May is the perfect time to introduce some activities that will appeal to both male and female students, especially some activities that will appeal particularly to boys.
The beginning of May signals Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day) celebrations with a public holiday for children. Kodomo no Hi is celebrated on 05 May and is traditionally a celebration for families with boys. Originally it was known as Tango no Sekku (端午の節句) meaning ‘double fifth'. In 1948 the Japanese government changed the official name to Children’s Day however most Japanese still celebrate this day with boys in their families.
During the month of May colourful carp fish flags called koinobori can be seen flying from balconies and neighbourhoods. A black carp represents the father, red for mother and blue for the oldest son. Other colourful carp may represent younger siblings. Just like the carp need to swim upstream against the current parents hope that their children will grow with a strong spirit and perseverance to overcome obstacles. Parents of boys also decorate their homes with samurai armour and kabuto helmets representing their wish for strong boys. Since Kodomo no Hi is a public holiday there are fun activities, new anime movie releases and special food prepared for all children to celebrate. Japan is awash with colour and May is a lovely time to visit.
MAZDA MUSEUM HIROSHIMA
Hiroshima is a beautiful city, now known as the City of Peace due to its history as the first city targeted by an atomic bomb in 1945. The Atomic Bomb Dome, Sadako’s Statue, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum are important landmarks for visiting school groups. However Hiroshima has many places of interest and one of my favourites is the Mazda Museum and Mazda Factory.
The Mazda tour begins with a short video presentation and then visitors board a bus for the short trip to the Mazda Plant and assembly line. A walk through the Mazda Museum with a tour guide to explain the vehicles and history of Mazda culminates in a viewing of the actual car assembly line. It is fascinating to watch as the cars move on conveyor belts through the factory assembly line. The tour takes a total of ninety minutes. Access is easy by taking the local train from Hiroshima to Mukainada Station (5 minutes, ¥190 for adults) and then a 5-minute walk to the Mazda Head Office. Reservations are compulsory, tours are free of charge and since daily tours are limited the tours book out quickly. Contact us for bookings as Saizen Tours can make all group arrangements in advance.
TOYOTA MEGA WEB ODAIBA
Take the JR Yamanote Line to Shimbashi Station and change to the Tokyo Waterfront New Transit Yurikamome monorail for Aomi Station - 21 minutes, ¥390 adults. Or purchase a 1-Day Pass for ¥820 per adult to visit multiple areas at Odaiba. I have taken many student groups to Odaiba and always head straight to Aomi Station where students can enjoy not only Toyota Megawab but also the large, three-storied Venus Forte Shopping Mall, TeamLab Borderless and Odaiba Ferris Wheel.
Toyota Megaweb is divided into three areas – Toyota City Showcase, History Garage and Ride Studio. Students can have fun sitting in the latest Toyota cars and taking photos! History Garage features historical cars from around the world. Ride Studio has an electric go-cart circuit that will appeal to students. Entrance is free however there are fees for some hands-on activities such as the go-carts (¥300 for 15 minutes).
TEAMLAB BORDERLESS ODAIBA
Whilst you are visiting Odaiba you cannot miss the delightful digital museum called teamLab Borderless. Conveniently, it is also located at Aomi Station and will definitely be a highlight for everyone! teamLab is a kaleidoscope of colour featuring a three-dimensional world of art and Instagram photo opportunities galore. Understandably this museum is extremely popular and pre-purchased tickets are necessary. Tickets are ¥3,200 for adults and high school students and ¥1,000 for primary school students. Be aware that teamLab has a strict condition of admission of one adult per three primary school aged students. Session numbers are limited throughout the day therefore contact us to have pre-booked tickets included in your tour.
Still in Odaiba is the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, simply known as the Miraikan. The Miraikan can be easily accessed on the Yurikamome monorail line and is a 4-minute walk from the Telecom Center Station. There is also a free shuttle bus ‘Tokyo Bay Shuttle’ which connects popular tourist spots for shopping and sightseeing in the Odaiba area. The bus is free and runs every 20 minutes from 11:30am to 7:30pm daily. The bus stops at the Miraikan which is open from 10:00am to 5:00pm. Group admission fees are ¥500 for adults and ¥160 for primary and high school students.
Besides hands-on activities there are many performances and workshops including a demonstration by ASIMO, a futuristic humanoid robot. The demonstration lets students imagine a future society in which everyone lives alongside robots. There are four demonstrations per day of approximately 10 minutes - 11:00 / 13:00 /14:00 / 16:00. The Permanent Exhibition has a number of zones that explore space, the solar system and earth.
DIVERCITY TOKYO PLAZA AND UNICORN GUNDAM STATUE
Gundam fans will be pleased to know that Odaiba's much-loved full-scale replica Gundam is back – now even bigger and better than before with the replica Unicorn Gundam from the Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn series. It can be found in front of DiverCity Tokyo Plaza with the new life-sized Gundam statue towering over spectators at a staggering height of 19.7 metres high. Unicorn Gundam transforms a number of times daily, switching between Unicorn and Destroyer. Transformation times are 11am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm.
DiverCity Tokyo Plaza is a shopping mall designed as a large-scale entertainment facility where you can have many different experiences. The shopping mall would also be popular with students; offering entertainment, a wide selection of Japan-themed souvenirs at many of its shops and authentic Japanese restaurants.
Access is via a 7-minute walk from Daiba Station on the New Transit Yurikamome Line.
GUNDAM CAFE ODAIBA AND AKIHABARA
There are two Gundam themed cafes in Tokyo. One is situated at DiverCity Odaiba and the other is at Akihabara, right next door to JR Akihabara Station. The Akihabara cafe has Gundam's iconic "V-antenna" sitting above the entrance and Gundam statues out front for easy spotting. The cafes each have a themed menu, Gundam display cases and a gift shop selling a variety of Gundam souvenirs. Reviews of food are not fantastic however the themed restaurants are popular with Gundam fans.
NINJA AKASAKA AND NINJA SHINJUKU RESTAURANTS TOKYO
These restaurants offer ninja-themed entertainment from the moment you walk through the front doors. Private and communal rooms are arranged in a labrynth-like dining area which replicates a hidden ninja village from the Edo period. The entertainment, ninja costumes, non-stop surprises, illusions and ninja tricks make for a really fun interactive evening. The food is superb but prices are on the expensive side for school group budgets. However we have made quite a number of bookings for school groups seeking a special experience. Bookings are essential and we can suggest a set menu and prices to suit your group’s budget.
EDO WONDERLAND NIKKO
A full day of fun can be found with a visit to Edo Wonderland. Situated at Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture Edo Wonderland can be visited during a day trip. Or alternatively an overnight trip, staying in Nikko and also visiting other Nikko sites such as the famous Tōshōgū Shrine.
Access to Nikko is via the JR Line whereby groups can use the shinkansen and local trains utilising their JR Pass if they have a valid pass. Or from Tobu Asakusa Station using the Tobu Kinugawa Line by purchasing a One-day Nikko Pass and reserved seats. Local buses depart regularly from local train stations direct to Edo Wonderland.
So what is Edo Wonderland? It is a step back in time to 17th century Japan. The village is divided into five traditional areas, Kaido (Road to Edo), Shukuba-machi (Inn Town), Shokagai (Market District), Buke-yashiki (Samurai Residence), and Ninja no Sato (Ninja Village). Students can walk through the streets, meet lively street performers, participate in games and activities and watch performances in the theatre. There is a variety of souvenir shops and restaurants whereby groups can have pre-booked dining times and meals.
General admission prices for school groups are ¥1,400 for primary school students and ¥1,700 for high school students. For a small extra participation fee and unique experience we can organise a group Ninja Package including ninja costumes and ninja activities such as shuriken throwing, ninja concealment and kenjutsu sword techniques. Activities can be adjusted to be suitable for participant age levels.
EIGAMURA - TOEI KYOTO STUDIO PARK
Toei Kyoto Studio Park is a movie theme park and film set modelled after the Edo period and located in Kyoto. It is situated in Toei Company's Kyoto Studio and features open movie sets still used for shooting samurai movies. This is the only theme park in Japan where visitors can observe the filming of a movie or television series set during the Edo period. Students can wander the streets of the samurai village film set that is open to the public and can dress up in costumes such as samurai, ninja and geisha costumes.
There are many fun activities, experiences and shows throughout the day. Among the many attractions there is a Ninja Mystery House, Haunted House, 10 metre high 3D Maze The Ninja Fort, Ninja Climbing Shiobori, Samurai Course, Ninja Sword Fighting Course and Ninja shows.
Access is available by JR Line and subway, Hankyu Line and Randen Line, or the convenient Kyoto City Bus line with a bus stop directly in front of Eigamura. General group admission is ¥1,000 for primary students and ¥1,200 for high school students. Extra fees for some attractions, experiences and costume rental.
NINJA MUSEUM OF IGARYU
Iga Ueno is located in the basin that lies halfway between Osaka and Nagoya and is recognized as the birthplace of ‘Ninjutsu’ – Ninja Art. The Iga of present times is based in an old town with a rich heritage comparable to that of Kyoto and Nara. The castle that overlooks the city is its main landmark, but the castle and the Igaryu Ninja Museum are just starting points for the Iga-Ueno experience. Travel to Iga-Ueno on the Ninja themed train and upon arrival the students will be dressed in Ninja costumes. Your group of Ninja will enjoy Ninja demonstrations, visit a Ninja House and learn the secrets of Ninja and perhaps take part in the Ninja Show. Shuriken, or Ninja-star throwing, is always the highlight at the end of the performance and the students can join in the challenges. It is an excellent day trip from either Osaka or Kyoto and we can organise a full day program priced from ¥1,800 including costume rental, transport and all admissions.
KYOTO SAMURAI AND NINJA MUSEUM
Kyoto Samurai & Ninja Museum is located in Gion next to the famous Nishiki Market.
The museum is full of ancient armours, samurai swords and ninja artefacts. Highlights of the museum visit are the shows and experiences that offer student participation. There are samurai sword lessons, samurai armour to wear, a breath-taking samurai sword show and a Ninja Experience.
Ninja have been the subject of Japanese folklore and popular books and media. Born into the profession Ninja were trained in the ways of deception and manipulation of nature at an early age. Physical training, martial arts and climbing techniques for entering castles were all a part of the education. Some believed Ninja could walk on water, become invisible and even fly!
Your students can participate in a Ninja Experience. They will learn about the role of Ninja in Japan’s history and the kind of weapons and tools that were used as they carried out covert missions. The transformation into Ninja begins with the trained staff that will help everyone choose and dress in traditional ninja attire. The ninja training includes using a ninja blow-gun and throwing shuriken ninja stars. At the end of their experience students can take photos in their ninja outfits using a variety of ninja backgrounds.
We can organise tickets to the museum alone or a full program including a guided tour of the museum + ninja experience + samurai experience + samurai show.
TOKYO SUMO TOURNAMENT
Everyone loves a Sumo Tournament! I’m a big fan of Japan’s national sport and have enjoyed many sumo tournaments in Japan. My interest was sparked when I formed a relationship between my students and the great sumo wrestler known as Akebono. Every September Akebono would invite us to his sumo stable to watch the lower ranked rikishi (wrestlers) practise and then we would sit and share the mid morning chankonabe meal with everyone. Akebono would always kindly produce tickets for everyone to attend the Sumo Tournament. The tournament excitement would begin as soon as we arrived at Ryogoku Station with stalls outside the station selling sumo souvenirs and small sumo statues lining both sides of the road leading to the sumo stadium, Ryogoku Kokugikan. Sumo banners also line the main walkway to the Kokugikan and the lower rank wrestlers pass through here to the cheers of the waiting crowds. During the tournament the excitement continues with shouts of support from fans cheering on their favourite wrestler, often reaching fever pitch with each wrestling bout.
Japan has six major tournaments per year – in Tokyo during January, May and September. In Osaka in March, Nagoya in July and Fukuoka in November. The daily sumo tournaments commence around 8:30am, starting with the junior wrestlers. As the day progresses the tournament moves up the ranks. At about 3:00pm there is a ceremony to signal the entrance of the high ranking rikishi, with the highest ranking Yokozuna wrestler leading the ring entering ceremony.
Saizen Tours is able to organise sumo tickets for groups at discounted school group rates. Bookings are essential. In fact due to the popularity of sumo, the tickets sell out very fast, almost as soon as they are released. Students will love the tradition and the excitement, definitely a not-to-be missed experience!
JAPAN BASEBALL GAMES
Baseball was imported from the United States of America during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Since then the Japanese have been passionate about baseball and there is never a dull moment if you attend a baseball game in Japan. Often there is more fun watching the crowd then the game itself! Home teams are well organised, cheering constantly, banging drums and singing fight songs virtually non-stop throughout the game. The crowds energy is fantastic from start to finish!
Professional baseball is played in two leagues of six teams each - the Central League and the Pacific League. The season begins with games held from March to October. The most popular teams are the Yomiuri Giants, Hanshin Tigers, Hiroshima Toyo Carp and Tokyo Yakult Swallows . Home games are rotated throughout the cities and stadiums.
Similar to sumo tickets, baseball games are sold out very quickly. Therefore early bookings are essential.
Written by Rondell Herriot, Co-Managing Director Saizen Tours