In late January, eight UTS students ventured to Japan to participate in the Kakehashi Project, an initiative from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to develop connections between the host country, Canada and the U.S.
The word “kakehashi” means “bridge,” and the students and staff who made the trip, including Vice Principal Garth Chalmers and Debate Coach Sagalina Dore, certainly built one in a week-long program that featured shared activities with local students, tours of notable locations, and cultural experiences in both urban and rural settings.
“My attention was caught by the organizers' dedication to letting us experience Japanese culture in a way that was respectful and truly authentic,” says S6 student Allison, one of the UTS participants. “I saw the trip as an opportunity to learn about and appreciate cultural differences, as well as celebrate our similarities, alongside other Canadian students who were interested in expanding their understanding of the world.”
For Allison, highlights included a first-night dinner in Tokyo, a bullet train journey to Nagoya to meet local students in grades 10-12, who taught the visitors the Japanese wooden sword practice of kendo. The Nagoya portion of the trip also included a guided tour of Nagoya Castle and a tour of a Toyota assembly line.
Later on in the week, UTS students travelled to rural Japan for a brief stay with local families.
“We were placed with families in a smaller, more rural town, and it opened up a part of Japanese life that we easily could have overlooked had we been just planning a vacation,” Allison says. “Our homestay family welcomed us incredibly warmly, and I was blown away by the effort they put in to introduce us to their community and integrate us into their daily lives, even if only for a short time.”
After taking the bullet train (from which the majestic Mount Fuji was visible) back to Tokyo, Allison and her classmates enjoyed a robot demonstration at Honda Plaza and a visit to the Imperial Palace.
Overall, the Kakehashi project left a memorable impression on Allison and her classmates, and inspired them to think about building more bridges in the future.
“Beyond the amazing firsthand experience we were able to have in a foreign country, I believe one of the greatest benefits of this trip was the people I was able to meet along the way, from other Canadian students to the residents of the small Japanese town,” Allison says.
“Travelling and the feeling of actually walking the streets of a new place cannot be replicated in a classroom, and we were able to go so much further than just hitting tourist spots.
“I think we're all already planning how we could go back!”