Originally written for the Vol.7-No.1 edition (April 4, 2013) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.
On March 14, 21 students (8th-11th grade), 2 parents, and 3 teachers from Sheridan Japanese School spent a day in Toyama as part of a longer trip around Japan. At Sheridan Japanese School, a charter school located in Yamhill County, Oregon, all students study Japanese language and culture. However, this was the first trip of its kind for the school.
The eager group arrived from Osaka by train in the evening of March 13. The next morning, Japanese Program Director Andrew Scott and two students met with Toshiyuki Hiyoshi, Director-General of the Tourism and Region Promotion Bureau. They discussed active sister state activities, including the teacher exchange program that has Ms. Akiko Nakano from Toyama currently teaching at Sheridan Japanese School. No one in the group had been to Toyama before, and the students also expressed their excitement at seeing tourism sights and of course, eating hard tofu. (Gokayama tofu is known for its extra firmness.)
After this only “official business” of the day, the entire group was off to Ainokura, one of the villages of Gokayama, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the snow was long gone down in the city, it still very much felt like winter in Gokayama. Since the valleys in western Oregon do not see a lot of snow, the students were delighted to see everything covered in white. Between learning from the volunteer guide about the history of this settlement hundreds of years old, with their buildings designed to withstand heavy snow, teenagers (and teachers!?) could also be seen throwing snowballs and sliding down snow-covered hills. This is certainly a side of Japan that many Western visitors never see.
Then, it was time to go to Gokayama Washi-no-Sato to experience traditional Japanese papermaking. At first they seemed a little confused at the idea of “making paper,” but everyone seemed to be having a fun time choosing decorative pieces for their handmade postcards and soaking their hands in the pulp! Hopefully, the students have a new appreciation for the process of making washi (traditional Japanese paper). While we unfortunately did not have a lot of time and had to move quickly through our activities of the day, it seemed that many students would have liked to spend more time in the gift store at Washi-no-Sato, which sells just about anything you could possibly want that is made out of washi, from stationary and home décor to business card holders and coasters!
We enjoyed lunch at the adjacent restaurant Furusato, with menu options that included soba, udon, fish, beef bowl, and tofu.
After lunch, we headed to Takaoka City to get a guided tour of Zuiryu-ji, a 350-year-old temple and a designated National Treasure of Japan. For many students, this was their first time at a Japanese temple, and they earnestly took in the historical wooden buildings with their detailed workmanship.
Next was a big highlight for the students: at the Takaoka Daibutsu (Great Buddha), some students from Takaoka Minami High School were eagerly waiting for their American friends. Takaoka Minami is the former school of Ms. Nakano currently teaching at Sheridan Japanese School, and the students had exchanged letters and handmade guidebooks. They had not expected to actually be able to meet in person, and they were thrilled to be conversing in both English and Japanese, each side trying out their second language skills.
We hope that all of our guests had a memorable time in Toyama, and enjoyed experiencing the varied landscapes and culture of Japan. We wish the students the best in their Japanese studies!