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Planning the Trip


									These are just a few thoughts that I have jotted down about taking a trip to Japan. It is not
a set of rules to be followed, but rather some guidelines that I have found useful. If you
have any ideas to add please contact

                                Planning the Trip
There is a lot to do before you take the trip. Start planning early – I usually have my first
meeting with prospective students and their parents a year before the planned event.
There is fundraising to do, plane tickets to book and the sooner these are started the
better. The more organised you are, the less work you will have to do when you are
starting to get stressed out just before you depart or while you are in Japan when you will
be busy trouble shooting. I haven’t talked to a teacher yet who didn’t have some sort of
hiccup (either minor or major) while in Japan.

There are many opportunities for students to get to Japan and although school trips are
fun, they are lots of hard work and not always the cheapest or most practical way for your
students to experience Japan. Look into sister school/city exchanges, Lions, Rotary etc.

There are different ways to organise your trip. You can choose to go through an agency
or do most of the organising yourself. If you do choose to go through an agency there is
still a lot of work to do and it is imperative you check ALL bookings that have been made
on your behalf. With the internet and contacts in Japan it is not all that difficult to do it
yourself. The ideas below are mainly for people who choose to do it themselves although
there maybe some tips for the others to suggest to the agents. If you have a big budget –
go for it! There are lots of ways to make it easier such as getting a chartered bus,
participating in coach tours and having a luggage truck.

The first step is to determine how many students are interested and if the trip will be
viable. You can do this informally just even by a show of hands. I would generally let the
principal know your intentions and the next step is to get formal permission from the
school which is done by writing a letter to the Board of Trustees. There is a sample one in
the file.

Students: This is up to you to decide but I have only ever taken senior students
(Year 11 – 13). Because they have more language than juniors and are more mature I feel
they stand to get more out of the trip but other teachers would dispute this. The other side
of the argument is that a trip for juniors is a great motivator for them to continue with the
language. I have taken up to 24 students (with only two teachers) but wouldn’t want the
ratio to be more than that. Some schools will have policies in place. Many airlines have
deals for school groups and the 16th ticket you buy is either half price or free. This means
the cost to students is reduced so I would generally use this number as a cut off point. It is
a lot of work to go to for only a few students. Maybe better to wait until the next year to
see if you have more numbers.
Tell the students right from the start what the conditions are to be part of the group. You
may decide to make a policy that only students taking Japanese can participate…then
you’ve got to be ready for those students who have paid the deposit and then drop out of

Staff: Once again the decision is yours but I would definitely recommend having at least
one other person who can speak Japanese. Many other teachers are often keen to come,
but you don’t want to spend the whole time looking after them! You also need to think
about having both a male and female teacher if taking a mixed group. It may not be an
issue but it is still something to consider.
Having another Japanese speaker (whether they are part of your school staff or not) takes
some of the pressure of you and they are invaluable should an emergency arise (such as a
hospital visit) when the group has to split into two. You need someone with you who is
confident and able to find the right train and escort the group to the next destination if
necessary. I actually used a Japanese friend who lived in Tokyo – I just paid for her to
come around with us, and although the cost probably would have been about the same if
I’d paid another airfare from NZ, her local knowledge was invaluable.

Parents: Be VERY wary of taking parents – you will end up looking after them! They are
much harder to discipline or reason with than the students. If you do end up taking them,
make sure they know they are not on holiday and give them a job to do!

It is getting more difficult to take students out of class as they are missing content from
other subjects. This means you are usually limited to the holiday periods and if you are
lucky can leave one or two days before the term ends. It is ideal if you can return to NZ
with one or two days to recover before having to go back to school as it is an exhausting
time away. Easter often helps with this if you go in April.
There are pros and cons for each holiday break. April is a beautiful time to be in Japan,
with good weather conditions and it doesn’t interfere with school or internal exams. The
downside is that it is often difficult for a Japanese school to host you as it is the beginning
of their school year. July is just too hot for me to be in Japan so I haven’t ever tried to
take a group at that time. I imagine it may once again be difficult for the hosting school
as they may be on holiday. The September/October holidays are another good time
weather-wise (not too hot or cold), and the students have that much more confidence with
the language and grammatical structures but it is quite close to school exams and some
schools aren’t happy with that. The Christmas holidays offer a lot of flexibility as they
are long so you are not restricted to a certain time frame. Of course this is a busy time of
year in both NZ and Japan. So, in summary, you need to look at your itinerary carefully,
liaise with the places you are visiting and the school back home.

This is dependent on factors such as when you go, your contact with local schools and
money! Obviously it is cheaper to stay in one place and have homestay than move around
the country a lot. Furthermore, their Japanese will improve just as much (perhaps even
more so) wherever they are in the country and they can still experience the different
culture of Japan. However, for many of these students this will be the only opportunity
they ever have to go to Japan so it seems a shame not to show them some of the country
while they are there. Popular destinations are Tokyo, Kyoto, Himeji, Hiroshima and of
course the sister city or school wherever that may be.
Plan your itinerary carefully making full use of the Rail Pass if you have one.

There are lots of options (some of them listed below). My advice would be when at all
possible to stay at least two nights at each place. It can be very exhausting traveling
around and students do like becoming familiar with an area and becoming confident
about finding their own way home.

Homestay/School Visit
This is the ideal way for students to experience the ‘real’ Japan. Japanese families and
schools are often very generous and are happy to offer homestays for free which of
course helps the budget. It is preferable to set the homestays up as early as possible (once
you have final numbers). Send their profiles to Japan and then when you have the host
family details, get the students to write a letter before they leave NZ. They will get more
out of the homestay if they start building the relationship before they arrive.
If you are looking for a place to make contact with, check with your local council, the
‘sensei gambatte’ newsletter or the Japanese advisor for some ideas.

Youth Hostels/Hotels
There is a list below if possible places to stay but this is by no means exhaustive. Please
write in and add your recommendations to the list. There are some email addresses here
but it is sometimes easier and more successful to call them direct. Work out whether or
not you want to dine there – sometimes you don’t have a choice. It is usually fairly cheap
though and good to have a meal together sometimes. Tell them you can pay cash and you
may get a better discount. Be prepared for red tape – some places will only accept
bookings by mail (within three months of your arrival), will want all sorts of details etc. –
another reason to start early!

Kokuritsu Orimpikku Kinen Seishoonen Soogoo Sentaa
3-1 Kamizono-cho, Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tookyoo-shi, JAPAN 151-0052
Ph: 03-3467-7201
This is the site that was built for the 1960 Tokyo Olympics. It is an amazing place –
restaurants, pool, huge ofuro, meeting rooms, laundry facilities, small rooms that sleep
2 – 4 . The catch is that there are a hundred (slight exaggeration) forms to fill out, you
must have an educational purpose for your stay and you must hire out one of the
conference rooms while you are there. This is a nominal fee and doesn’t amount to very
much when split amongst all the students.
Youth Hostel - Iidabashi
This one is on about the 18th floor of a high rise building right next to JR Iidabashi
station. Once again there are plenty of places to eat nearby and the food at the hostel is
very edible. Only problem is you may want to miss breakfast and dinner if you are going
to Disneyland as you will want to leave before the dining hall opens.

Kyoto Gakusei Kenshuu Kaikan
2-24 Tanakasekitamachi, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, JAPAN
Ph4: 075-771-6025
This is owned by Kyoto University – it has a large tatami mat room where about 20
people can stay and then a number of smaller rooms. There are baths downstairs, a bus
stop right outside and plenty of 7/11’s nearby. It is walking distance from the Keihan
station and Ginkakuji.
The downside is that the cheapest way to get there from Kyoto station is by public bus
which is a bit of a nightmare when you have a group of students with their backpacks!
You can’t stay on the 3rd Tuesday of each month (or some such thing) so check

Kyoto Sangyo University International Student House
This university is trying to encourage visitors to come and stay. It is a bit out of the centre
of town (near Kamigamojinja) but well worth the bus ride as they only want about 500
yen per person per nite!!
Email contact is Paul Churton – a NZ’er who is presently working at the university.
The email address for the university is

Hotel Apio Osaka
1-17-5 Morinomiyachuuoo, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, JAPAN 540-0003
Ph: 06-6941-5294
Cost: ¥3700
I just stayed here for one night as we didn’t think we would make it to Kyoto in time for
check-in. In retrospect we would have but the students did enjoy this bit of luxury. As I
mentioned before though it is much better to stay more than one night in a place.


Miyajima Youth Hostel
1-4-14 Miyajimaguhci, Ono-cho, Saeki-gun, Hiroshima, JAPAN 739-0411
Ph: 0829-56-1444
This place needs to be cleaned but is cheap and very relaxed. The guy who runs it has
been around the world and is very accommodating but hasn’t learned how to use a cloth
or vacuum cleaner! The place has it’s own showers. It sleeps up to about 25 people so
you can usually hire the whole place out. It is right next to the ferry that takes you across
to Miyajima so is handy if students want to go there again. There is also an excellent
okonomiyake shop next door (500 yen!) with very friendly staff.

Youth Hostel

This one is a bit of a hike up a hill – the students will all be moaning as they lug their
bags up their. More of a traditional type place – with lots of rules. I remember the dinner
wasn’t amazing but the breakfast was!

Passports and Visas: I know it sounds obvious but start this process early!! NZ Passport
holders do not need a visa to visit Japan as a tourist but many other nationalities do (even
Aussies!!). Some cost and some don’t but check with the Consulate or your travel agency
about who needs what and what information is required. You can often write a covering
letter from the principal of your school to speed up the process at the Consulate. You
need to provide them with the intention of the visit, a copy of the invitations from the
host schools in Japan etc.

Tickets: As mentioned, there are often ‘deals’ for student groups especially large groups.
If you don’t have a large group of students but still want to take them, try joining up with
another school (even if it is just for the flights). The agent will usually require a deposit
quite early on. It is good to get the students to pay this as it shows some commitment to
the trip. If you cancel before paying the final amount, you can usually get that deposit
back. I like to fly as directly as possible – I think the flight is long enough and I’d rather
pay a few dollars extra than add another eight hours onto the trip.

Japan Rail Pass: This is a must of you are intending to travel around. There are different
passes you can buy – I think most people tend to get the one week pass (that goes for 7
NOT 8 days) that can be purchased for ¥28700. These MUST be purchased before you
leave NZ (through your agent that you book your air tickets with) and they decide on the
exchange rate. You then validate them when you arrive in Japan (easiest to do it at either
Narita or Kansai airports as soon as you get there). You need to have a copy of
everyone’s passport number when you validate them. If you are doing things yourself,
this is also a good time to book all your train tickets. I have never had a problem booking
them after arriving in Japan and have done the research as to which trains I want to book
on. Sometimes the group may not be able to all sit together but this hasn’t really been a
problem. The website for JR is a good place to go to start planning your itinerary and
train times etc.

Disneyland Discount Passes: You don’t technically ‘purchase’ these before you leave but
you must send a letter to the Groups Division at Disneyland. It is probably the same for
Universal Studios or other theme parks. On their website, they say the minimum number
is 30 people but I have always found they have given us the discount anyway. They send
back a confirmation fax and you take this to Disneyland on the day and pay then.

As mentioned above, the students need to make a deposit for the air ticket quite early on.
I make this a non-refundable deposit (even though I may be able to get it back). Make it
clear when they are paying that it is non-refundable to save confusion later on. By doing
this, you will only get the ones who are really serious signing up and if people do drop
out you can put their money in the pool which means it won’t become more expensive for
the remaining participants.
I am very clear right from the beginning that the students will be covering the teachers’
costs. Parents are often surprised about this but usually come round when you explain
that it would cost them a whole lot more if they were to go through a travel agency and
that you are looking after their darlings for a fortnight!
Depending on the financial wellbeing of your area, you may want to set up a scheme for
parents to pay in installments. It is a lot of money to be paying out and it sometimes helps
them to have a monthly commitment to meet.
When calculating costs always estimate more than you think. It is easy to refund money
to people but harder to keep putting the price up! Build an emergency fund into your
budget to cover incidentals. You can always divide the left over money on the last day
and give it to the students for last minute shopping – they always think this is great!

Although this is often quite a painful process, the students who go out there and earn their
own money seem to really appreciate the trip. One of the spin-offs too is that this is the
time that the group starts to bond and work together. It is very difficult not to get too
involved yourself but as much as possible try and get parents involved. I had some
parents that took a group of students each Saturday and organised sausage sizzles – I
didn’t go to any of them! You could even use the teachers who want to come and put
them in charge of fundraising. Some ideas that have worked in the past for me are:
Chocolates ( a pain collecting all the money but an excellent fundraiser)
Trivial Pursuit Evenings
Auction Night
Sausage Sizzles
Mufti Day
Cake & Coffee (sell them at the school production, speech competition etc)
Lotto Tickets
School Social
Dinners (get a restaurant to give you a good deal)
Cooking – my students cooked dinner for the teachers before Parents Evening. Schools
have a budget allowance for this so they pay you rather than buying takeaways.
Everybody wins as the teachers are fed for free, the school doesn’t have to organise
anything and you have guaranteed customers.
These are just a few ideas. I’m sure there are many more out there. Students also saved
money through part time jobs or by hosting people from Japan.

I organised a scheme whereby individual students were allocated the money that they (or
their family and friends) had fundraised. Some students (and parents) are not interested in
fundraising and would rather just pay the money. This is perfectly acceptable but you
don’t want the ones doing all the fundraising subsidising everyone else. If students
dropped out of the trip, they didn’t get any of their fundraised money back but they could
donate it to a friend.

There are also other means of raising money through sponsorship. Local councils, Trusts,
Lions etc. Once again ask the parents for contacts, ideas and support – after all it is their
money you are saving!! Some companies may be in a position to donate goods rather
than money which can then be auctioned or raffled off.

Luggage: I never let my students take suitcases….they often have to carry their luggage
around (up and down all those stairs) and so I insist on backpacks. I am lucky as my
school has a supply of them but I’m sure most people can borrow one from somewhere.
A backpack also means they have both hands free to hold onto tickets etc. They need to
be able to get onto trains fairly quickly and suitcases are very cumbersome and slow you

Souvenirs: Homestays are often a part of the itinerary and students need to take
something to give their hosts. Japanese people are often very generous and although NZ
students don’t like parting with their money here for souvenirs to give people they
haven’t even met yet, they are always glad they did so when they arrive. Having said that,
it really is the thought that counts and students don’t need to go overboard. I usually
suggest things such as food items (chocolate, biscuits, canned butter, honey), picture
books on NZ, small items such as plastic tikis, pens, stickers and rubbers (to give people
they meet at school). Ask one of your local souvenir shops for a special discount.

Money: The million dollar question ‘How much money will my son/daughter need?’. I
include everything, including their meal allowance money (of ¥2000 per day), in the
cost that they pay before we leave. This means that they don’t actually NEED extra
money but of course they will want to take something. My recommendation is ¥2000
per day. It can disappear quite quickly but I have had some students who used their ‘food
allowance’ for spending and managed to come home with all the money they left with.
The problem is how to take the money. Of course cash is the easiest but understandably
parents are often not keen on this option. Many of them want to take travellers cheques
which is a bit of a pain but not as bad as trying to find a cashflow machine in Japan that
accepts foreign cards. Don’t be fooled by the banks who say that you can do this…there
are machines around but I only found one in all of Kyoto. If you are taking a student to a
bank, ensure that everyone who needs to go goes at the same time and they get out
enough money to last for the next few days. If students want me to look after money for
them, I am happy to do that, but have a sign in/sign out system so I can’t be accused of
taking their money! I have a booklet for each of them and at the end of each day a place
for them to write down how much money they have left. For some of them it is the first
time they have had to budget like this and it is a good lesson for them!
I have a friend in Tokyo who created an extra bank account for me so now I can just
transfer funds over there and use a card to withdraw money as I need it. This saves the
hassle I have had in the past of carrying around huge sums of money or having to cash
travellers cheques all the time.

Other Items:
Water bottles are a good idea as you can drink the water in Japan and it saves them
spending money at those vending machines! It is also a good thing to have with them on
the plane.
Slip on shoes: the students will soon get sick of tying and untying shoe laces so slip ons
are a great idea.
Booklet: This is the students’ bible as it has all the emergency contacts, phone numbers
of where they are staying, conversion chart, itinerary, things they will need each day,
useful expressions etc.
Photos/Postcards: These are excellent for students to use when making conversation with
people they meet.
Watch: Then there are no excuses for not being at the bus or hostel on time!

If you are visiting a sister school you will probably need to prepare speeches and items.
Use as many of the students as possible as it once again is part of the experience. A song
item is always good but they need to practise and do it well or they will only embarrass
themselves. Your school or one of the parents may have something you can take as
omiyage. One of my Tongan students took a tapa cloth and donated it to the school and
another student did a modern Polynesian Dance.
I haven’t done this before but next time I go would look into getting some sort of ‘Team
Sweatshirt or something similar. This could be another possibility for sponsorship.

Language Day/Weekend at School before the trip
This is an opportunity to get the group of students together before the trip. You could do
things such as team building games, give out cultural notes on Japan, role plays of
possible scenarios that could happen, language practice, speech writing, practice at
getting on and off a train in 30 seconds with backpacks on etc etc.

Risk Management
It is good to fill out a risk analysis form such as the one in the file. Most schools will
have some type of form similar that you will be required to use. Just filling it out helps
you to think through possible scenarios (hopefully they won’t ALL happen to you) and
make some sort of action plans. See the space further down to read about some teachers
Lost passport
Lost Rail Pass
Lost/Stolen Item
Lost student
Sick Student
Sarin Gas in subway

                                  While in Japan
On the Plane: After the initial excitement of taking off, the trip can be quite long. It is
usually a day flight, and coupled with the fact that they are excited means that they won’t
sleep a lot. It is handy to have a few things for them to do to keep them quiet. If they
haven’t written speeches yet or explanations in Japanese about their omiyage or photos
now would be a good time to do it. If you are planning to go to Hiroshima get them
folding cranes and see of you can make 1000!!

Who carries the passports/money?
I tell the students they are responsible for their own possessions…this can cause hassles
for me when they lose their passport or rail pass but my philosophy is that that is part of
the learning process for them. Also if I lose them, I would lose the whole groups not just
one individuals. Just remember to ask them periodically to show you their passports to
ensure they have them!!

There are a couple of examples of these in this file with different ideas to include. It is
good for the students to have their own copy of what is happening and for their own notes
etc. I would like to include more information on the places we’re going to visit and
questions for them to answer each day next time. Once again it gives them something to
do on the trains!

I kept a group diary of the trip. The students took turns writing in it their impressions of
the day. Somedays everyone wrote in it and some days only one or two people. It kept
them busy on the shinkansen and gave those that weren’t keeping their own diaries a
place to write. It was an excellent resource to keep at school and show other students.

This can be a bit cumbersome to carry around but once again a great momento and record
of the trip. Students enjoyed videoing each other and captured some great moments. You
can also use it to record places or scenarios for use in the classroom.
Daily Get Togethers
It is good to bring the group together each night to reflect on, the day, give them any
notices for the next day and give out prizes. There is usually somewhere suitable where
you are staying that will be suitable for this. This is also an opportunity to practise items
or for the students to voice any concerns they may have.

The Ichiban Award
This was a great way to keep up with what was going on. Students could nominate each
other for this award…kind of like the ‘wooden spoon’ award given to the person who had
done the most stupid thing that day. The winner (or loser) gets to wear the 一番 harumaki
for the day the next day!

Tochoo – the free viewing place in Tokyo!! Accessible from Shinjuku station
Shopping!! Akihabara, Shibuya, Harajuku etc.
Day trip to Nikko
Disneyland – there is now Disney Sea as well to choose from.
Tsukiji Fish Markets – an amazing place to go if you can get your students up at the crack
of dawn.

You can buy an all day bus pass and the map is quite user friendly.
Temples and Shrines. The students are usually excited about going but the novelty does
wear off. It is probably best to do one or two each day than go around five in one day!!
Ones I would recommend are Kiyomizudera, Kinkakuji, Ryoanji, Nijoo Castle (but not if
you’re going to Himeji), Heianjingu.
Kimono Factory – this is in Kyoto. I have been there but haven’t taken students there yet.
It has an amazing display of kimonos and shows you the process of dying the silk and
sewing in the gold thread etc. The students can have a go at making their own
handkerchiefs. It wasn’t overly expensive and a good souvenir to take home.
Eigamura – Kyoto. This is the place all the samurai movies are made. Once again haven’t
taken students there myself but I know other teachers have.

Heiwa Kooen – of course. You can get here on the chichin densha just outside Hiroshima
station. This is where you take your thousand cranes if you made them and take them to
the statue of Sadako. Also in the park is the Peace Museum which is free for school
students if you go and fill out the form.

Miyajima – most tours would go here as well. The ferry across to the island (if you use
the right one) is included in the Rail Pass.

Himeji Castle – although this isn’t in Hiroshima it can usually be visited either on the
way to or from Hiroshima. There are volunteer guides you can get to show the students
around although I’m not sure of their English capabilities. It is a most impressive castle
and is walking distance from the station (about 15 minutes). The only problem is where
to leave your luggage for the few hours you are there. There are coin lockers available
but remember to add this onto your cost!

Other things you could try and include:
Visit to a bathhouse
Karaoke – if you hire a box it is not all that expensive
Hanami – if you go in April (Maruyama kooen in Kyoto is a great place to go)
Cooking Class – at the school or a local community centre
Sumo – if you happen to be there in the right season. If you go the place the morning of
the match you can usually pick up some cheaper seats. A few hours is generally enough.
Baseball – this is a good thing to do at night. Once again only if you are in the right place
at the right time. The students do usually enjoy it.
Car Factory – when I went our sister school organised it for me.

We cancelled our plans one day to go to a baseball match as it was raining and the
students were starting to get tired. Instead we sent them off in groups with tasks to do.
They had to do things like interview a Japanese person and get their hanko, find the best
value item they could for ¥500, a scavenger type hunt where they had to bring back
items starting with certain hiragana etc. The students loved it and I would like to organise
more of this type of thing in future.

It is often the small, unplanned things that students remember so be flexible!!

I give my students an allowance of only ¥2000 per day for food. Sometimes they don’t
get the full amount as I organise to have a meal together. This could be at a youth hostel,
an obentoo on the train or a school event. This also ensures the students are eating
properly as some of them think they can not eat and use that money on shopping! You
don’t want to have students fainting on you because they haven’t eaten for 3 days!!

                                 On Your Return
Reports to Sponsors/Board of Trustees etc
Do these as quickly as possible when you get back while everything is fresh in your

Party/Get Together /Awards
Students like to get together to show their photos, watch the video and reminisce about
their holiday. It is better to do this out of school hours as the students that weren’t able to
go on the trip often feel quite left out.
There is a sample of the type of thing I gave my is always interesting to get
their feedback and the information will help in planning for further trips.


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