From island to island: students explore Japan

The group in Japan / Hugh Burleson

Commonly known as “the Land of the Rising Sun,” Japan is a country of many wonders. Located in the eastern hemisphere, Japan has a history of tradition, culture, and respect. As part of a program called Japanese Connections, four Orcas Island and Lopez Island students traveled to Japan, the objective being to experience the unique culture and food offered. Funded generously by the Freeman Foundation, the trip would not be possible without Lopez residents Pat Burleson and Hugh Burleson. Leading the Japanese Connections program for close to 20 years, they have taken hundreds of students and showed them the beauty of Japan. Viking Voice president Bella Evans and columnist Ryan Krisch-Derr took part in this trip, and based on the profound impact it had, the country of Japan has been selected as the Viking Voice’s travel destination for the month of June. 

The justification for this selection results from four destinations in Japan. The first is the city of Tokyo, a sprawling metropolis spanning 56 miles from east to west. Contained within Tokyo is a wide variety of attractions and experiences offered. The teamLabs Tokyo museum is an immersive experience, with exhibits meant to highlight human senses; the Ramen Museum, located in the city of Yokohama is an international attraction with 1950’s style ramen shops; and the Tokyo Tower is a radio antennae that is a cultural centerpiece of the Tokyo cityscape. 

The second destination that impressed the members of the Viking Voice was Miyajima, an island off the coast of Hiroshima. Recognized as a sacred island, Miyajima contains a 1400 year old shrine, several temples, and a world famous torii gate that stands on the island’s shores. The Iwaso Inn is one element of Miyajima that makes the island so spiritual. Containing natural hot spring baths (“Onsens”), rooms with bamboo flooring, and multi-course meals with traditional Japanese cuisine, the Iwaso Inn added a feeling of serenity to the staff of Viking Voice. Miyajima is a must-see for those going to Japan for its sacred qualities. 

A third city of significance was Hiroshima, a modern city with a tragic past. In the center of the city is Hiroshima Peace Park, a museum and monument dedicated to remembering the lives lost from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. The museum is a raw experience, displaying to viewers the scope and severity of destruction caused by a nuclear weapon. Rusty bicycles, children’s tattered clothing, and personal stories of those affected help to convey the pointlessness of war, one of the museum’s main objectives. In addition, the Genbaku Dome was the only building standing after the bomb, and continues to stand today in ruins, to contrast the modern Hiroshima cityscape. 

One final city that helped to show Japan’s importance is Himeji, a destination filled with historical ties. Located in the center of the city is Himeji Castle, a gargantuan fortress standing above most of the city’s skyscrapers. Originally built in the 1300’s to protect against enemies, this castle has been renovated and improved over the last seven centuries. Directly next to Himeji Castle is the Koko-En Garden, a Japanese garden with a close attention to detail concerning traditional Japanese gardens. Within this attraction that compliments Himeji Castle are several areas that concentrate on different plant varieties = (bamboo, flowers, vines), small streams and ponds, and information placards detailing the different plant species. 

Through the Freeman Foundation, the Viking Voice Staff was able to experience the beauty of a foreign country. We look forward to next year, when four more students will be able to create their own memories of the magical Land of the Rising Sun.