At the end of my first year of an education degree, I joined a ‘tour of Japan’ headed by one of the university’s lecturers, and had a wonderful time sightseeing in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Kyoto, Gifu, Hiroshima, Nikko and Hakone. I enjoyed a weeklong home stay in Takayama (in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture). Viewing Fuji-san from the window of the Shinkansen (bullet train) while traveling at 300 km/hr was a huge thrill, as was being immersed in the sights and sounds of the metropolis which is Tokyo.
During the tour, I was amazed to see such sites as the ‘floating shrine and torii (Shinto archway)’ of Miyajima, the ‘white heron’ castle otherwise known as Himeji castle, the ‘golden pavilion’ called Kinkakuji, the famous temple of Kiyomizu-dera, both in Kyoto, and Nikko’s ‘toushougu’ - the resting place of the famous Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, located north of Tokyo.
The students listened eagerly to my experiences in Japan, and responded enthusiastically to lessons and videos showcasing Japanese language and culture. They worked hard in my lessons, and quickly developed a rudimentary ability in speaking Japanese. At first it was just greetings, weather and introductions, but after a couple of years, they were asking and telling each other about their sports and hobbies, and discussing food and things they liked and disliked.
Many of my students chose to go on a school trip to Japan, to use their newly learned language skills and to see Japan with their own eyes. It was exciting preparing them for this adventure and providing them with the necessary expressions that they would need to communicate with the Japanese people they would meet there. The principal escorted them and the school’s first ‘Japan tour’ was a huge success. Later that year, a group of Japanese students visited our school and had a home stay experience with a number of our students’ families. The first of many bridges between our two countries had been built.
During class, I often received questions from my students that I couldn’t answer. Questions such as:
“Mr Ryall, have you ever climbed Fuji-san?”
“Have you ever seen a live baseball game?”
“Did you ever go to see the Sumo (wrestling) matches?”
“Have you ever participated in a tea ceremony?”
I had to say no to all of these things, which disappointed both my students and I. If I were to build more bridges, perhaps I needed more building blocks, I thought. So I left my job, and Mandy and I headed back to Japan together to see more and learn more about the ‘land of the rising sun’.
Mandy and I became English conversation teachers, but it didn’t satisfy us culturally or academically. Mandy had a TESOL diploma, and I had my teaching degree, so we both joined the public school system and starting teaching Japanese school children English. While we did this, we took every opportunity to talk about Australia and to share Australian culture.
Meanwhile, we were seeing more of the country and exploring new places. Between the both of us, we had already lived in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Shizuoka. Upon arriving back in Japan, we lived in Gifu, and after that moved to a different part of Shizuoka. Later we relocated to Toyota city in Aichi prefecture, and for the last ten years have been living in Matsusaka, in Mie prefecture, while traveling to as many different locations as possible, at least on the mainland.
Mandy and I ticked many boxes, such as climbing Mt Fuji, seeing a baseball game live, attending a Sumo event and participating in an authentic tea ceremony within a Buddhist temple. Upon request, we have given speeches and shown slideshows about Australia, while also discussing our own experiences in Japan.
Recently, at one of Mandy’s elementary schools, Mandy conducted the first Skype chat between her Japanese students and students studying Japanese in Australia. As it was carried out in a small traditional school in a remote location (in the mountains above Matsusaka city), it garnered a lot of attention, and on the day of the Skype session, there were no less than two newspaper reporters and a television crew in attendance. It also ended up on the Internet for a short time.
Students from my current school are spending the summer in England, and in September our school will be hosting students from Australia. I look forward to this, and many more events in the future, and I can honestly say that it has been an honor and a privilege to have taken part in happily building bridges between Japan and English-speaking countries overseas. It has become our life’s work.
Summer vacation has arrived here in Japan. It's time for a break. Have a great week!