28 February, 2013

Touring Tokyo in an unusual way

A river in central Tokyo
Today I toured Tokyo with five eighth graders. It was an unusual kind of school excursion. Certainly not like any school excursion I ever went on when I was a kid.

The students were put into groups and given a list of places they had to visit around Tokyo, in a certain order, and have photos of the group taken at those spots. Some of the places were famous, others were more obscure. They also had to find someplace to buy lunch.

We had train tickets, particularly a day-pass for the famous Yamanote line. The line that you could go around and around and around all day without getting off. It connects some of the biggest train stations in the world, including Tokyo, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, and Ueno stations.

Here's what Wikipedia tells us about this important train line in Tokyo:
An estimated 3.7 million passengers ride every day on Tokyo's Yamanote Line, with its 29 stations. For comparison, the New York City Subway carries 5.08 million passengers per day on 26 lines serving 468 stations,[2]and the London Underground carries 2.7 million passengers per day on 12 lines serving 275 stations.[3]
Asking directions from a passerby.
This elderly gentleman actually sent us
in completely the wrong direction, but
thankfully the guys in our group were
proactive about asking directions and we
got back on track soon enough.
All that being said, it is an easy line to work with because all the trains stop at every station and there is no end to the line. So there are no confusing trains that skip stations or trains.

My role was just in case some emergency like an earthquake happened. I wasn't supposed to have any kind of leadership role. I have to say that perhaps I asked questions at times or made suggestions, but I tried to keep that at a minimum.

One of the hardest things for the group seemed to be deciding on how to pose in the photos. Their brief was to have a different pose at each place. They would stand around looking at one another, no one willing to take leadership in deciding. Funny! In other ways the leadership of the group was taken care of quite well in most cases.

I can't imagine doing this as a kid. First of all we had hardly any public transport in our "small" regional centre (about 60,000). Secondly, competence in using public transport was just not an important.

We often get questions about the make-up of student population of CAJ. In our group, only one of the students and I look foreign. Each of the others have at least one Japanese parent and all of those four have lived their entire lives in Japan. The only foreign looking student has lived most of her life in China. Some in our group are missionary kids, others are children of business folk who want their children educated in English.

Almost of these students at 12/13/14 years of age have more competence at Tokyo's complicated public transport system than I do! Not hard, I know, but true.

These days I'm not sure whether an Australian school would consider it a safe activity. I could be wrong, though. Japan is so safe (violence-wise) that prior to the earthquake disaster two years ago, this activity was conducted without any adult presence at all.

The other thing that makes it an interesting activity is the bilingual situation. We often stopped to ask directions —in Japanese. That was handled by the bilingual members of our group. Of course I could have asked for directions, but it was nice to have these students use their linguistic skills for the groups' benefit, and they certainly did a better job than I could have.

All that aside, it was a tiring journey. I haven't done exact calculations, but I reckon I walked up to 15 km on hard pavement today. My feet were complaining from mid-way through the day. They're okay now, but my knees are complaining.

However, aside from some aches, I don't feel as tired as I expected to. Actually it was refreshing to go about Tokyo with people who were somewhat responsible for me, rather than the other way around. I enjoyed their company and didn't feel like too much of a "old fogey". Until near the end when two ladies shifted so that the foreign-looking girl could sit next to me and I realised that they probably thought she was my daughter. And yes, these kids are the same age as my eldest!

But for now, I'm headed to bed to nurse my aching legs.

1 comment:

Ken Rolph said...

I can't imagine any Australian school which could contemplate an activity like this. At Jan's school in Sydney's Hills District there are parents who won't let their children catch any form of public transport. These are well-off kids about 17 or 18. Some have missed excursions just into the city and back.

There was a loose metal plate on Sydney Harbour Bridge yesterday and that stopped the whole train system for several hours. Over the past week the train system has been in meltdown on 4 days. Nobody in their right mind would push children into those situations. And I won't even mention the crazy ticketing.