From Hiroshima to Takayama to Home

Here are the pictures for this blog

Japan is experiencing a tourist boom at the moment and getting reservations was not possible until after we arrived. So the train reservations we got from Hiroshima were not ideal.  We were set to leave at 6 a.m. from Hiroshima Station, but after our hike on Misen we thought it worth sleeping in a little and try our luck on the non-reserved seats from Hiroshima to Kobe where our first transfer was.  Our luck turned out not to be great as there were way more people on the train than there were seats.  We had to stand for the hour it took to get from Hiroshima to Kobe, but it was the price for sleeping in so it was worth it.

We took the Shinkansen back to Nagoya and made a quick change to the Hida Express bound for Takayama.  This was a slow train that left the metropolis of Nagoya and wound its way up a mountain valley to the town of  Takayama through a beautiful mountain valley.  Takayama translates to `Tall Mountain` and is known in Japan as `Little Kyoto` becasue of its narrow side streets and Edo era houses reminiscent of the Gion district of Kyoto.  We were met at Takayama Station by a smiling gentleman who looked to be in his 80s.  He was our shuttle bus driver to our home for the next two days – Maraiya minshuku.  We loaded our suitcases into the shuttle bus and were whisked off to our minshuku.  A minshuku is a traditional Japanese inn.  All the guest rooms have straw tatami mats and guests sleep on futons on the floor.  They also make an effort to highlight the local ingredients for the dinner and breakfast that are part of the package.

When we arrived at the minshuku we were met by Mrs. Maraiya.  She too looked to be in her 80s and as we bumped into the staff during our stay we were sure we did not meet anyone under 75 years old.  The minshuku was very clean and well run.  The food Mrs. Maraiya and her staff produced was varied and delicious.  Once we were settled in and had explored the area we met in the dinning room for supper.  We sat together on the floor on tatami mats at a long, low table.  Our dinner was cold salmon, egg custard, a variety of pickles and rice.  The main course was a dish we had to cook for ourselves  on a ceramic dish over an open flame.  It was a mixture of vegetables, shitake mushrooms and Hida beef.  Hida beef is similar to the famous Kobe beef in that it is a well marbled beef that is soft and very delicious.  We had fresh strawberries for desert.

The next morning our hosts shuttled us to the morning market which we explored for a couple of hours.  The market featured local produce which at that time of the year consisted of mainly pickles and some fruit.  There were also some interesting local crafts for sale.  After the market we squeezed four people to a taxi and headed up the mountain to the Hida Village.  Hida village is an outdoor museum.  The curators have gathered Edo era farm buildings from across Japan and reassembled them in Takayama.  These farm buildings are on average 300 years old.  They are commonly known as `gasho` which is the word that describes hands held, finger tips together, in prayer.  This evokes the high peaked steep roofs that were needed in many places in Japan to shed the large snow falls.

These houses do not have a nail anywhere in them and are built with a mortise and tenon construction using straw rope as the only binding.  The thatch roofs and the straw ropes were replaced regularly.  The homes themselves are quite flexible and withstand earthquakes well.

After we visited Hida Village we took a local bus to the town centre and had free time for shopping and exploring until dinner.  Our dinner was as varied and tasty as the previous night`s meal.  As this was the last night in Japan the students` bed time was extended to midnight even though we were to have an early start the next day.

We were showered, fed and ready to go at 7 am the next morning and were taken to the train station by our smiling grandfather.  Most of us slept through the ride to Nagoya station.  After arriving at Nagoya we left the Japan Rail section of the station and moved to the Meitetsu line to take the airport train to Nagoya`s Centrair airport.

The students did an excellent job on this trip.  They were excellent guests for their host families and tried every Japanese food and experience that was put before them.

Thursday, March 17 – Hiroshima, Miyajima and Mount Misen

Photos for this day are located here


We gathered at 8 am in the lobby of The Hiroshima Grand Intelligent Hotel (we love the hotel name) ready with snacks and water bottles for a busy day.  All the students had taken the zip lock bags of pre-strung paper cranes for our first stop which was Sadako’s memorial which is better known as the Children’s Memorial.  More on that later.

We took a ‘Romandensha’ which is a street car and translates to ‘romantic train’.  These are the only street cars left in Japan and so have a bit of nostalgia about them for the Japanese – hence the name.  I got us on the wrong one however but with the help of other riders on the streetcar we were able to transfer to the correct street car without losing too much time.  We arrived at ‘Genbaku Domu Mae’ stop (Atomi Bomb Dome) stop and immediately stepped into a preserved war zone.

The Genbaku Dome is what remains of the Product Exhibition Hall that was built in 1915.  It was designed to be a commercial show place for products produced in and around Hiroshima.  At its center it had a tower topped by a stained glass dome.  When the atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945 and detonated about 300 meters in the sky almost directly above the building.  Its walls were able to withstand the down force, but the floors were pancaked to ground level.  After the war the city decided to preserve the structure as it stood and simply added reinforcing iron where necessary to keep the structure stable.  Around the building the debris from the building lies as it fell on that day.  It was sobering for all off us to stand beside that building and witness the destruction of war first hand.

We then walked to the Children’s shrine about 100 meters away.  Because of the initial blast and the terrible wounds many of the initial survivors suffered, it is estimated the death toll from the blast rose to 149,000 three months after the bomb was dropped as people succumbed to their wounds.  Radiation sickness became a big problem of course as many people who had not been obviously physically injured from the blast developed cancers because of radiation poisoning.  Over the years many people from Hiroshima died before their time because of the radiation.

One of those people was Sadako Sasaki.  She was only two years old when the bomb was dropped and her home was flattened by the shock wave.  She was rescued from the rubble with no apparent injuries.   In school she played sports and was on the school track team.  At age 12 she developed acute malignant lymph gland leukemia.  Her leukemia was later linked to the high dose of radiation she received in the blast.  In the hospital she received blood transfusions as her main treatment.  Another girl she was hospitalized with told her of the legend that if you fold 1,000 paper cranes you will be granted a wish.  Sadako folded about 600 before she passed away because of the leukemia.  Her story became well known in Japan and ever since it has been important for school groups who visit Hiroshima to make 1,000 cranes before they come and lay them at the Children’s Shrine.  Since September our group and their families have been making cranes.  Other classes at Kwalikum Secondary and some classes at Bowser Elementary School also made cranes for this trip.  When we arrived at the park the kids got the cranes out and assembled them into a bouquet.   Our students laid them at the shrine and said a prayer for all the child victims of war and their hope for peace.

After our ceremony we walked past the tomb that houses the remains of an unknown victim of the bombing and the flame that is kept burning as a symbol for the constant hope for peace. We then entered the museum.  The museum is a very moving and frightening place.  It pulls no punches in its depiction of the effects of the blast on the city and the people of that city.  It helps one imagine the suffering that took place there.  One important aspect of the museum is the analysis it gives of the event.  It asks; ‘Why did this happen to our city?’.   In answer to that question it outlines the decisions and actions of the pre-war and war-time government of Japan.  It says that Japan did bad things to its neighbors by invading them and acting cruelly in its occupation of those countries.  The museum uses the word ‘karma’ to describe why Hiroshima suffered the way it did.

After that sobering event, it was time to move into nature.  So we headed back to the station and boarded the train to the Miyajima island ferry terminal.  We took the 20 minute ferry ride to the island and walked past the shops along the shore until we reached Ituskumshima Shrine.   This is a beautiful Shinto shrine which has a huge Tori gate built in the tidal area just off the island.  At high tide – which it was when we sailed in – the gate rises out of the water to greet you.  A beautiful site.  After taking some great pictures along the shore, we headed up Mount Misen. Misen is the tallest peak on the island at 535 meters.  It has a very good trail up to the summit and is a steep and strenuous hike.  We reached the summit after about two and a half hours and enjoyed our accomplishment at the observatory at the top.  We had a 360 degree view that allowed us to see Hiroshima and the Japan Alps in the distance on one side and the island of Shikoku and the Inland sea on the other.   However the real goal of our hike was the small temple just below the summit.  It is a simple temple about the size of a household garage with a dirt floor.  In the center of the floor a log fire smoulders away.

This temple was established in 806 by Kobodaishi, the Japanese monk who established Buddhism in Japan.  At that time he started the log fire and charged his subordinates to keep it constantly burning.  The fire has been maintained by monks, during continuously for 1200 years.  When the Peace Park was established in Hiroshima after the war the flame that commemorates the attack and which is a symbol for peace was lit by an ember brought from this temple atop of Mount Misen.  The climb up Misen and seeing this temple were a great conclusion to an emotional day.

Some of the group hiked back down the mountain but most of us took the cable car down.  Back to Hiroshima and then to an anime shop.  The kids had free time until bed time.

On to Hiroshima


Wednesday, March 16

We ordered taxis the night before and had 5 show up at the Guest House at 6:50 am.  We had already had fairly healthy breakfasts courtesy of the local 7/11 – rice balls and egg – and were ready for our train ride.  We rode the Shinkansen for about one hour to the castle city of Himeji.  As soon as we left the station we could see Himeji Castle 1 km down the main street.  The castle has the nick name of the ‘White Heron’ as it’s white walls rise above the surrounding countryside as if it is about to take flight.  I had to do some ticket adjustments and so stayed at the station.  The reports from the crew were very good.  They climbed to the top of the main donjon and worked their way through the maze of roads meant to confuse and trap attackers.

After getting lunch at station shops we took the Shinkansen again and arrived an hour and a half later at Hiroshima Station in downtown Hiroshima.  I had originally planned to take the group directly to ground zero at Hiroshima to have a ceremony with our cranes and then enter the museum which accurately documents what led up to the attack on Hiroshima and the aftermath.  However after consultation with Mrs. Stefanek  and Mr. Pearce we decide to put that off to the next day.  Visiting the museum is a difficult emotional experience and we were already a little tired.  They needed to be rested and ready for that experience.

So we walked the 10 minutes to our hotel and checked.  Then the kids headed back to the station area for shopping and later dinner.  Hiroshima translates to ‘wide island’ in English.  It is built on a river delta that has a number of islands formed by the Ota river.  There are lots of bridges of course and it is a pretty city that is easy to navigate.

To bed in good time for a big day on Thursday.

Leaving our hosts – going to Kyoto and Visiting Nara

Pictures for Nara are here

It is Wednesday, March 16 and we are still in Kyoto, but today was our day to visit Nara.  We arranged to meet a volunteer guide at Nara which is 40 minutes away from Kyoto by train.  Unfortunately I led the group on a couple of wrong turns to the train station and so we missed the train we wanted to catch.  I contacted our guide – Mrs. Nishida and she was kind enough to wait for us.  I am not going to guess Mrs. Nishida’s age, but suffice to say she has 3 children and 5 grand children.  She runs volunteer tours twice a week and we were fortunate to meet her.


Nara was the capital of Japan for a short time in the 8th century.  It is home to a number of shrines and temples including Todaiji which was our destination.   Todaiji is the name of the temple that houses a 15 meter high bronze Buddha.  The Buddha and its original building were built in 768.  Mrs. Nishida told us Japan suffered a terrible smallpox epidemic that devastated the country in the early 8th century.  In an effort to help the country heal and recover, the empower started a program that would see major Buddhist temples being built in each of the country’s prefectures.  And so Todaiji was built.  The current wooden building dates to about 1700.  There was one more after the original was built.  The first two buildings were both hit by lightening and burnt down even though they had bronze dolphins on the roof to ward off just such a catastrophe.  The current building has the dolphins and lightening rods and so should be safe.

Mrs. Nishida told us a wonderful story of escape.  The bronze Buddha was built by a casting process that involved pouring molten bronze into a form and then excavating the clay used to make the form from the inside out.  The final casting was the head.  A worker had to climb inside the head of the Buddha after the final casting to excavate the clay from the head.  He entered and exited through one of the Buddha’s nostrils.  To commemorate that final bit of engineering, a hole has been carved into the bottom of one of the pillars of the building that is the same diameter as the nostrils.  It is said that if you can pass through that hole, you are as clever as those Buddha building engineers.  So our kids took off their back packs and one by one wiggled through the hole in the pillar.

We gave Mrs. Nishida some BC smoked salmon and bought her lunch as thanks.  After lunch the students and Mr. Pearce and Mrs. Stefanek took the train from Nara to Inari which is just outside of Kyoto.  I had to do some business for the trip and so headed back to Kyoto and missed seeing the Inari shrine.

The students had free time in the evening.  Three of our girls had bought used kimonos for a good price and put them on.  Then with the bigger group of kids they went for a stroll in the Gion district of Kyoto to see if they could meet some other geisha.  They didn’t but had a great time anyway.

Leaving our hosts – going to Kyoto Part 1

Here is a link for this day’s pics


We all met at the ‘kindokei’ or gold clock used as a meeting place by everyone meeting at Nagoya Station at 8:30.  The host families brought our kids to the station and stayed till we were heading to our Shinkansen platform.  There were final photos, hugs – and then more hugs – and some tears.  Our hosts were wonderful and I received positive reports from all the host families About our kids.


We took the 9:15 Shinkansen from Nagoya and 45 minutes later were in downtown Kyoto.  We took taxis putting 3 or 4 people and their luggage per taxi and headed to our guest house, Sakura Peace House in the Higashi Yama – ‘eastern mountain’ district of Kyoto, just off the downtown core.  We left our bags at the guest house under the care of Aroni who is the New Zealander who manages the guest house.  We set out on foot for Kiyomizu Temple which was 1 km away.  The temple sits on a low mountain and provides a great view of Kyoto.  The temple complex has pagoda’s, a grand hall and a waterfall from which the temple gets its name.  Kiyomizu means ‘pure water’.  The water is said to have a purifying effect on the soul if drunk with the right intention and humility.  Our group lined up and took the long handled cups and put them into the one of the 3 streams of water flowing off the mountain.  These kids are pretty good already, so not much purifying was needed.

We then went to the ‘koi no ishi’ or ‘love stones’.  There are two stones abut two foot square set in the ground about 40 feet apart.  The legend is that if you can close your eyes and walk from one stone and actually reach the other stone with your eyes closed you will have success in love.  If however you are veering off course it is alright for a friend to gently steer you back on course – after all what are friends for?  I am happy to report our kids have bright futures in this department.

Finally we entered the ‘hara’ maze.  ‘Hara’ means ‘belly’ in Japanese.  We descended into the depths of the main hall down a steep stair case into pitch blackness.  Our only way forward was holding on to the hand rail and going slowly.  The corridor twisted and turned until finally we came to the center.   At the center was a large round piece of granite with the Sanskrit word for ‘hara’.  The idea is that we had entered into the Buddha’s belly and were safe there.   We were to touch the stone and make a wish with good intentions.  We all did.

A wonderful day at school.

Rather than inserting photos here, I have created a photo album for this day HERE.

The teachers and students were re-united Monday morning at the beginning of school.  We hadn’t seen them since Friday afternoon and were wondering how they had fared.  They all had a great time.  As I expected the host families’ hospitality was excellent.  The students had great stories of food they eaten (and sometimes made) at home or at local restaurants the family knew were good and representative of the kind of business they wanted to introduce to our students.  Some had been to the ninja school,  the Toyota museum, driven to Mount Fuji, made paper, made soba noodles, played traditional games, sung karaoke …..  They had had wonderful experiences.  They had been quite anxious in the time leading up to meeting their hosts and going off for the weekend.  Yet each one came through the weekend with new experiences and new friends.  Our hosts were very kind.

The morning at school began with a presentation by the group of Aichi Keisei students who visited KSS last May.  They had prepared a series of stations introducing different aspects of Japanese culture: young people’s fashion, origami, traditional sweets, the different kinds of miso and its origins, important sites in Kyoto ( where we were heading next) and traditional ghost stories.

In the next period we met the group of students who are travelling to Qualicum Beach.  They introduced us to a traditional card game called Karuta.  The game is kind of a combination of the card games ‘concentration’ and ‘speed’.  The students had prepared a series of cards with either pictures of important Japanese cultural practices or names of things in Japanese.  We were divided into 3 groups around tables with these cards and waited for the Japanese students to give us clues in English and Japanese.  We then had to find the cards that illustrated those clues and grab them before our competitors.  It was a lot of fun with encouragement being shouted to us from the Aichi Keisei students and teachers.  Along the way the students would give us detailed descriptions and explanations of these cultural practices with a slide show accompanied by a talk.  It was great fun.


Next, the girls were taken away to learn how to wear ‘yukata’ which are light cotton kimono.  These kimono were made by some of the students in the school’s fashion club.  The boys were fitted with ‘happi’ coats, which are traditional light cotton jackets worn by men at festivals.  We were then taken to the school’s tea room where the girls in the ‘sadou’ (tea ceremony) club prepared ‘maccha’ which is the powdered green tea used in the tea ceremony.  Their teacher is a highly trained and experienced ‘sadou’ teacher and explained to us how and why things are done in the tea ceremony.  As we sat in our yukata and happi coats we all experienced the quiet, contemplative mind-set the tea ceremony is meant to produce.  It was a great experience.

At lunch the kids ate the ‘bento’ (homemade lunch) their hosts had prepared for them in the homeroom classes of their host students.  After lunch we went to a local temple that is hundreds of years old.  It is in a rural area and a market has grown up around it, which has also been operating for hundreds of years.  We prayed at the temple and shopped at the market.  It was then back to school to meet our hosts and head back home for the final night with the host families.

Arrived at Aichi Keisei’

After a long flight – 9 hours to Narita, a two hour lay over then one hour to Nagoys’s Centrair airport we have arrived!  We got a few hours sleep at an airport hotel and then up and out of the hotel by 7:30.  Mr. Shimomura met us at the hotel and got us on to the Meitetsu line and an hour later we were at Kounomiya station in Inazawa City.  The hometown of Aichi Keisei High School.  Mr. Suzuki is the teacher in charge of our visit.  He spent two months at Kwalikum Secondary School two years ago and knows our school well.  He gave us a tour of the school and then led us into the gym.

The whole school was there waiting for us!  The boys were lined up in neat rows on one side of the gym and the girls on the other.  As the guests we were seated in the middle in front of the stage.  Mr. Adachi the principal gave a warm welcome speech in Japanese.  I then gave a short speech thanking them for hosting us as did Madilen Tokairin who is our student representative.  She did a good job of her speech which was in Japanese.  Ayako who was with us for two months last fall gave a very nice welcome speech in very good English.


Next various school clubs – the cheer leaders, fashion design, modern dance, traditional dance and their rythmic dance group gave very impressive presentations of what they can do.  We were all impressed – blown away actually – by the skill and commitment with which these groups presented.  Our students then sang our song – ‘This World is Your World’ – in English and Japanese.  Our kids did a very good job.

After the presentation we joined a cooking class and made ‘oyakodonburi’.  Which is very well known family cuisine here – chicken and egg on rice.  Our kids did their best to use their Japanese and the Aichi Keisei students did their best to use their English to work together to make the dish.  We all enjoyed their work for lunch.


After lunch the students and teachers were taken by the school bus to Inuyama castle (Inuyama translates to ‘dog mountain’)  This castle is set on a low mountain over looking an ancient river border between one lords fiefdom and another’s.  A small, but impressive castle.

The group got back to the school at about 5pm and were met by their host families and whisked away for the evening.  We will meet again on Monday morning to hear of everyone’s adventures.

Himeji Castle AR (Alternate Reality) experience

When we travel from Kyoto to Hiroshima we are going to make a stop along the way at the small city of Himeji.  It is the best – intact – example of a medieval castle in Japan and is worth a visit.  It has been closed for two years for needed maintenance and repair.  In that process they have added an Alternate Reality (AR) feature.  Click the link to see the official castle site.  To use the AR we need to download an app.  This is not required, but will be fun if a few of us have it.  To find the app go here.

Song change

Time is running out.  Because of conflicting lunch time appointments and illness we have not been able to get up to speed on the “If I had a million dollars” song.  So we are now on Plan B, which may well be a better plan.  Retired Japanese teacher Mr. Howard Alexander has provided us with a template for  a song sung to the tune of “This Land is Your Land”.  Mr. Alexander’s song is “This World is Your World”.  It is in both Japanese and English.

Here is what we will sing at the welcome ceremony:


This World Is Our World


This world is your world, this world is my world

From Qualicum Beach to Inazawa-shi

From the Rocky Mountains to grand Mount Fuji

This world was made for you and me


Kono sekai wa bokutachi no mono

Qualicum Beach kara Inazawa made

Rokki sanmyaku soshite Fujisan

This world was made for you and me


Our exchange is valuable and very important

To grow our friendship and experience our cultures

We respect and help each other

This world was made for you and me


Kono kouryuu wa totemo taisetsu

Yuujou sodate bunka o taikenshi

Sonkei shiai tasukeau

This world was made for you and me


This world is your world, this world is my world

From Qualicum Beach to Inazawa-shi

From the Rocky Mountains to grand Mount Fuji

This world was made for you and me



Independent study, and “If I had a million dollars”

Mr. Bold has prepared a very easy to understand course structure for the Independent Study program.  He presented it to the students in detail at today’s lunch meeting.  Students wishing to do the Independent Study should see Mr. Wilson for the form if they did not attend today.

We have decided on the English song we will sing at our welcome ceremony at Aichi Keisei High School.  It is “If I had a million dollars” by the pop group The Barenaked Ladies. We practiced it today at school.  Students are encouraged to collect props for the song that we can use when we sing it.  The lyrics are here If I had a million dollars

Videos of band singing it live and the karaoke version are below.

Link to the karaoke version.

千羽鶴・せんばつる・1,000 Cranes

Cranes are a symbol of long life in Japan.  Because of that there is the tradition of making 1,000 cranes as a wish or intention for long life and healing.  Especially after the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima at the end of World War 2.  As a group we have talked about the story of Sadako Sasaki who developed leukemia as a result of the radiation she received from the blast as a baby.  Her story is here.


The “A-Bomb dome” in Hiroshima. The atomic bomb exploded in an air blast almost directly above this building.


The Children’s Memorial at the Hiroshima Peace Park. Students from around Japan and the world bring wreaths made of 1,000 paper cranes to the memorial as an offering of peace.

















The students on the trip and some KSS classes will be involved making 1,000 paper cranes which we will bring on the trip to Hiroshima.


Local Buses

This page is about local and short-distance buses in Japan and how to use them. Visit our highway bus page for more information on long distance bus travel.
Kyoto City Bus
In Tokyo, Osaka and some other large cities, buses serve as a secondary means of public transportation, complementing the train and subway networks. In cities with less dense train networks like Kyoto, buses are the main means of public transportation.Buses also serve smaller towns, the countryside and national parks. Major cities are, furthermore, linked by highway and long distance buses.

How to use a bus

Using buses in Japan can be intimidating to foreign tourists because there are usually few English displays or announcements, and there are different systems of ticketing depending on the company. Below is a description of the most common system, followed by notes about exceptions:

  1. Enter the bus through the back door.
  2. When entering, pick up a ticket from a small machine next to the door. A number is printed on the ticket, which you will later use to determine your fare. If you use an IC card to pay the fare, touch your card against the sensor.
  3. A display above the driver shows the next stop and the fares for that stop in yen. To determine your fare, match the number on your ticket with the number and fare on the display. If you use an IC card, then you do not have to worry about this.
  4. When your stop is approaching, press one of the buttons on the wall to signal the driver that you wish to get off at the next stop.
  5. If you do not have the exact fare, use the changing machine to get small coins.
  6. When getting off, put your ticket and the exact fare into the box next to the driver. If you use an IC card, touch the card against the reader near the driver.

Of course, there are a few exceptions to the above outlined system. The most prominent exception are buses where you are supposed to enter through the front door, pay a flat fare when entering, and exit through the rear door, for example, city buses in Tokyo.


To the average cost conscious traveler in Japan’s large cities, taxis are an expensive and unnecessary alternative to the efficient public transportation. However, taxis are often the only way of getting around once trains and buses stop operating around midnight, resulting in a sudden increase in their demand, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, when long lines and waiting times at taxi stands at train stations are not uncommon.

In smaller cities, the countryside and in Kyoto, public transportation tends to be less convenient, thus taking a taxi from the nearest train station to your destination can be a good alternative. If you travel in groups of three or more people, taxis can also be an economical option on shorter distances.

How to use a taxi

To hail a taxi, either go to a taxi stand (usually located in front of train stations) or flag one down at a location where it is safe for it to stop. A plate on the dashboard in the lower corner of the windshield indicates whether a taxi is vacant or not. Usually, a red plate indicates that the taxi is vacant, while a green plate indicates the opposite (see illustration below). During the night a light on the roof of a taxi can indicate that the taxi is vacant. You can also call a taxi by phone or via your hotel reception; in large cities there is usually no additional charge for calling a taxi while in more rural areas a small fee may be charged.


When you board a taxi, note that the vehicle’s left rear door is opened and closed remotely by the driver. You are not supposed to open or close the door by yourself, except when using a different door. Furthermore, you are not supposed to tip taxi drivers. If you do not speak Japanese or if your destination is not a well known place, it is recommended to give your driver the address of your destination on a piece of paper or – even better – point it out on a map, since the Japanese address system can be confusing even to local taxi drivers.

In some regions, especially popular tourist areas, taxis are available for charter as sightseeing taxis with the taxi driver doubling as the tour guide. Although the language barrier might be a problem, in some areas there are taxi drivers with foreign language skills or sightseeing taxi services targeted specifically at foreign tourists. Sightseeing taxis typically cost around 10,000 yen for two hours.

While travelling in Japan we will be using a variety of public transit.


Japan’s main islands of Honshu, Kyushu and Hokkaido are served by a network of high speed train lines that connect Tokyo with most of the country’s major cities. Japan’s high speed trains (bullet trains) are called shinkansen (新幹線) and are operated by Japan Railways (JR).

Running at speeds of up to 320 km/h, the shinkansen is known for punctuality (most trains depart on time to the second), comfort (relatively silent cars with spacious, always forward facing seats), safety (no fatal accidents in its history) and efficiency. Thanks to the Japan Rail Pass, the shinkansen can also be a very cost effective means of travel.

Shinkansen Network

The shinkansen network consists of multiple lines, among which the Tokaido Shinkansen (Tokyo – Nagoya – Kyoto – Osaka) is the oldest and most popular. All shinkansen lines (except the Akita and Yamagata Shinkansen) run on tracks that are exclusively built for and used by shinkansen trains. Most lines are served by multiple train categories, ranging from the fastest category that stops only at major stations to the slowest category that stops at every station along the way.

Shinkansen Tickets

Seat Classes

Most shinkansen trains in Japan offer seats in two classes, which are typically found in separate cars:

Like the name suggests, ordinary seats are the regular seats found on all shinkansen trains. Although the size and foot space of ordinary seats varies between train sets, ordinary seats on shinkansen are generally comfortable and offer a generous amount of foot space. They usually come in rows of 3×2 seats.

Green Car
Comparable to business class on airplanes, green cars offer seats that are larger and more comfortable than ordinary seats and offer more foot space. The seats are arranged in rows of 2×2 seats. Green Cars tend to be less crowded than ordinary cars.
Furthermore, Gran Class is available on new train sets along the Tohoku Shinkansen, Hokuriku Shinkansen and Hokkaido Shinkansen. Comparable to first class on airplanes, Gran Class offers seats that are even more spacious and comfortable than Green Car seats (in rows of 2×1 seats) and additional amenities and services.

Reserved vs. non-reserved cars

Most shinkansen trains offer both non-reserved seats (自由席, jiyūseki) and reserved seats (指定席, shiteiseki) in separate cars. Only the Hayabusa, Hayate and Komachi trains on the Tohoku Shinkansen and Hokkaido Shinkansen and the Kagayaki trains on the Hokuriku Shinkansen are fully reserved and do not carry non-reserved seating. All seats in Green Cars are reserved. Bilingual signs indicate whether a shinkansen car carries reserved or non-reserved seats.

Advance seat reservations are required to use a seat in a reserved car (see below on how to make seat reservations). A fee of a few hundred yen applies for making seat reservations. Japan Rail Pass holders can make seat reservations for free.

Signs on cars indicating whether the car is reserved or non-reserved

Signs on a platform (left) and inside a train (right)

Display in a station indicating the non-reserved car numbers of upcoming departures
Regular Tickets


The scenic train from Nagoya to Takayama.











We will use a Japan Rail pass that allows us to travel anywhere on the JR system during our stay for a low price.




The subway system has easy to use ticket machines.

Japanese Home

A typical Japanese home. Our students will probably stay in a home like this.



entrance-genkan A typical genkan (entrance way) Notice the placement of the shoes and slippers.

genkan-2 Step out of your shoes and into the slippers.

When you leave the house for the day your host (usually the mom) will say “itterashai!” which means ‘see you later’. If someone else leaves the house you can say it too.

When you leave you say “ittekimasu!” which means ‘I’m going out, and coming back’.

On your return you say “tadaima!” or ‘I’m home!’. the people there respond “okaerinasai!” which is ‘welcome home!’

You walk into the laundry room ‘senmenjoo’ and take off your clothes and put them into the laundry hamper or washing machine. Then you walk directly into the bathroom.




Religion in Japan


todTodaiji.   A major Buddhist temple in Nara.


The giant Buddha in Todaiji.





Itukushima shrine on Miyajima.





The Basic Teachings of Buddha


The “Four Noble Truths”

  1. There is suffering and impermanence in life for all beings.
  2. There is a cause for suffering, which is attachment and desire.
  3. There is a way out of suffering, which is to eliminate attachment and desire.
  4. The way out of suffering is the “Noble Eightfold Path”


“Noble Eightfold Path”

  1. Right Understanding means to understand the Four Noble Truth.


  1. Right Thoughts means thought free of ill-will, cruelty or desire.
  2. Right Speech means to refrain from pointless and harmful talk… to speak kindly  to all.
  3. Right Action means to see that our deeds are peaceable and compassionate.


  1. Right Livelihood means to earn our living in such a way as to entail no evil consequences.


  1. Right Effort means to direct our efforts continually to the overcoming of ignorance and desires.
  2. Right Mindfulness means to be aware of one’s deeds, words and thoughts.
  3. Right Meditation means to meditate on the Oneness of all life and the Buddhahood that exists within all beings.



Shinto at a glance  (SHRINES!)

The essence of Shinto is the Japanese devotion to invisible spiritual beings and powers called kami, at shrines, and at various rituals.

Shinto is not a way of explaining the world. What matters are rituals that enable human beings to communicate with kami.

Kami are not God or gods. They are spirits that are concerned with human beings – they appreciate our interest in them and want us to be happy – and if they are treated properly they will intervene in our lives to bring benefits like health, business success, and good exam results.

Shinto is a very local religion, in which devotees are likely to be concerned with their local shrine rather than the religion as a whole. Many Japanese will have a tiny shrine-altar in their homes.

However, it is also an unofficial national religion with shrines that draw visitors from across the country. Because ritual rather than belief is at the heart of Shinto, Japanese people don’t usually think of Shinto specifically as a religion – it’s simply an aspect of Japanese life. This has enabled Shinto to coexist happily with Buddhism for centuries.

  • The name Shinto comes from Chinese characters forShen(‘divine being’), and Tao (‘way’) and means ‘Way of the Spirits’. 神道
  • Shrine visiting and taking part in festivals play a great part in binding local communities together.
  • Shrine visiting atNew Year しょうがつ is the most popular shared national event in Japan.
  • Because Shinto is focused on theJapan it is clearly an ethnic religion. Therefore Shinto is little interested in missionary work, and rarely practiced outside
  • Shinto sees human beings as basically good and has no concept of original sin, or of humanity as ‘fallen’.
  • Everything, including the spiritual, is experienced as part of this world. Shinto has no place for any transcendental other world.
  • Shinto does not require adherents to follow it as their only religion.