The Trip of a Lifetime: My Experience in the Japan Travel Course

Ashley DelRatez, Staff Writer

When I told people about my opportunity to go to Japan this semester through a travel course being offered at MCLA, they were often surprised by my choice.

They’d say something along the lines of “You’ve never flown before, and you’ve never even left the country . . . so your first big trip will be a 14-hour flight to Japan?” Yet regardless of these daunting circumstances, taking this trip to Japan was easily one of the best decisions of my life.

In ten days, I was able to spend time in Kyoto, Miyajima, Hiroshima, and Tokyo. And wow, what an experience that was. The culture shock in all that was different was incredible. Everything was clean and fairly quiet. People dressed nicely, cars were very square, trees lined many of the main city streets, and the food was incredible. The air often smelled salty or a bit like the sea, due to the close proximity to the Pacific Ocean. And, while I was used to 30-degree days in Massachusetts, upon landing we were suddenly submerged in 80-degree heat with humidity.

While there are so many things to get into about this trip, one of the most interesting things to me was the ease of access to public transportation. On this trip I rode busses, trolleys, subways, and even the speedy Japanese bullet train countless times through the use of a Suica Card and Japanese Rail (JR) Pass. And regardless of language barriers and unfamiliarity with locations I found these methods of transportation incredibly easy to use. As long as you read the signs, listened for your stop, and were polite to the people around you nothing could really go wrong.

We took public transportation just about everywhere when we weren’t walking and exploring by foot. Some of my favorite explorations of the trip were those spent heading to the various temples and shrines in Kyoto.

While I have seen pictures of these places online before, the real-life experience was something else entirely. One of the best temples we saw, in my opinion was the Toji Temple, a Buddhist temple in Minami-ku ward of Kyoto. This structure was incredibly tall and beautiful, and best of all we were actually able to go inside.

There were various other structures related to the temple nearby as well, and within them there were giant gold statues of Buddha in different forms, where one could make offerings. And outside of the temple, there was a single cherry blossom tree in bloom. This was exciting as we were actually a week or so early for this year’s cherry blossom season. It was incredible to me to be within these sacred spaces.

In short, this trip was an incredible experience. Because of it I got to check a lot of firsts off my list. First flight, first time out of the country, first time abroad, first time on a bullet train, and first time being completely immersed in a culture outside of my own. If you’re ever considering taking a travel course but are uncertain for any reason, I’d recommend just going for it! There is so much to learn and so much to see.