Four Christ College sixth form pupils are midway through the latest leg of an ongoing exchange programme with Meikei High School in Japan. Alexander Dereham, Dewi Evans, Sophie Laight and Bella Fisher are currently experiencing life in Japan, spending their days in and around the school, located in Tsukuba City, just to the north of Tokyo, and spending the rest of their time with their host families.
Their visit comes just a few months after pupils from Meikei arrived in Brecon where they enjoyed a programme of end-of -term events, including the Christ College production of ‘Les Misérables’, the school’s Christmas Suppers, House Christmas parties, and the annual Carol Service in Brecon Cathedral. They also visited the Museum of Welsh Life in St Fagan’s, and saw some of the sights of the Welsh capital.
Head of Christ College, Emma Taylor, said: “We greatly value our partnership with Meikei High School. Many of our own pupils and staff have benefited enormously from the exchange which provides members of the Christ College community with the broadest, deepest and richest possible preparation for the next stage of their lives, helping them to become confident citizens of a global economy.”
After being welcomed by heavy snow at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, Alexander explained how the pupils hit the ground running.
He said: “No sooner had I arrived, I was immediately taken out to a sushi restaurant which was a brilliant and amusing experience!” Alexander continued: “The next day I was given a tour around my host’s hometown, Ushiku, which I think has the largest Buddha statue in Japan. I was then taken on a shopping trip and was introduced to Japanese fashion and music, and shown how to use chopsticks in a more orthodox fashion!”
The following day, Alexander, who is from Hereford, visited Akihabara which is known as the Electric City. Here he visited a vast array of electronic gadget shops, before visiting Okachimachi, where he spent time at its vibrant and busy street market.
Alexander then spent his first day at Meikei High School, commenting: “So far it has gone very well for all of us. We’ve sat in on lessons, trying our best to pick up a little Japanese. We’ve had two special lessons arranged for us to teach us about both the Japanese culture and also the language. We’ve also learnt about traditional Japanese green-tea ceremonies as well as working our way round some basic symbols of their alphabet. I’ve taken part in the school’s rugby training session (which also involved clearing snow off the surface of their artificial pitch!) which went very well, despite the language barrier! We’ve delivered a number of presentations to various classes today about life at Christ College, which proved to be very successful. Lots of students were interested about our school, life in Wales and wanted to know what we thought about Japan.”
Sophie Laight, who currently lives in Hong Kong, was able to update us on her experiences, explaining: “On Tuesday, Bella and I met up in Tsukuba City and went shopping with our hosts, Urara and Ami. We then went out for dinner with our host parents and had Okonomiyaki, Monjayki and Teppanyaki! Our first day of school was last Wednesday. We had a tour of Meikei High School, met many of the teachers, and then had a special Japanese lesson where we learned some basic Japanese. Just before lunch we had an Art lesson and even though the teacher didn’t speak any English, he was really enthusiastic and made us feel very welcome!”
Sophie explained that other highlights of her week at school included a tea ceremony where they were shown the traditional way of drinking Japanese tea, and judging a junior singing contest.
Sophie concluded: “Our host parents have made us feel very welcome and have been using the opportunity to speak English with us. They have been giving us lots of traditional Japanese food too!”
Alexander then told us about one of his days in school when he joined his host, Kazuya, for his English class which turned out to be a lot of fun!
Alexander explained: “I was asked to talk about myself and answer lots of questions. The teacher was really good, encouraging the Meikei pupils to question me by elbowing them! I also helped the teacher by reading out passages from texts. I then joined an advanced English class and we had a very tricky vocabulary test which I only just passed!”
Alexander then explained that all of the Christ College pupils were part of a very special event at Meikei High School.
He said: “We were all invited to a cross-cultural tea party which involved a large number of people from around the world. For the first hour, we sat at a table with Japanese third graders, and answered their questions. We were then treated to calligraphy lessons, a recorder recital and also a Kendo session. Dewi and I were then called up out of everyone to have a go … we enjoyed whacking the volunteers with the shinai (bamboo sword) who were all wearing protective armour! We were then were asked to stand up to sing our national anthem, as the other visitors had done. We obliged, with Dewi and Sophie leading the way with the Welsh national anthem. They were actually extremely impressive and we all got a big cheer!”
Alexander’s culinary journey continued. He told us that his favourite meal so far has been takoyaki, which he described as octopus and vegetables wrapped in a Yorkshire pudding type case.
He said: “I’ve been shown how to roll them, as well as learning about the different types found in different areas.”
However, he did confide that he’s also managed to find some crêpes which he described as “absolutely delicious!”.
Dewi Evans, who lives near Aberdare, established contact with Christ College and shared similar experiences. Dewi told us about a Home Economics lesson that he attended.
He explained: “We were shown how to make a traditional Japanese lunch box including chicken, egg roll and rice. We thoroughly enjoyed this as it was very ‘hands on’ and it proved to be a great way to get to know other Meikei students that were in our group. We talked about student life at Meikei which is much harder than the life we experience back home! Occasionally we have been early for lunch so we have given a helping hand, laying out food for the students around us. This was nice as we had a chance to get involved in the daily operations of school life.”
In their last communication with their school, Bella Fisher told us about their trip to Disneyland Sea.
She explained: “On Sunday, I met up with Alexander, Sophie and Dewi, along with our hosts, and we all went to Disneyland Sea. We had an early start but everyone was really excited to go on the rides and do some sightseeing at this theme park.”
She continued: “I am not the biggest fan of roller coasters so I gave a few a miss but Dewi, Alex and Sophie went on every roller coaster that the park had to offer. We arrived here at 9:30 am and left at 7:00 pm so it was a very busy, full but enjoyable day. We were so happy to get back on the train though and sit down as we didn’t stop walking around all day!”
In another update, Bella gave us an insight into the activities the group are getting involved in. She explained: “We have been in school for the past two days and they have been very busy ones. Yesterday we did a two hour calligraphy lesson where we learnt how to draw simple Hiragana Japanese characters. We all found it very challenging as none of us are particularly artistic. We used special tools to draw the characters which were inkstone, a brush, Indian ink and hanshi (special Japanese paper). Drawing the characters is very time consuming as there are many different steps we have to follow in order to draw one character. Japanese calligraphy is an old tradition and students start learning it in elementary school.”
Last night however, Bella and Alexander experienced something that is is a feature of life in that part of the world.
She continued: “There was an earthquake last night at around 9pm, it was 3.6 magnitude. Alex and I were the only ones that felt it because we are living relatively close to each other. This was the first earthquake Alex felt but it was my 5th!”
Bella explained however how their Japanese is beginning to improve.
“Today has also been a busy day with double art, a special Japanese lesson and PE. On most days we have a special Japanese lesson where we learn basic Japanese. Our Japanese is coming along well we can say a range of different phrases and we can introduce ourselves. Art was really good today and we did more work on our sculptures. Sophie and I managed to play some volleyball during a PE lesson whilst Dewi and Alex played rugby.”
This morning (20th February), Sophie contacted Christ College, updating us on their most recent adventure.
She said: “Today we went into Tokyo with our hosts. We went up the Tokyo Skytree which is a building over 600 metres high. We went to the highest viewing point which was 400 metres high and stood on a glass-bottom floor where we got to see a spectacular view of Tokyo.”
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