Japan Art and Culture Tour

In the autumn school holidays, 19 Ascham girls from Years 10 and 11 embarked on the Art and Culture tour of a lifetime when they headed to Japan. Here is an extract of the report provided by students Olivia Litver and Kate Ledger upon their return.

‘It is impossible to condense the breathtaking beauty, rich culture and the fast-emerging art world of Japan into one sentence, let alone one word! It is hard to fathom the grandiosity of this fascinating place without witnessing it through your own eyes.

As we walked through the city of Osaka, many of us found it hard to comprehend just how far away from home we were and that the tour was only just beginning. By lunch time the group had found our way to one of Osaka’s best food streets, giving it the name ‘kitchen of Japan’. From Mr Halley’s favourite dish Takoyaki (Octopus Balls), to some interesting inventions like a cheese hotdog on a stick, this street had an amazing variety of foods for us to feast on. Already our minds were overwhelmed with how exotic Japan was—so different from anywhere we had been before; it was like being transported to a whole new world.

Our next activity was a Japanese Taiko workshop. Taiko is the name of a Japanese drum and we had the privilege of not only listening to some Taiko masters play for us, but we were even taught how to play ourselves. By 5pm we had taken our seats at Miraizaka Yodoyabashi, a traditional Japanese restaurant where we all enjoyed our first hot pot of the trip (there were many more to come).

Next day we visited Osaka Castle. We were fortunate enough that cherry blossom season was holding on just a little longer for us, so we got the chance to see some amazing flowers. As we walked closer to the Castle, the surroundings grew more and more picturesque. The emerald tones of the roof and the gold detailing were mesmerising, blending with the pale pink pop of the cherry blossom trees. Inside the building were more beautiful works of art as well as stunning 360° views of Osaka from the top of the castle.

From Osaka we travelled to Takamatsu, where we had the pleasure of being led on a guided tour of the City Museum of Art, our first art gallery of the trip. The contrast between the Western art world and the Japanese art world amazed us as we spent about two hours fiddling with exciting interactive installations, and staring gobsmacked at exquisite conceptual artworks.

On Monday we travelled between Takamatsu, Teshima and Naoshima, which proved to be worth the travel. We sailed between the art islands on a massive ferry. Throughout the day we visited the Leura area, the Teshima Art Museum, Les Archives du Coeur, the Inujima Art House Project and the Inujima Seirensho Art Museum. The inspiring artworks and exciting installations kept us energised. We stood in a dark room, mind-blown, watching a light bulb flash to a stranger’s heartbeat; we breathed in the natural beauty of the cherry blossoms and stunning beaches, took a peaceful stroll through the Karato area, staring for what seemed like hours at water spilling from small concrete holes and pooling together in the sunlight. At the end of the day we made our way back to the yurts we were staying in throughout our island adventure.

We woke up bright and early the next day, pleased to hear that we’d be spending the entire day exploring Naoshima. We enjoyed a traditional Japanese breakfast of fish, egg and rice, then quickly set off to enrich ourselves in the art the island had to offer. We travelled to the Benesse Museum, the Lee Ufan Museum, the ChiChu Art Museum, the Arthouse project and the Ando Museum. To put it simply, it was a day of nothing but art. We peered around Kusama’s famous yellow pumpkin, where we enjoyed an epic dance to ‘Lost in Japan’ by some of the Year 11 girls, engrossed ourselves in traditional and contemporary Japanese art, travelled to ‘The Afterlife’, gushed over the many beautiful stray cats, gazed peacefully at Monet’s spectacular depictions of nature and wandered through a perfect recreation of his garden.

On Wednesday we travelled from Naoshima to Okayama by ferry, waving our yurts goodbye. On the ferry, Mr Halley took charge of our journey to Hiroshima, educating us on the history of the bombing and giving us some insight into what we could expect to see there. In Hiroshima we toured the Atomic Bomb Dome, the Peace Memorial Park and the Peace Museum. We marvelled at the remaining structure of the Dome, the thousands and thousands of rainbow paper cranes donated by various schools to the memory of Sudako in the Peace Memorial Park, and learnt about the bombing of the city in the museum using fascinating interactive exhibits. From there, we took the train to Kyoto, checked into our hotel and enjoyed a traditional Japanese dinner.

The next day was spent exploring Kyoto. After breakfast we took a quick bus ride to Nara, where we visited the Todai-ji Temple and fed the adorable deer in Nara Park. We toured the Kyoto Geisha district, relishing the traditions the city had preserved. The next day we stayed in Kyoto and visited the Golden Pavilion, almost blinded by its brightness. We then took part in a traditional Japanese Tea ceremony, where we were educated in all the appropriate courtesies that entails. We tasted a red bean sweet and some freshly brewed matcha tea, then applauded a Kimono show in the Nishijin Textile store; we were entranced by the bright and intricate fabric and elegance of the models. We hurried back to the hotel, quickly dressed in our best attire, and almost sprinted to karaoke, easily the highlight of the day.

Saturday 20 April, we excitedly made our way from the quietness of Kyoto to the overwhelming hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Before leaving, we toured the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine, stunned by the beauty of the thousands of red pillars and exhausted from the long trek up the mountain. Some of us had a little adventure getting lost, but we all had a brilliant time marvelling at the serene repetition of the shrine. There were many tourists to navigate through, but at least we got to practise our pronunciation with the many times we said, ‘sumimasen’. We transferred to the Kyoto train station, where we stocked up on sweets and aesthetic bento boxes, then departed on the two-hour bullet train trip.

The next day we took a train to the famous Harajuku street where we were given an hour to shop. ONE HOUR. We tackled it like a military mission. We then quietened down with a visit to the National Art Centre of Tokyo, where we met up with Ascham Old Girl, Rachel Murakoshi-Singer. We admired hundreds of unique artworks then settled down back at the hotel for a nice, relaxing dinner and a good night’s rest.

Day 11 of the tour we visited the Mori Art Museum and the TeamLab Borderless Exhibition. We studied the conceptual and modern installations and paintings in the Mori Art Museum, fascinated by their take on the modern world, and then were given four hours to explore the TeamLab exhibit. Four hours still wasn’t enough; as it says in the title, the place is ‘borderless’. We laid in giant ‘floating nests’ as space zoomed past us, drank glowing tea, interacted with moving creatures across the walls, moved between glowing lights that reacted to human presence, bounced between black holes, and raced children down a radiant slide that we were (probably) too big for.

The final day of the trip was our sushi-making course in the city, where we learnt how to make traditional sashimi sushi. We then excitedly walked to the owl café where we spent the hour stroking owls, staring into their wide eyes.

All of us were simply blown away by Japan, whether it was our first time or one of many. As we departed we all had tears in our eyes. We said goodbye to high-tech vending machines, pure Japanese food and lush toilets as we hopped on the plane and slept again throughout the flight. Although we had an incredible amount of fun in Japan, it was so heart-warming to arrive back in Sydney to see our families’ warm smiles. While we all still miss Japan even now, we all know that the Japan Art Tour is a trip that we’ll never forget. Sayonara Japan!’

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