Whatever I thought the flight was going to be like, I was most definitely wrong. I had asked one of the people who was involved in the past exchanges with Kyoto (who is now retired) if he wanted to tag along for support and to show me the ropes. His reply was “I don’t think I have another one of those trips in me”. I’m not a small person, I was six foot tall in seventh grade. I had an economy ticket for this flight, read small. I’ve been on flights where you get a movie and a meal with a few snacks to fill in the gaps. The flight to Japan from San Francisco has not one, not two, not even three movies. There are four movies to fill the time on this flight! In between the movies they play TV shows (I thought that was interesting, as they were all older episodes of current shows like Desperate Housewives). As far as food, you get two meals and a few snacks. I have never been able to sleep on a plane, so there was no escape for me.
One of my sons came on this trip. His name is Corey and he and his brothers (triplets) were the first students in the PacRimX project, they helped to build a significant amount of the landscape and buildings early on in the project, and are still heavily involved in the project to this day with Skoolaborate. I hope to take my other two boys on the trip this year. Corey and I had seats together on the trip to Japan, so we played some games, talked, and tried to fill the time.
We knew we were finally getting close when the pilot told us there was a clear view of Mt. Fuji out the window. Being a hiker myself, I was very interested in hearing that you can hike Mt. Fuji, and that at every checkpoint along the way you can have your hiking staff branded with a symbol. Apparently you start your hike in the evening and plan on arriving at the top to watch the sun rise. I am definitely going to add this to one of my “Things to do before I die” list. I can’t even imagine how beautiful it must be to sit atop this mountain and watch the sun rise in the distance.
The excitement definitely started to build with the students as we started to descend into our pattern for a landing in Osaka.
I guess this is a good place to insert a side note about a technology that played a MAJOR role in this trip. Before I left my district upgraded my phone to a Blackberry Storm. This is an iPhone-like Blackberry (now that I’ve used it for a number of months I can recommend you not get one, as it’s a pale shadow to the iPhone). Before leaving I set up a Twitter account and invited all the parents and relatives of the students (and a few administrators) to sign up to follow me. I set the account to private so only those who were approved to follow could see the posts.
Everyplace we visited, every major event that took place, and anything else of interest during this trip went to Twitter with a picture. The parents loved it. We were out and about for the most part when they were sleeping. Every morning the parents could wake up and load up Twitter to see pictures of their students, where they had been while they had slept, and post comments about the pics and posts. Many told me when we returned that they eagerly awaited the Twitter posts and felt like they were on the trip with their children. They also said it took away the worry of not knowing what their kids were doing.
One student got sick Friday night (our second day in Japan) riding a bike home after school. She did not go on our Saturday trip to Nara, as she was still not feeling well. Her mom called me in a panic because she did not see her daughter in any of the Twitter pics that day. Her parents were both sick prior to the trip, and they were very worried she might fall ill on this trip. She bounced back pretty quick, and was back on track for Monday.
I would highly recommend that others find a way to get access to Twitter for these types of trips, and keep a steady flow of posts and pics going throughout the trip. A cell phone with a camera and Internet access is all that’s really required.
Going through customs was an experience. We had to have our fingerprints scanned and get our pictures taken (which also did a thermal scan) to get through customs. This place was spotless (I found out after I clicked this picture that photos were not allowed in this area, I almost had my camera taken). We would soon find that most all of Japan is as spotless as this customs area.
Osaka to Kyoto
It is not a short drive to Kyoto from the Airport. I think it took an hour and a half. We took a break halfway at a roadside stop. This is the first place we experienced Japanese vending machines (a magical and wonderful thing).
You can get anything in these machines and they are literally everywhere in Japan. The kids found the Kit Kat’s in a Can interesting. You can get tea and coffee in a can, and some of these even sell beer! The sizes of many of the cans and bottles are much smaller than those here in the States. My absolute favorite was an icy cold can of Peach Gokuri. After returning to the States I found a Japanese market in Stockton near UOP that can get me Gokuri (both Peach and Blood Orange). There were also some food booths here and we got our first chance to sample some Japanese food.
Here one of the students is sampling rice balls. They are gooey round balls stuck on a bamboo stick and dipped in a brown sauce and served hot. These must be very popular as they were literally everywhere in Japan. This was also where we first experienced something very foreign to many of our students, adhering to a schedule. Our trip was planned every day down to the minute. When you stop for a break and are told that we will be there for 15 minutes, you had better be in the vehicle prior to that 15 minute mark. Being late or not adhering to stated time limits is very much frowned upon. As far as our overall schedule, our flight took less time than expected and we were a full hour ahead of schedule.