It was my privilege to be able to put together an international trip with Founders Classical Academy Rogers high school students and visit Japan, the land of the rising Sun. These are just a handful of personal insights and experiences we shared as a group.
We touched down in Tokyo, and for the next three days we explored different aspects of Japanese culture in the Tokyo region. One of the things that we learned quickly was Japan’s integration of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in peaceful coexistence throughout Japan. We also got to see first hand how the ancient traditions and modern Japanese culture seamlessly integrate into daily life. Beautiful Shinto shrines are not out of place anywhere inside densely populated areas of Japan, and they are well-tended and frequented by the populace. Travelers were given the opportunity to explore different parts of the city with chaperones when we weren't directly on tour, and lunch was always an adventure! I personally think almost all my meals were great the entire time we were there.
When we visited the Imperial Meiji Shinto Shrine, we got a stronger understanding how Shinto became nationalized in the 1800s under the Meiji restoration, and then how Shinto was used as a driving force of the culture as it sped towards the modern entity and industrialization quicker and more efficiently than any culture had before it. One of the things that struck our group the most about Japan was the level of respectfulness exercised by the Japanese public: never being loud when in public spaces or in tight subway cars, politeness at all levels of society, and general cleanliness almost everywhere. I never noticed litter or graffiti anywhere in Japan. Tokyo has a high population density, yet it always feels calm, and the vast majority of people seem to approach the day with patience for each other. Our tour group was even able to explore the famous Electric City district with its amazing assortment of showrooms, shops, and restaurants. We rode on about every form of transportation imaginable, even the famous bullet train!
Another notable stop was our visit to The Great Buddha of Kamakura. The bronze statue is over 40' tall, and it was built in the 13th century. It, like most Japanese temples/shrines, had manicured gardens and landscapes all around it. Any parks or shrines that we visited really integrated green spaces very well. We were very lucky in our timing, because during the week we visited, Japan was exploding in cherry blossoms at almost every location. We also visited the National Tokyo Museum and were able to see ancient paintings, artifacts, ceramics, and samurai armor and kimonos of the highest quality! The attention to detail and care for how things are assembled permeates almost every inch of ancient and modern Japanese culture.
We also visited the Zen-Buddhist Temple of the Golden Pavilion that is covered with 40 plus pounds of real gold leaf and situated on a beautifully manicured garden. In all these sorts of temple complexes, it is very obvious that the Japanese integrate the beauty of nature and the environment into their spiritual practices. There is an attention to detail and a real sign of cultural commitment to the amount of upkeep and pair that are still given to these sites. I never visited a site the entire time in Japan that felt like it was in a state of neglect.
In our final Buddhist temple,Todaiji, we were blown away by the immaculate gardens and the giant wooden Buddha statue which is inside an enormous wooden structure. Perhaps most memorably, were all the tame deer in the region which are considered sacred. For a small price, you can feed them special cookies, and they will bow to you if you bow to them first!
All in all, this exposure to a completely different type of society helps all of us grow and see the world as a bigger place. It also helps our students define themselves in a broader sense as world travelers and appreciators of the good, true, and beautiful. Japan is as much like us as it is different, and the students were truly inspired by their experiences. This personal growth through exploration and appreciation is one of the reasons that I've been proud to lead these sorts of tours since 2018. This opportunity for expanded maturity is fantastic and benefits our school greatly. The students come back and bring their new attitudes and worldview into our classrooms and add a greater depth, understanding, and perspective to classroom discussions and culture. Coming up on the docket next is France and Spain next March for our rising juniors and seniors!
- Mr. Robert Lemming