin with it was a relay race where 5 students stand behind and hold a long bamboo stick and then all have to run together across the hall, around a cone, back to their group and then as they approach three let go and run to the back of the line waiting and the two on the ends bring the stick in towards the rest of their team who have to jump over it, ending with the three who were helping carry it initially then it is passed over their heads and back to the beginning for the next set of 5 to go. Honestly, I think that makes more sense that I thought it would but please do watch the video for further clarification. Also, when watching you will see that while it may sound simple it got a little tricky for some teams to keep in time with each other and some of the turns at the end of the cone were rather scary to watch. 


After this the next activity with this grade was a version of three-legged races. But instead of two being tied together the whole line of 5 (from the previous game) were tied to each other and they had to relay race back across the hall, around the cone and back to their teams. It was a real lesson in communication, trust and timing. Some totally got the hang of it too; notably Bryah and Aria’s group who were in perfect sync to move quickly. Others took a little longer to get there - again there is a video for you to enjoy. 


Once the relay once over it was time for the 4th graders to head back to their classes and we were joined by the 5th graders. We sat on stage again as we watched their performance which was a traditional Japanese dance involving decorated hats with bells on them. After watching them perform they invited all of us (including all the teacher and Gary) to join them as they dress us in their little jackets and showed us the moves to the dance. We had a great time giving it a go, and it gave us a real appreciation for how hard they must have worked to get in time with each other and master the moves that, from where sat, looked easy - until we had to it for ourselves. After our performance we had some group photos before they headed off to classes where we joined them after a little while. 


In the class the group all started together and intruded themselves and said something that they liked. From here they were split into two groups and headed off into different rooms for activities. I missed these activities though as I was FaceTiming the lovely Ngata Learning Community back in NZ for their final afternoon together before school holidays. Never fear though, Raewyn was on the job and took many pictures to share with you. 


Next it was time for lunch and we all waited in our NZ homeroom as students from each grade came to collect 2 or 3 of us to go to their classes with them and eat lunch with them. Again, it was adorable and Max even got a special sign made for him. I was invited to with Makayla M to go to lunch with a 5th grade class. We sat with the students and waited for lunch which was mince, noodles - which were in a bag and then added at our leisure, a broccoli, corn and cucumber salad, a packet of crispy sardines, a bottle of milk and a green tea dessert. The mince and noodles was good but I won’t lie I didn’t touch the packet of crunch sardines - the fishy smell was intense. Once I caught up with the others afterwards Kathryn said she saw a Japanese girl crying as she ate them and holding her nose, so I’m thinking they’re not everyone's favourite. Sammy and Nicole gave them a try though and said they weren’t too bad.


Our next session we were back in the hall to watch a performance by the 5th/6th graders who did a rather impressive routine which could just about be compared to a cheerleading routine. There was a lot of strength and athleticism in it and lots of climbing on top of each other for different stunts. Our kids gave them a standing ovation for their efforts. After their performance they all split up into little groups and a few of our students and us joined each of them as they shared some writing they had done about their summer holidays. The cool thing was the writing was in English and they shared it out loud to us. Very impressive.


It was then time to say goodbye to the final group as they headed of to clean up and we went back into our homeroom to tidy up and talk about the plan over the next few days. Then we had the hall to ourselves for a bit and we took full advantage of playing a wide range of games and having fun. I played poison with Mikaela, Leah, Teagan and Nicole for a while. The boys played basketball and with foam frisbees. Bryah, Makayla, and Alia pulled out some tumbling mats and had fun doing cartwheels and flips. A few jumped on the stilts (in fact I even had a go at one point) and Rose and Kate had a good go at the unicycles. Then we were joined by some of the students who were also waiting to go home and we played a great game of dodgeball. We split up into two large teams and went for it. My team had Mikaela, Zeal, Leah, Teagan, Sammy, Nicole and some of the elementary students and the opposing team had Akshay, Daniel, Coeghan, Ryan, Asahi and Max on it. The boys thought they’d have us sussed and Dan seemed pretty keen to get me out but in the end the girls (and Zeal) were victorious for the first round. The second round we got wasted though and unfortunately there was not third tiebreaker round - but I am sure the girls would have come back to claim first place. Then the elementary students went home and we went back into free play mode until one by one we were collected by our homestay families. I was picked up around 4pm but the kids all looked happy to be spending their time being active.

As it’s a Friday we now have no more school and the kids all have two days with their homestay families so it will be a few days before we are all back together. I have given the students each some homework which is at the end of each day (Saturday and Sunday) to write one paragraph for me about their day. What they did, what they enjoyed etc and then to hand to me on Monday morning when we board our bus to Tokyo. I will then try and use some of the time while we travel to type it all up for you and then send through so you are all caught up. Until then there may be a little silence on our end but I have no doubt that everyone is going to continue being well looked after and will enjoy their time with their host families. Tomorrow night the teachers/adults are going for dinner with the mayor and some council members so if any of us end up hanging out with some of the students we will take pictures and share back with you as well. 

Until then enjoy these photos and videos HERE.

Day Six - Farewell Hara Junior High


Today was our final day at Hara Junior High. Tomorrow the students are all at the elementary school because of the exam week here. So it was a full on day. We all met up between 7.30-8am in our “NZ homeroom” before lessons began at 8.40. We spent the morning doing our usual catch up and I checked in with all the students about what has been going on for them over the past two days (some had a lot to say - see the previous post). Then it was time to head off into their first lessons for the day. For the first session they stayed as one big group and headed off to ‘Industrial Arts’ where they were put into mixed groups for a challenge. The challenge was to create a ramp that a ping pong ball could travel down and would stay on for the longest time before their track ended. They were given a set of materials, and a set amount of time to complete the challenge. The were shown a video of some examples and then away they went.


It was very interesting to watch how they all tackled the challenge in their different groups. The Japanese were very keen to get straight into construction but our students like taking a little time to use the mini whiteboards they were given to create a design before getting into the task. They had just over 50mins to create their ramps and tweak their designs before the final/timed test. Each group got to send a ping pong ball down their ramp once, while having it timed and then make some changes before one final time trial. It was nail biting stuff for some of them who really invested some time into their designs (a few clocked out after the first trial) and in the end the top three groups were:


  1. Ryan, Nicole and Kate

  2. Mikaela and Coeghan

  3. Caleb and Makayla M


The industrial arts session went over two periods so following that they had their break time. It was then time for us to take the second group to the supermarket who didn’t go the other day. Because it’s been a bit drizzly today we donned umbrellas and trekked up the road while the kids talked about what they were hoping to get from the supermarket. They were most impressed with the selection of lollies, chocolate, drinks, chips and random snacks. Again quite a few things were purchased under the guise of “presents for NZ” but we will see. 


Once we got back into school it wasn’t long before the next lessons started and the groups split off into different lessons for the remainder of the day. The Blue group had music and the Yellow group had maths. The blue groups music session was the same as what the yellow group did for music the previous day. They had their turn to try learning how to play the Koto and learn the song ‘Sakura’. We watched them begin the lesson and we were a little worried they may not get there so we gave them a little space and went and checked on the maths session for the other group. When we returned though we were very pleasantly surprised to see the quick progression they made. They were all concentrating really hard on doing the best they could and you can check the video for yourself for the great results. Daniel in particular was very worried about us filming but once he got into it he did a great job. The yellow groups maths session was the same as the previous days group session where they worked on problem solving using an abacus.


Next it was time for lunch and on the menu today was soup, rice, mackerel fish, a salad, grapes and milk. The fish was a little hard to go down for me (it tasted okay but had a strong fish odour and more than a few bones) and we wondered if the kids might not enjoy (we can’t eat with the students) but when we met up before the next session again we were surprised how much they did like it. Guess that’s why there’s a saying about assuming things. 


For the final classes of the day and of our time at Hara Junior High the Yellow group had social studies and the Blue group had P.E. The social studies session was a mixture of games where students had to identify flags, and locate countries on a world map. Most students could name quite a few countries and Akshay said he really enjoyed doing it and asked if we could do some more Geography stuff once we’re back at school (why not?!). The P.E session was a Kendo lesson for our students. Kendo is a traditional Japanese martial art where students wear protective armour and use bamboo swords. The students were taught the correct stance and how to strike their opponent. They boys were really buzzing after that session. They were a little concerned that they might actually get hurt, and lets be honest, if it’s a little bit dangerous it’s perhaps a little more fun! All afternoon before their performances they were using the rakau like mini kendo swords and trying to strike one another. 


At 3pm we headed down to the school gym for our farewell ceremony. The kids were all dressed in their performance gear, had their rakau and nervous excitement permeated the the line. We were welcomed into the gym with applause and funky Japanese music before being seated up in front. The ceremony began with some lovely messages from the students of Hara Junior High and a video/photo montage of all the students moments together while we were here (the students were each gifted a copy of DVD to share with you once we are back in NZ). Then it was time for our students to do their performance pieces. For this they had to go up on the stage and perform to the whole school and try and fill up the very large hall with their voices. They did a wonderful job, Toia is ways my favourite to watch, and can be very proud of themselves. Tomorrow they will perform again at the elementary school. Following that a student council representative said farewell and then it was time for Asahi to do our farewell. Since he now has quite a following in the school there was a little bit of whispering and giggling coming from the assembled students before he began speaking. He did a wonderful job of the speech and I think was a little relieved to be sitting down after so much attention. The final speaker of the day was Gary who has now joined us up in Hara. He thanked the students, and staff for taking such great care of us all while we’ve been in their school and then he also took an opportunity to make Asahi blush a little by referencing his popularity which gave everyone a good laugh. Before we knew it, it was all over and we were walking out and back up to our homeroom to get ready to head off for the day. Many of the Hara students came up to see our students again, take more photos, and share a few final moments together. They really have become fast friends during our time at school and I know that they will miss each other. 


The plan for the end of the day was for all of us to head off to a temple together for a ‘zen’ experience and as I’m writing this we are waiting for a bus to take us there. So no doubt once we have experienced some ‘zen’ I will be back writing and filling you in on the rest of the details from today.


It’s officially later for me now! 


So, at about 4.40pm we all left Hara Junior High for the final time and hopped on either a bus or in a minivan to head to the temple. The temple was not far from the school and is the only one in Haramura. From the carpark the building is very unassuming but as you get closer you’re opened up to a beautiful traditional building surrounded by wonderful gardens and trees and a rather impressive zen rock garden that had been raked to perfection. 


We were invited inside and down a corridor to a large meditation room. There was a small cushion and little square cushion filled with either rice or wheat (I am describing this poorly). We each sat on the larger cushion as we were welcomed by the… (we were not actually told his title) so I will call him the Zen master! He explained to us the basics of zen meditation and it’s links to Buddhism. We were shown that you actually sit on the smaller but thick/harder cushion with the larger cushion underneath and you fold your legs with your feet on top. Then you hold your hands in your lap in a ‘O’ formation and sit tall with your head facing forward and your eyes on the floor about a metre in front of you. He then also showed us a rather impressive wooden stick/cane that he had and how it is used to re-focus you if you start losing sight of what you need to be doing. He did a demonstration on Duncan for us. The way it works is that if you feel like you need refocusing you place your hands together in front of you in a praying style and he will come to you, you will bow to each other, then you will lean forward with your arms crossed on your chest and he will hit you with the stick twice on each side of your back. He explained it was so you could get the most out of your zen meditation, rather than a punishment and that if anyone wanted to try he would do it for them. We were then told we would be meditating for 2 fifteen minute sessions. The kids seemed skeptical of the time frame but also wary enough of the stick to not want to talk. The meditation session started and it was eerily quiet in the room. During the first session a few students indicated they would like to be re-focused. Makayla M, Bryah, Jordan and Aria all gave it a go the first time. After 15mins they were given a short break and I can tell we all really needed it - there were a lot of dead legs. I know I used the word cushion but they were not soft and comfy ones. 


Then the second session started and every single student indicated they would like to be re-focused. Not often you hear/see students wanting that but I really think they all enjoyed the experience and appreciated the challenge put to them. Afterwards we headed back out to the bus/van and I asked the students what they were thinking while they were meditating and these are some the answers I got/can remember:

Ryan - I needed to fart

Mikaela H - I just focused on not moving

Nicole - My legs hurt

Leah - I don’t want to move and muck it up

Kathryn - I counted to 60 fifteen times

I will try and add more to this when I see everyone again tomorrow because I think it was such a neat experience that I’m sure you’ll want to hear from each person about it.


From here our families came to collect us for the night to head home. It was nearly 6pm so I am sure many headed off to fill the group up with more food!


Enjoy the photos/videos from today by clicking HERE.

Day Five - School and Matsumoto


On Wednesday we all met up together at school and caught up about our nights briefly before some of the adults headed off to Matsumoto. So this is how I am going to tackle this blog post. The first part will be about the trip to Matsumoto and then the second part will be a recap of the day the students had plus a personal message from each of them. We won’t be offended if you skip past the adults trip and down to your children. 


Matsumoto Trip

Our day started at the Junior High School before we (Kathryn, Kim, Meagan, Duncan and I) hopped in a minivan and were taken down to the station in Chino. On the way we chatted about our experiences from the night before and laughed at how we couldn’t seem to stop talking in exaggerated, slow English while gesturing wildly. It’s become a bit of a habit. Once we arrived in Chino our driver helped us purchase tickets (which we thought were return tickets) and then waited for our train to Matsumoto. The train ride lasted about an hour and passed by with conversations about food and some thoughts about what would be going on if we were at school in Pukekohe. The weather forecast had been for a cold drizzly day but as we got closer and closer to Matsumoto the sky became clearer and clearer. 


Now, Kathryn, Duncan and I have all been to Matsumoto before but Kathryn and Duncan’s last trip was at least 6 years ago, while mine was only 2 years so I got to play tour guide/navigator. The first thing I pointed out as the leader was the Starbucks. Something that made Kathryn, Meagan and Kim very very happy (there are no coffee shops In Haramura). After the coffee stop, we trekked off to the Matsumoto Castle. Nothing I write is going to do the castle justice for how impressive the structure is, you’re just going to have to look at the photos. I can, however, give you a very brief, mildly inaccurate history lesson about it. Matsumoto castle was built around 1594 and was in use until 1868. It consists of 6 different floors, including one hidden floor, that were used to house samurai warriors, used for protecting the castle itself and housing the warlord (top floor). 


It was really great to be able to go inside the castle. It was very dark and medieval looking inside and there were some really impressive pieces of armor, swords, guns and cannons. What really struck us is the age of the castle and how incredible it was to think that Samurai used to stand/walk/live where we were walking now. We spent about 35-40mins in the castle before heading back out to visit the gift shop before hitting the streets of Matsumoto. 


We decided our first stop would be the famous Nawate Street, more commonly referred to as frog street.However, when we arrived the shops were still closed (it was only about 11am) and decided instead to check out the nearby mall (Parco). Inside the Parco was one of our favourite shops; ABC Mart where they sell all the best shoes. It wasn’t long before the first shoe purchases were made followed by some phone cases, socks and some ceramics. 


After a while it was deemed to be lunchtime and we wandered the streets until we found a place that Duncan liked the look of the curtains of so that’s where we went. We ordered way too much food which explains why the lady seemed rather surprised by and some other customers had a little giggle. Now we know why. 


Once we ate as much as we possibly could we headed out for a spot more shopping and re-checked Nawate street which still had lots closed. However, the shops that were open were great and a few more bits and pieces were purchased. 


Around 3pm we headed back towards the train for more Starbucks and a spot more shopping before getting back on the train to Chino. All in all Avery successful and enjoyable day out. Check out the photos from our outing HERE .


School Day

The students all had their second day of classes with the Japanese students. They remained in their two groups, blue group and yellow group and were off and away by 8.40am. Both groups started out in Moral Education which started off in our home room learning about school life in Haramura. Apparently, the kids were very shocked to learn that the cross country at this school is 21km! They also learned that in 2nd Grade the students climb Mt Yatsugatake over two days which is a ten hour hike. From there they split into their two groups and went off to lessons that were best described as more social studies lessons. 


For their next session the Yellow group had Music and the Blue group went to their English class. In the music class students got to learn how to play a musical instrument called a Koto (see pics/videos). They had to wear special picks on their fingers, that kind of look like backwards fake nails, and they learned to play the song ‘Sakura’ which Miss Austin said sounded beautiful. In English class were they actually focused on some Japanese skills such as origami, calligraphy, chop stick use and they also played some games.


After their first two classes our students were given a break of about an hour (the Japanese students go to another class) and during these breaks the pass time of playing cards has become really popular. We have all commented to one another how great it has been for them not having devices. Last time we were here it felt like they ruled the roost a bit when there was any ‘downtime’ but all the kids use this time to talk to one another, share experiences, joke and play games and it’s really refreshing to see. Their favourite game at the moment is “Bullsh***”. 


After their break the kids were back into lessons and the yellow group had maths, the Blue group had Social studies. In maths they gave the students a worksheet and they had to do problem solving activities while using an abacus (or as Ryan called it a circle shape thing like when you’re a kid). In Social Studies they had a challenge between groups of who could identify the most countries by identifying their flags. Everyone was really competitive and most teams were able to score above the 30 mark! 


In-between they had their lunch break and on the menu for the day was a bread roll, soup, steamed chicken and vegetables and a salad. They did the steamed chicken and vegetables for us especially saying it was like a hangi. Most of the kids enjoyed this food but Akshay, Coeghan, Zeal and Caleb aren’t huge fans of the milk and the pumpkin!


Once lunch was consumed the Blue group went to Science and the Yellow Group went to English.  In science the blue group learned about carbon dioxide and did an experiment where they had to get the gas to travel through a pipe under water and into another vessel. It was a bit of a challenge but all the kids managed to get there.The yellow group learned a lot of different Japanese card games during their session. The Japanese students taught them and of course they got very competitive once they figured out how the games work.


That was the last lessons for the day as school finished early in preparation for exams which are happening this week. It was about 2.30pm when they finished and finished cleaning the school by 3.30. At this time quite a few of the students were picked up by their homestay families while the rest had to relocate to the nearby elementary school where they played in the hall there. The hall is well equipped with lots of fun things to do such as riding unicycles, walking on stilts and of course playing basketball or any other game you might like. The kids there had a very active afternoon, make sure you check out the videos for those who gave stilts etc a go. 


At about 5pm the adults rejoined the students at the elementary and they last of us were collected to head off for the night.


Messages from the students


Sammy - So homestay has been great so far. Today is my last day with Myuki and then I am going to Ika’s house today after school and after the zen temple. Homestay at night is really good, the food is very nice we always have chicken nuggets which is also very nice. The showers are different but good, you sit on a stool and then you wash yourself and then you use soap and wash yourself with water again and then you wash your hair and then you can get into a hot bathtub but I don’t usually do that. I’ve been going to bed quite early lately. Like in NZ I usually go to bed at like 9-9.30pm but here I have been going to bed at like 8.15-8.30pm except last night I didn’t go to bed until like 10pm but oh well. They really give you a lot of food and I get full really easily in Japan, that’s always great. The older brother is really funny. I try to teach him English and it’s very good now that I have taught him something. All of them are very nice and they been looking after me really well and I am happy to be here in Japan.


Mikaela H - So just now this morning before school my friends who I made yesterday, Umi and Meg, they have given me four letters so far. One says “do you have a boyfriend” and “do you want to be friends” and it said circle ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Today I got another letter asking for my Instagram and a mail address and one saying “I hope your wishes come true”. They’re really good friends and I hope to keep in touch with them. The people in Japan are really nice and it’s been cool to meet them. I’m actually waving to some of my friends right now. The dinner has been really, really nice and so has breakfast. I’ve been having eggs and bacon for breakfast and dinner has been different eery night but really nice and really filling. I’ve been sleeping well and it’s been warm but not too hot. It’s been wet here the last few days but it’s still warm. Last night me and Nicole and our exchange students went to a sushi train restaurant and we tried fried octopus and it tastes like chicken nuggets, it was really good. Yesterday after school we were at the elementary school and me, Leah and Teagan and it was really hard. Then we went on the stilts and it was really fun. It took a while to get the hang of it but it was really cool. Asahi was on a metre high one, it was cool. I’m having a great time and it’s going to be sad to leave the school. 


Zeal - Yesterday we came to school and did lots of stuff. We did moral education and we played a game of tag which was fun. WE cooked some nice food. The lunch was a good experience but a little plain. Yesterday the food was better and had more flavour. It was bread and some other stuff. After school we went to the supermarket and they always give us lots of food. After school me and the little brother were playing lots of board games and stuff and I bet him, it was good. Yesterday we also played some sports and stuff. WE played a lot of basketball and I tried stilts and they were really hard. Caleb kept being silly and dancing which was annoying. We played a game of cards with the mum after the basketball stuff which was fun. Last night for dinner we had karagi chicken which mum cooks at home so that was good. 


Coeghen - Last night we went to sushi train, it was very yum. Then we went to an arcade, it was cool and my homestay has been fun, the student is really nice. 


Caleb - Yesterday after school we went to the elementary school and played in the gym. WE played basketball and it was really fun. There were some little kids there too. Last night we went to a sushi train in Chino with Coeghan, and Asahi and their students and Sammy was there. It was really nice there was heaps of food. After that we went to a games arcade with Coeghan and Asahi and it was really fun. We got back really late and I was really tired.


Daniel - Last night we went out for dinner to a pub and I tried Octopus and we played baseball after school with my homestay’s friends down the road, that was fun. We also played some PS4 inside. Sleeping is good, my bed is comfortable.


Max - Yesterday we did moral education first and we played charades. WE had to choose words and then act them out and our group had to guess them. Then we did some English but it wasn’t really English it was more Japanese but oh well. Then it was break time and we played games in the classroom. Then we had social studies and I can’t remember what we did. In science we made soda water. Then we went to the library yesterday with my host family and I started reading Harry Potter because it was the only English book they had. Then we had ramen for dinner an then we went back home and I went to bed. 


Akshay - The last two days have been pretty good. The whole sleeping thing has improved. The mum has moved out so now it’s just me and the brother and the student sharing a room which is fine. Schools been pretty good. I’ve some really cool, funny people and I’m really enjoying it. We went to the supermarket yesterday and I got some snacks and a drink. I’ve also been playing Nintendo at my student house. Last night for dinner it was squid rings and potato salad and noodles which was pretty good. 


Asahi - Yesterday me Caleb and Coeghan went to Coeghan’s house and then from there we went to the sushi train and then after that we went to this big arcade place and we wasted all of our money. We didn’t win anything except Coeghan won a lollipop. Everything else was a scam. At the homestay I sleep on the floor. At the school I have a tonne of fan girls and when I wave at them they scream. 


Nicole - Last night I went to a sushi place with Mikaela and Saki and Hunami and you order your sushi on a screen and it comes around on a conveyer belt. I tried fried octopus and it was delicious. I love it. It tastes like chicken mcbites. It was really good. The school is really big for like a small amount of students. Most of the toilets have buttons where the water shoots up and you can clean yourself. Everyone here is really nice and we are going to be doing our performance today and it’s going to be really fun.


Leah - At the homestay it’s really fun, even though my student is staying at the dorms for school so I won’t see her this week. We play Wii together (the family). Last night we had octopus pancakes and they were really nice and the food is really good. They like to feed you lots! At school it’s really fun and everyone is really nice. What I find interesting is that at the end of the day the students clean the school which is really different to NZ. The students get on their hands and knees and move furniture and they scrub the floors with wet cloths. It was interesting but fun to take part in because it was something new. 


Teagan- What I find really interesting is that they clean school and they try really hard, not like in NZ, they actually get on their hands and knees and they scrub the floors. At my homestay we’ve gotten a lot closer than we were before. We hang out after school and we played some card games last night which is fun. We played president, doubt and that’s all I can remember. It’s pretty fun so far.


Bryah - My homestay is really nice. We have lots o Japanese meals for dinner. I sleep on aa futons which is really close to the ground but I sleep really well and it’s quite comfy. At night time before we got to sleep and mimi and her two sisters do some origami to relax. Last night we played on the wii and I was surprisingly bad at it. My dinners are nice and I’ve enjoyed being at my homestay. The house is quite different to what I’d expect in NZ. I think being in Japan is a good experience. I enjoy trying out the different bathing and showering. ITs been a really nice experience. 


Aria - My homestay has been really cool so far. Things that surprise me are the  toilets because they have lots of different buttons and the bathrooms because you have to sit down and then go in the bath if you want to. The food is pretty good. They try to cook European style like hamburgers and pizza. I tried Nato last night and I didn’t like it but I tried it. Another thing is you sleep on a futon. I’m used to sleeping on a bed but it was surprising. It’s really cool to be in Japan even though I am away from my family.


Rose - I’ve been lucky enough to sleep on an actual bed for my stay in Japan, although it is quite hard in comparison to European beds. I’ve also had a room to myself because my homestay foes to bed a lot later than me so she sleeps in the living room area upstairs. The food has actually been so nice. I like it when they make it Japanese style not European style because they’re really good at making Japanese food because it’s Japan. My experience in Japan in general has been really pleasant although I am tired.


Jordan - Yesterday was very different to the day before because I was more awake so I could do more. At my homestay we played some games and I was winning for a while, then I lost. It was a little hard because I didn’t really know what I was doing. We had a Japanese dinner of chicken with miso and radish soup and some tofu and rice. 


Ryan - I went home yesterday and we played this weird tic tac toe kind of game where you could make as many moves as you wanted. We had an omelette or dinner. My homestay is getting better we’ve been playing games and I completed this maze thing which was good.


Makayla M - Yesterday was really fun. I got to do some activities with my homestay and we learned some Japanese culture. We made origami and learned how to use chop stick better. Lunch was bread and soup and a broccoli salad and it was really nice. At lunch I spent some time with my homestay and got to know some of her friends. 


I think now I am caught up on what happened while we were away in Matsumoto and I am now about to begin the blog for today’s happenings. Check out the photos from Wednesday HERE.

Day Four - Welcome to Hara Junior High


Today was our first full on school day. We all met up at school between 7.30-8am (probably a little earlier than some were used to) and spent some time catching up with what happened for everyone after out trip yesterday. It seems quite a few families met up with each other last night celebrate the Full Moon and Autumn Equinox. 


After about 10 minutes of excited chatter the students were all introduced to the assistant language teacher at Hara Mura who is from America. He ran us through the program for the day and prepared the students for what to expect and how to behave in different scenarios. Interestingly enough the students are not allowed at all to have their phones (not an issue for us) or takes photos while at school, but luckily Raewyn and I are on the case so I’m sure you’ll see plenty. We had a little bit of spare time before our welcome ceremony so I took the chance to catch up with each individual student about their time in Hara so far.


Caleb: My home stay has been really good. Something interesting I had was octopus which was interesting and yum. What I’ve found really surprising is that I have to leave my bag downstairs and sleep upstairs. I really enjoyed going out with the group yesterday and spending time with the exchange students, it was really fun.


Coeghan - My homestay is really good. Yesterday I enjoyed spending time with the group and visiting lots of different places. Something that I’ve found surprising is all the short roads and really close houses. Some weird food that I’ve tried was these little yellow fruits that were not very nice.


Zeal - Yesterday we went to the Ninja park which was really fun, we did lots of ninja stuff, took photos, went through a maze about ninja stuff and then we went home and had some nice Japanese takeaways. It’s been pretty good, there’s lots of vending machines, not much to do at home but we just watch TV.


Samantha - It’s been good so far. Everyone is very nice and they treat you very well. My favourite food so far has been the sushi because I told my family that I like sushi and now they always give me sushi which I think is just super cool. The showers are really odd, but like once you do it the first time you get used to it and then it’s absolutely fine. The school is a little bit different in comparison to Pukekohe Intermediate and Pukekohe High but yeah.


Teagan - The most interesting thing is probably the showers because they’re different compared to ours. The school is quite different to the ones in Pukekohe because they have lots of corridors and things. 


Daniel - I found the showers different because it’s just different. I tried horse yesterday and that was pretty yuck and the bedding and sleeping is very different.


Max - Yesterday I had some sausages which was nice and I really like having my own room to sleep in and not having to share with a little kid. Last night we had some noodles and it was really nice in noodle sauce, they were little grey ones and we ate it with seaweed and it was pretty neat. 


Asahi - At the welcome party I are locust which was cool. We’ve played Mario Kart and I sleep on the floor. 


Mikaela H - I tried some Japanese radish last night for dinner which is the most different food so far that they’ve given me. My home stay goes to sleep really late because she studies for like 3 hours. I’m enjoying everything so far. 


Leah - Every things been really cool so far and the my homestay has been really good to me and really welcoming. What’s been interesting so far has been the showers which are very different to NZ and some of the things like the school are quite the same and it’s been really cool so far. 


Nicole - It’s been really great so far. My first night with my home stay family I ate octopus, which was okay, I’d eat it again. The showers a bit weird but fine, like the water pressure was really light. I’ve liked the bus it was really comfy. I’ve had fun hanging out with out my home stays younger brother he’s really cool and the mum is really, really nice.


Akshay - My home stay has been pretty good so far. We’ve been out for dinner for the last two nights which has been pretty good. The sleeping is little bit weird. Like I’m sleeping on a single bed and then like literally 10cm away there’s a double bed where the mum and the brother sleep which I find quite weird but it is what it is I guess. Other than that it’s fine and I’m having a really good time. 


Ryan - The foods really nice in Japan. Thats probably the highlight of homestay at the moment. We don’t do much else, I play cards. 


Makayla M - I liked how with my homestay family we always do something together like playing cards. We’ve gone out for dinner both nights and they’re really nice people. 


Bryah - The thing I like those most about my homestay is the food and the one different things that I’ve tried is a rice cake. They’re really good. My favourite thing that I’ve done so far is making origami with mimi and her two sisters.


Aria - My home stay experience has been pretty good so far. We’ve been eating pretty normal food car I guess, like hamburgers. One surprise to me is the toilets. The toilet had a sink on top and it uses the water from the sink to flush the toilet. At the moment my favourite thing is the food, it’s delicious. 


Rose - My homestay experience has been really pleasant and the thing I like the best about it is the food because even though it was healthy it was really delicious. Another thing I really liked the bath at night because they were really relaxing and I got to use bath bombs. Probably the only thing I don’t really like is the beds because they’re very hard.


Jordan - We haven’t done a lot yet. On the first night we went home and had dinner and then I went to sleep, because I’ve been quite tired. Then last night was pretty much the same but I think we’re going to be doing more over the next few nights because I think I will be able to stay up longer. 


Kate - MY home stays pretty cool. We’ve watched TV together and the dinners are very delicious and they’re very thoughtful people. One night I got taught how to make dumplings which was really nice. It was good fun. 


A little from the adults 


Kathryn - Last night we met up with Samantha’s family for a BBQ and some fireworks. We ate some really nice (expensive) shiitake mushrooms. Even though Sam didn’t like mushrooms she knew that they were special and tried them, I was really proud of her. The safety procedures around the fireworks was a little questionable. 


Raewyn - Last night we made gyoza (dumplings) which were delicious but my technique may not have been the best. I’m amazed that my host families car has a TV in the dashboard that they watch while they are driving. 


Kim - I am amazed with the hours they work. How early they get up and how they study. They do really long hours. All the food that I’ve tried so far has been amazing.


Duncan - Last night I went to the Onsen pools - which is naked swimming. Very relaxing once you get over the naked thing.


Meagan - Last night we had an amazing dinner. We had gone to the supermarket so I could pick out anything I liked and then we made sushi and we made all our own pieces and I had a few beers. 


Me (Mallory) - Last night my host family had their extended family over for a full moon/autumn equinox celebration. We had lots of delicious food (tempura and noodles), had fireworks and ended the night with some delicious cheesecake and family photos. 


Back to school…


After I caught up with everyone we had a few minutes to spare and then headed down towards the school gym/hall for our formal welcome ceremony. As we walked in we were greeted by all 227 students and the staff. They played music for us and it felt like we were really important as we walked up the middle of the students to our seats at the front. The principal introduced himself and then welcomed us. Then we all took our turns to present our speeches for the second time (I think we did a lot better this time - less laughter and less confused faces). We followed this up with the National Anthem (see video). Then the Japanese students put together a presentation for us sharing information about Hara Mura and of course about the Onbashira festival. They followed this up with a performance of a song they sing during Onbashira to encourage the people who are involved (see video). The students from the whole school then sang their school song for us; they did a wonderful job. The welcome ceremony concluded after that and the school band played us out as we left the hall; they really are treating us well. 


From there we went up to our base classroom for a quick catch up before heading off to the first lesson for the day in home economics. Because it was the cooking room we all assumed that the students would be cooking but it became clear after a few minutes they would be learning to do something else….. Cross Stitch! The teacher showed some examples and demonstrated what to do then and students were given some different patterns to choose from and away they went. It was really interesting to see who had a natural knack for it (Duncan!!) And those who struggled a bit. Daniel, Coeghan and Caleb began making up their own patterns and somehow Leah got hers in a knot. Aria, Kate and Makayla M really took their time trying to get things right and Akshay seemed determined to make his work. Check out the photos further down for reference but it was really interesting to see how engaged in the task they were. 


After this class the students were given a break so we took half of the student up to the local supermarket to check it out and if desired to buy some candy to take back to NZ since it’s a little cheaper than in Tokyo. Now lollies and chocolate were definitely purchased but I can’t make any guarantees that its going to make it back to NZ, guess you’ll all have to wait and see. The students who didn’t get to go today will go on Thursday. 


After our break time it was time for the second lessons for the day and the students were split up into two groups; yellow group and blue group. Yellow group is: Sam, Akshay. Nicole, Ryan, Teagan, Jordan, Rose, Zeal and Kate. Blue group is: Max, Leah, Coeghan, Mikaela, Caleb, Makayla M, Daniel, Aria, Asahi and Bryah. Yellow groups lesson was Art and Blue went to Japanese. The art session was best described as organised chaos as the kids were doing some experimenting with ink. Nicole seemed to get more on the floor than the paper. Kate in particular though seemed to really take her time with this and turned out a really cool piece and hopefully we can get pictures tomorrow once the art pieces have dried. The Blue group were learning Japanese card games and each of our students were split up so that they were the only one from NZ in their group. The Japanese students were in charge of leading and teaching ours students how to play. It looked like a lot of fun. 


Next it was time for lunch. In Japan the lunches are provided by the school and the expectation is that any food you are given you finish. However, they knew it might be difficult for some of our students so they were just asked to give everything a good try. Lunch was a vegetable soup, rice with veggies, kumara frittata type thing and a mung bean salad plus the requisite bottle of milk. The students all gave everything a go and seemed to enjoy most of it; the mung bean salad wasn’t a hot pick for anyone. 


After the lunch break it was time for the next classes. Blue group went to Science and Yellow group went to Japanese. In science students were experimenting with sugar and actually created something they could eat. I’m not quite sure what you’d call it but it reminded me a little of hokey pokey in look and texture but wasn’t quite the same. The Yellow group then had their turn playing card games with the Japanese students.


The final lessons for the day were Special Education for Blue and Science for yellow. Special Education translated to a bit of an arts and craft type session for the blue group. They were drawing characters/pictures onto a big piece of plastic, cutting it out and then heating it in a small oven to shrink them into key chains. They are very kawaii (cute in Japanese). I joined them after they had already started and enlisted Mikaela’s help with making a cat one. All was going well until the tail accidentally got chopped off. The Yellow groups science lesson was the same as the other group making the edible sugar treats over the burners. I got to try some made by Nicole and it was very sweet indeed!


After the final lesson ended students made their way back to our home base room where they packed up their things and got involved in the school clean up. A great and unique thing about Japanese schools is that they do not employ cleaners; the students and staff are responsible for cleaning the school at the end of every day. It’s clear that this creates a real culture for looking after the place when you know at the end of it you’re going to have to clean it up anyway. All our students got involved - tomorrow we will make sure there is some photographic evidence.


After clean up school finished for us all at about 4.15pm so we had a little bit of time to kill before we got picked up around 4.30. Usually students would have club activities after school meaning they would be here until about 6pm but because it’s an exam week students are all going home asap to study. Tomorrow we are back in for day two of school and some of the adults are heading to Matsumoto for the day (a change to the schedule). But have no fear the blog will still happen and photos will still be taken to share with you. During our 15mins of downtime we talked about all the things that happened today and one of the hot topics for discussion was how popular the boys and in particular Asahi is with the Japanese girls. All day there was a group of about 6-7 Japanese girls that kept hanging out outside our home room giggling and waving at the boys. One of them plucked up the courage to ask the boys if they had girlfriends and were ecstatic when the answer was a no. Asahi seemed to get a little more attention than the others though…. He didn’t seem upset about this. At 4.30 all the mums and host students began rolling in to take their students home for a speedy dinner before we all head out tonight.


As I am writing this I am about to be picked up by my host family and we will be seeing everyone again later tonight at the Yatsugatake park/observatory for a starry night experience so more details from today to come a little later…. 


Okay it is now later. 


At about 6.45pm all the students and their host families met up at the Yatsugatake planetarium for a special presentation. The presentation was in the planetarium (think star dome in Auckland) and compared the night sky in Hara Mura to the night sky in Pukekohe. The kids were all excited to see our town on the big screen and the presentation took about 25 mins. After that the plan was for us to go outside and star gaze using some impressive looking telescopes, but unfortunately it was drizzly and foggy tonight, not ideal conditions. Instead we went through to the room next door which houses some pretty impressive Rhino beetles (alive) and show cases other (dead) bugs as well. I can tell you right now you’re not going to learn much about the bugs from me, I am definitely not a fan - I did however take a few pictures. The most common refrain from the kids was “are they actually real?” A question they answered by touching them (ugh!). After that our night together ended at about 8pm. Short and sweet. Everyone said goodnight and headed back home with their homestay families to end another really big but fun day.


For all the photographic highlights click HERE. - please note that if you're checking this very early in the morning there will be more photos to come once I get a chance to get some more from Raewyn, please check back :)

Day Three - Village Tour


What a big day, day three was! After our first night with our host families we all met up at the Hara Mura library at 8.30am; eager to see each other and share our experiences from the night before. There was a little homesickness from a few but everyone enjoyed the first night at their homestay. Before our day got started there was a little confusion to clear up. Some families were not aware that the council had planned for us to all be together today and had made other plans to take their homestay students out.  It was decided that those students and their families would go on their planned trip as it was just one of those moments of miscommunication, and not worth causing a fuss over. So Zeal, Akshay, Teagan and Daniel went with their host families to a Ninja park for the day (details to come when we catch up tomorrow). Before they left we took a group photo at a very special spot behind the library; a post acknowledging the relationship between Hara and Pukekohe which was placed here in 2002 (before the students were born!). 


After this, we said goodbye to the four heading to the Ninja Park and the rest of us boarded either a bus, van or got a ride with host families to the first of many stops for the day. Our first stop was at the Yatsugatake nature and culture park where we kicked things off with the Crazy Bikes. The group had an awesome trying out all different types of bikes/trikes and carts racing around with each other and their host students. Even some of the adults had a crack at it with only minor crashes. Once our time on the bikes was up we headed through the other side of the observatory there and down into a massive park area to play some soccer and badminton. A really great opportunity for all the students from both countries to enjoy each other's company and make new friends. Caleb, Coeghan and Duncan started up a pretty hectic 3-a-side soccer match. Jordan, Bryah, Makayla M and Kate were practicing their badminton skills. Sammy, Nicole, Mikaela H and Leah played badminton and then moved onto a game of big ball soccer with their host students. Ryan and Max zoomed around all activities causing havoc and having a great time. After a while there the adults were invited to attend the opening of the festival celebrations that were happening at the park which was happening to mark the Autumn Equinox (public holiday). We enjoyed some soup and we featured very briefly on some channel somewhere in the world with the reporters sharing the festivities. 


After a pit stop we all hopped back on our buses/vans etc and headed to our second stop; a local museum/tea house. Here the students split into two groups where they either got to use old looms to weave or create water guns using bamboo.... I am sure you could guess what your child chose (or perhaps not - check the photos!). The only rules students were given with the water guns was to make sure they didn't squirt them into the tea house/at the teachers and after a while it became clear that wherever we were became a bit of a 'safe' zone for those trying to escape it. After those activities, we stopped for our lunch break. All the students sat together and compared and shared all their different lunches. Lunch boxes in Japan really are quite different from NZ. Everyone tried some more new things and marveled at the kawaii (cute) way that host mums had cut their sausages into octopus shapes.  Lunch concluded with a bit more downtime and some dragonfly catching. 


Our next stop was to a nearby farm for 20mins where students could wander around the property and see cows and buy ice cream. Unsurprisingly the cows got very little attention compared to the ice cream. It was a very quaint place to take in our surroundings and relax a little. 


As we climbed back on board we headed to another nearby stop where we started learning more about an important festival here called Onbashira. This festival takes place every 7 years in the Nagano Prefecture (where we are) and 16 chosen fir trees are selected, cut down and transported to a shrine (which we visited later in the day). The place we visited is where the trees come from and we were told about how the trees generally weigh 12 tonnes and travel 12km in three days by being dragged by people. The festival is notoriously dangerous as they are transported and then also ridden with many injuries and the occasional death. From the forest clearing we stood in we hopped back in our vehicles and drove the path that they are carried to see the journey that they take. 


From here we took a detour from the Onbashira trail and headed into Chino to visit a Miso store we got to see/learn about the traditional method for making miso paste/miso products. Miso is made from fermented soybeans and method we saw which included the use of thousand-year-old barrels now only accounts for 1% of the miso production in Japan with more modern, large-scale methods taking place in larger factories. The students got to tour the factory (for want of a better word) and try some Miso soup which they all enjoyed. They then got to take part in an activity where they were shown how to protect themselves from becoming poor by hitting a large wooden trunk with a baton three times, kicking in three times and then throwing soybeans at a shrine. Some people opted to take a soft approach while others seemed to work out some frustrations on the wooden trunk (see video). Hopefully, this means we will now all be rich and will be able to come to you all with many presents with cash left over (yeah right!). Once the tour was over we headed into the shop where Bryah purchased some miso and blueberry paste and many others enjoyed a soft-serve ice cream sprinkled with a miso topping. Some of us were a little dubious about trying miso ice-cream but Duncan got straight into it and claimed that it reminded him of salted caramel ice cream. Others jumped on board and said it was salty but nice. I did not try any as if I'm being honest I hit a little bit of a wall. It felt very late in the afternoon but in reality, it was only just coming up to 2pm. As I looked around it was clear I wasn't the only one feeling the heat, the time difference and tiredness that comes with lots of travel.


Back on board the bus we headed to the Suwa Shrine (where a few heads nodded off on the way). However, as we got closer to the shrine everyone seemed to get their second wind and perked up as we walked up towards to the welcoming shrine entrance. I think it also helped that the temperature was a few degrees cooler in the shade and trees. We all walked around the shrine at our own paces taking in the different buildings, impressive trees and the planted trees from the most recent Onbashira festival (two years ago). The group also got their first taste (literally) of shrine/temple etiquette. When you first walk in there is a place with water and small cups on the end of bamboo sticks where you take water to cleanse your hands and mouth (but you spit out the water) before entering the shrine. As we made our way to the end of the shrine students got to see and take part (if desired) in making a prayer. To do this you walk up to the outer fence of the shrine where there is a slotted collection box. You throw in a coin donation, 50 Yen is a good amount, bow twice, clap twice, make your prayer in your head and heart then bow one more time. Some chose to take part while others enjoyed watching and learning rather than taking part. Before we headed back towards our buses etc we stopped for some wicked group photos before meandering back down the road popping in and out of the small shops there. Asahi took the lead in buying some unknown snacks which he shared out and we think were fried soba noodles covered in sugar which we actually quite nice. 


Our final stop before the end of the day was at the site where the logs are crossed over a river (on the way to the shrine) and also ridden on down a very steep slope. As we stood there looking down the slope Nicole asked me what a toboggan was as there was a sign saying that during winter months when there is snow it is a popular site for tobogganing. Luckily a local young boy was actually sliding down the grassy slope on a plastic toboggan so I could point it out to which she replied "why is that called a toboggan.... I mean it's not like when we're at school teachers say go and get your books out of your toboggan". I'm not going to lie that one took me a few seconds to wrap my head around. It turns out she didn't really get a good look at the toboggan and only saw a plastic tray and thought it looked very similar to a tote tray. We got a good laugh out of that for a while. 


At about 4pm we headed off back towards Hara Mura where we arrived at the council building around 4.30 to head back home with our host families. On the trip back the adults all had a bit of a laugh at the conversation in the bus about who thought they would have money left at the end of the trip and who wouldn't. We found it funny because they have so much coming ahead where they'll no doubt find plenty of things they want. The realists in the group were Aria, who said "I will spend all my money because I love to shop" and Max who said "If I don't spend it before I go home I'll have to give it to mum so I'm going to spend it all" (sorry Carolyn - we'll try and remind him to buy you something). 


Today was a wonderful day to spend together but a real different experience from having that first day together at school. It felt like we didn't all get a good chance to talk to everyone and hear their thoughts so tomorrow morning at school I will be catching up with each person to get some quotes about their favourite parts from the last few days to report back to you. For now, though enjoy the photos and videos by clicking HERE.


Side note, I am not a historian or overly knowledgeable on the Onbashira festival and I also felt like my brain was sliding out of my head today so fact checking on my information is encouraged.

Day Two (a bit more travel - Welcome to Hara Mura)


Our second day began with a meeting time of 6.50am. Most were up on time and ready to go....some were still catching some z's when we checked in at 6.30am. However, we all made it on time for our buffet breakfast at the hotel. The kids very quickly spotted that fries were on the breakfast buffet and filled their plates. I'd like to report back that everyone has been making healthy decisions about their food/beverage choices but that just wouldn't be very true. 


After lots of food and a quick catch up on the plan for the day we headed back up to collect our bags before hopping on our bus for the day. We ventured off into Tokyo and the kids got some of their first glimpses of important landmarks and a different way of life. Disneyland caused a stir as we passed by and along the way we also pointed out the Sky Tree and Tokyo Tower buildings. To keep things entertaining the adults used a microphone and played tour guide for a while. We made up a fair few of the "facts", some the children copped on to, but others they took hook, line and sinker. The best one being when we took an offramp for a toilet break they were told the ramp (which has some very tight hairpin bends) was used in the movie Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift. They were pretty impressed with that one.  That toilet stop also opened up the kids eyes to how you can pretty much get anything out of a vending machine here. Inside the building, there is a wall lined with an impressive array of vending machines selling anything from your favourite hot and cold drinks, to ice creams, baked goods, chocolate, chips, lollies and even a hot food one selling hotdogs and pizza. Another exciting experience, of course, was the first look/use of toilets that consist of basically a hole in the ground and a bar to provide support for squatting. 


After our break we were back on the bus and away. It didn't take long before we were stopped again but this time for the traffic. One of the kids could be heard remarking "well this is just like Auckland" - they weren't wrong. The reason for the heavy traffic though was because of the long weekend (there is a public holiday on Monday) which - like any holidays in NZ - creates a lot of congestion. To keep the kids entertained Yasu popped on a movie (we have a rather flash bus) and they settled back and watched "Sing It". 


A few hours later we made another stop for the toilet and to buy lunch. The kids were given 1000 Yen each (about $13) for the day and they purchased some food from the shops there. It was good to see more of the kids choosing to try new things and have water for the trip. Back on the bus and away we went again. They finished their movie and then we gave them the microphone to take turns to practice their speeches again. We then popped on their music and they practiced their performance items (check out the video). Eventually, we made it to Hara Mura. The trip was supposed to take 4.5 hours but because of the traffic it took a grand total of 6 hours!!


Everyone's nerves and excitement began to peak as we exited the bus and made our way into the Council Building. Before we knew it we were all sitting in front of a sizeable crowd of locals ready to give our speeches. First the Mayor of Hara Mura introduced himself and welcomed us. Then Asahi thanked him and the village on our behalf and the locals were very impressed with his speech.Then it was time for the rest of us. Kathryn leapt out of her seat to go first wanting to get it out of the way, followed by the other adults and then the students. The students by far outshone the adults; it was clear the audience knew what they were saying as they reacted and laughed to some of the statements made. Teagan's host family thought she must speak fluent Japanese she did so well. I, on the other hand caused a lot of confusion by apparently telling everyone I was 20 years old but that this was my third trip. They were very curious about how I was teaching at the age of 14!! 


After the speeches we joined up with our host families to meet them and share some food. It was a great way to be welcomed.  As we finished eating the Japanese host students got on the stage and performed for us. They then invited some of our students to partake in a special quiz. The game was that there were four rice balls on the stage with four different fillings and so four of our students had to try them and then guess their fillings. Caleb was up first, and then with a little prodding he was joined by Nicole, Sammy and Mikaela H. They each tried their rice balls and seemed happy with what they were eating. Three out of four were guessed correctly and none of the fillings were too scary. Sammy and Nicole said they enjoyed it and Caleb said it was delicious. Following this the group were invited to try out some locusts! First up on the stage was Ryan, confident as anything, followed by Asahi.....and no one else! They didn't hesitate. Once on stage they chucked them back and even went in for seconds. Apparently, they were covered in honey and quite crunchy. After the delicacies, the parents and adults from Hara Mura got on stage and performed a very sweet song for us. 


Then it was our turn. We headed off to get the group changed into their performance gears and then they took the stage. They did an absolutely wonderful job (see videos) and can be incredibly proud of their performance. My favourite was Toia and Teagan did a wonderful job leading this, as did Daniel leading the haka.


Following the more formal parts of the afternoon our Japanese hosts invited our students to join their students for a party game. The game is very similar to musical chairs, except instead of chairs they walk around sheets of newspaper and then have to hop on when the music stops. If you don't make it onto the newspaper then you are out. Our group were very competitive. It took quite a while for any of our students to get out but Max was first (sorry mate, it has to be someone) and then a few others as the papers got taken away and the game got a little more physical. When it got down to the last 6 (about 5 from each country) there was no newspaper left (due to the rough nature of our playing) so it was time to settle it with a good old fashioned game of rock, paper scissors. Representing NZ was Jordan, Bryah, Nicole, Kate and Makayla M. They took the challenge very seriously but after a few rounds it became clear with that many players that it was hard to know who should stay in and who was out. So they decided collectively they were all out! All in good fun. Make sure you watch the video recording of the game, you'll get a good idea of how eager our team was to win!


As the fun and games died down final speeches from Hara were given, students had a photo with their host families and then we were all off in different directions. Heading off to be with homestay families. The looks on students faces ranged from nervous excitement, to uncertainty, to cool/calm/collected. I then headed off with my family and after a wonderful first night with them I am getting ready for some sleep after a very long day. 


Tomorrow, we meet up at 8.30am for a tour of the village so I will make sure I catch up with everyone to get some feedback about their first night in homestay. Until then, keep an eye on the facebook etc for some photos and for the full catalogue of photos and videos from today (from Raewyn and me) click HERE and enjoy!

Day 1 (Travel Day)


Well, so far the trip can be called a success. All 25 of us made it to the airport by 6 am, exited and ready to go! After saying sayonara to families at the departure gate we navigated our way through customs (Kathryn got checked for bombs) and into the first of many shopping areas. We were all very well behaved though, only window shopping at this point, the last few NZdollars used to buy plane snacks. 


As we headed off to our gate (16A - quite a walk really for NZ) Akshay had his first (and hopefully only) lesson about keeping on top of putting travel documents away. Makayla M saw that Akshay had left his travel wallet at the table and handed it into the teachers who decided to do a little science experiment about how long it would take him to notice. We made it basically all the way there before Akshay noticed and began rifling quickly through his bags. He realised he must have left it behind and was about to turn back when it was handed over and the relief on his face was evident. He said he's happy to have learned the lesson in NZ rather than in Japan and I feel he will most definitely keep an extra eye on things.


We all boarded the plane, welcomed especially by the Air NZ crew (thanks Neil) with chocolates for the kids, goodie bags for the teachers, headphones for Kate and great service. The time on the plane passed with lots of eating, movies, and quick naps. When we arrived in Tokyo we were greeted with 26-degree heat which led to instant sweat and frizzy hair.


After bag collection, customs and a short bus ride we made it to the Narita View Hotel where we got into our rooms, met for a buffet dinner and then headed off to bed ready for an early start and a big day the next day.


Not many photos were taken on the travel day but click HERE for a few glimpses into the day.

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