Local Students Head to Tokyo (VIDEO)

They'll be leaving July 1 for two weeks with a teacher and an assistant. They'll be sightseeing, visiting cultural places and a high school, experiencing a homestay, volunteering in a village, and much more


After school lets out, most students will begin summer activities, but for 23 from the Clarkstown School District, they’ll be taking a 13.5-hour non-stop flight from Newark Airport to the Narita Airport located outside of Tokyo. The trip begins July 1 and will last for two weeks. 

Last week, parents and students sat in on the first of several information sessions about the Kizuna Exchange Program (from the Japan Foundation) with Akiko Uchiyama, Japanese Teacher at Clarkstown High School North & South.

The 23 students will be accompanied by Uchiyama and Eri Sonohara, one of 15 Japanese Language Education assitants sent to the U.S. through the Japanese J-LEAP program.

“The 23 students and two teachers are always together,” said Uchiyama. There will also be an English-speaking guide. “I know for parents, sending your child to the other side of the world, it’s very concerning.”

Students were selected based off of their grades, effort, maturity and people skills.

“These are very successful students. We have no behavioral problems or misconduct issues,” said Uchiyama. “We are going to have a great time together and create a sort of family bond.“

Here’s a look at their tentative 14-day schedule:

  • Day 1: Travel Day
  • Day 2: Get to Narita Airport, get settled into Tokyo hotel
  • Day 3: Orientation, Move to Kitashiobara village
  • Day 4 & 5: Volunteer work in Kitashiobara
  • Day 6: Return to Tokyo, Orientation
  • Day 7-8: Sightseeing in Tokyo
  • Day 9: Move to Osaka, sightseeing
  • Day 10: Visit Osaka Yuhigaoka High School
  • Day 11: Move to Kyoto, sightseeing
  • Day 12: Kyoto sightseeing
  • Day 13: Kobe sightseeing, farewell meeting
  • Day 14: Travel Day

“We’re really excited because (my daughter) was on the waiting list. It’s an honor to be chosen,” said Mother Carolyn Higgins. “It’s nerve-wracking, but I have another daughter who went to Australia when she was 15. I feel comfortable that she’ll be in good hands though (with Uchiyama).”


Some of the places students are going to be visiting during the sightseeing days include:

  • Honjo Bosaikan in Tokyo, which is a Life Safety Learning Center that focuses on disaster prevention and preparation with a unique earthquake simulator room
  • Edo Tokyo Museum, which focuses on 17th century Edo Culture
  • A Kimono fashion show
  • Fashion district
  • Geisha culture
  • Historical Shrines/temples
  • Zen/meditation gardens
  • Kyoto International Manga Museum

Freshman Chris Fisher said he’s looking forward to the Kyoto International Manga Museum the most.

“I’ve been an avid manga reader for a while now and consider it one of Japan’s most impressive art forms, so honestly, going to an international manga museum in Kyoto sounds amazing,” he said. “I’ve never been out of the country before, so it’ll be kind of strange.”

Prepping Students

This is not the first trip to Japan for Clarkstown schools. In students visited Japan in April 2012 as well. Michael Burke, a senior at North HS, went in April and his sister is going this July. 

The students were prepped on everything from weather and money management to telecommunications and transportation.

“It’s going to be hot, humid and mostly rainy or cloudy,” said Uchiyama.

“Anyone who didn’t bring an umbrella were soaked through like they jumped into a pool,” said Burke.

With the parents Uchiyama went over telecommunication information, such as emergency contacts, internet and cell phone usage to contact their child.

“We had some obstacles with contacting parents because of the 13-hour time difference, but parents can reach me 24/7 with my cell phone to get in touch with their child immediately while we’re over there,” said Uchiyama, adding that there are, unfortunately, few public pay phones.

Uchiyama also touched base on radiation concerns, food and dietary limitations, luggage, Japanese conversations, and lastly, sickness and stress management since the students will be adjusting to different air, food and water in Japan.

Host Gifts

Students will be meeting younger kids and senior citizens at Kitashiobara Village.

“We would like to show our appreciation to them for hosting us,” said Uchiyama, adding that the students are making 1,000 paper origami cranes as a gift for the village.

“There is a tradition of bringing 1,000 cranes as a peace offering. This year no one took initiative to get it done so I did it,” said Student Jacqueline Zee. She made the 1,000 cranes mostly by her self for the April trip and this time, there is more of a team effort and they’re up to about 850 cranes.

The students are also making a video project to show Japanese students and people school life at North and South High School.

In addition, they are working on a slideshow of students holding Japanese messages with a popular Japanese song playing in the background: I love you & I need you Fukushima.

High School Visit

The students will be stopping in Osaka to visit Osaka Yuhigaoka High School, the school Sonohara, 31, graduated from.

“I’m excited,” said Sonohara. “I’m happy to take 23 students to Japan to introduce them to my country.” 

Sonohara is one of 15 Japanese Language Education assitants sent over to the U.S. Read more about her time here in the U.S. in this .

“Most students in Japan take public transportation (bus/train) or walk and bike,” said Uchiyama. She went over the dress code for the school visit, which is more conservative than American public schools.

“This is my first time. I’ve never been to Japan,” said Blanca Matsumoto, a freshman. “I find the culture to be very interesting. I’m excited (about the high school trip) to meet the students and converse with them in Japanese.”

During their time in Osaka, students will not be in a hotel, but living with host families (homestay).

Uchiyama plans on prepping students on residential mannerisms and customs; for example, it’s impolite for guest to open the refrigerator and hot bath water is shared in the family.

“I’m excited about going to the high school to compare student life and culture in Japan to America,” said Freshman Jennifer Wu. “Also, (I’m excited) just to say I’ve been to Tokyo.”

Jet Program Student

Corrine Quirk, a senior at South High School, is the 24th student joining the group. However, she is not going through the Kizuna Exchange Program. She is one of 32 students in the U.S. to receive a grant from the Jet Program, which is a memorial fund.

“Two Japanese English teachers died in a natural disaster. The Jet Program re-encourages language and cultural immersion between the U.S. and Japan,” said Quirk. Her itinerary will be slightly different from the 23 students.

“It’s more of a cultural experience than a volunteer experience,” she said. “I’ll be doing a longer homestay and my events will be more culturally-based.”

Like many of the students, it’s her first time to Japan this July.

“I’m excited, especially to improve my language skills,” said Quirk.


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