Japan Trips

The Japanese Connections Study Tour

The Japanese Connections Study Tour has been an annual event since 2001. Originally the program was begun with a one-year grant Mrs. Patricia Burleson and Mr. Kurt Jacobs, both teachers at Lopez Island High School, obtained from the Freeman Foundation. Starting that year and continuing through the spring of 2009, the Freeman Foundation has been very generous in funding our program. Both Mrs. Burleson and Mr. Jacobs had been on numerous educator study tours to Japan prior to taking students. 

After the first year, we expanded the program to include students from Anacortes High School, and also established a sister-school relationship with Ieshima Island Junior High School. The Ieshima Islands are an archipelago of islands, in the Inland Sea just off the city of Himeji, very similar to our San Juan Islands located just off the mainland from the city of Anacortes. Starting in 2002, our program has taken students and occasionally teachers from both Lopez and Anacortes. 
Acceptance into the program is by application, and is usually open to juniors and seniors only. Successful applicants participate in classes usually held during zero period before school and several times on weekends where both the Anacortes and Lopez students get together. Grades are given for the study tour class and much is dependent upon completion of assigned projects like PowerPoint presentations and 5-8 minute videos similar to the ones posted on this website. Most trips take 16 students and four adult chaperones: Mrs. Burleson (director of the program), Mr. Behnke (Lopez teacher), Mr. Hancock (Anacortes teacher), and Mr. Burleson (language and culture specialist).
A significant amount of reading is assigned prior to travel in the spring, as well as an expectation of learning a fair amount of basic travel, and daily language skills. Our program teaches about the Japanese culture and way of life and then compares and contrasts it with our own. When in Japan, our students are asked to look for these differences and similarities, note them in their daily journals, and then write reflection papers based upon specific questions and references we supply after our return. The students’ reflections, PowerPoint presentations and videos are shared within our local communities and on a variety of internet websites, as well.
To date, the Japanese Connections program has introduced the Japanese culture and people to more than 130 students and teachers from Anacortes and Lopez. In addition, we have hosted more than 40 students and teachers from the island of Ieshima, our sister-island in Japan. On three separate occasions, we have helped fund study tours from Japan, hosted them on Lopez, and shown them around the state of Washington. Most of these students, and teachers, had never been out of Japan prior to this.

Our 12-14 day study tour visits many of the same places each year. The highlights include:

  • Kyoto with its famous temples and shrines, and an easily navigable cityscape, is normally our first stop;
  • Nara with the Todaiji Temple and the world’s largest wooden structure is always visited;
  • Hiroshima and its Peace Park and Atom Bomb Museum is an important stop on the tour;
  • Miyajima Island, off the coast of Hiroshima with its rural feel and traditional inns is a favorite of everyone’s;
  • Himeji and the White Heron Castle is a mandatory stop, and frequently from here we will visit the island of Ieshima and a school visitation;
  • we normally save Tokyo for last because by then our students are expert at navigating the Japanese transportation system and are undaunted by the dozen different rail and subway lines buried beneath the concrete. 
Side trips and Adventure Days are an important aspect to the trip. We usually include two “adventure days” where the students are expected to have researched places they want to visit in small groups either with or without an adult along. This is perfectly reasonable in a country where six year old children ride the trains to school by themselves for long distances every day. Since each student is supplied with a Japan Rail Pass, their travel is nearly unrestricted for no additional money. And since all the adults carry Japanese cell phones, and can be contacted at any time, the operation is very safe. Our students in small groups have explored all over Japan, from Fukuoka in the far south to Nikko in the mountains north of Tokyo. 
Adventure Day groups have visited the:
  • Brocade Sash Bridge at Iwakuni,
  • Beppu Hot Springs of Kyushu,
  • Minimoto pearl beds on the Ise Peninsula,
  • Great Buddha at Kamakura.
Our goal at Lopez High School is to educate students with a global perspective. The more we learn about other cultures, the more we discover about ourselves. Lopez students live on a small, rural island with access by ferry, private boat and airplane only. That doesn’t mean they’re backward and uninformed. On the contrary, if acceptance to, and graduation from, outstanding universities all over the world is any indicator, our students are some of the best. Our international education and travel programs compete with the best offered by private schools our size. The Japanese Connections Study Tour is grant funded by the Freeman Foundation and is dependant upon those monies to continue; however, thus far they have liked our results and have funded us for nine study tours. With any luck, they will continue to see the value of our program and we will be able to continue to offer the education and travel this program provides.

2011 Trip Slides

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