Walk Japan has been planning and leading school trips for over 20 years now, and by all measures they have been a resounding success. Not only has the number of schools the company works with grown, but now most of the school trips we lead are done every year as part of the respective schools' annual experiential education programmes.
But without a doubt, the best measure of success is to see the students and teachers participating in the trip head back to their schools with amazing photos, stories and experiences to share with their friends. And the best way for you to judge for yourself is to see what the teachers have written to us after returning from their trips.
James Burke of Tyee Middle School
As an experienced world traveler with younger secondary students, Walk Japan is without a doubt the finest tour operation I have ever worked with. From their accommodating itinerary planning that completely met our group’s needs to the first-class treatment in-country with our tour guides, I will happily select Walk Japan for all my future school trips. Choosing a tour company for travel with middle school students is no easy task. Mario and his peers made it a trip of a lifetime for the organizers, our students, and the accompanying parents. For many of us, it was our first time in Japan, but the ease and comfort in which we arrived, toured two islands, and returned home to Seattle safely, one could easily think that we had been to Japan many times already.
The tour engaged the students with plenty of pertinent history and culture, but most of all, the trip provided a real world, engaging, personal experience for everyone involved. We tried almost every type of travel option the country provides – from taxis to bullet trains – and even had the pleasure of an inter-island ferry to the island of Kyushu. The temples we visited were more than just eye candy. We were able to meet the monks that took care of them and were even treated at one temple to training in meditation. Again, all of these activities were superbly coordinated by the Walk Japan tour guides.
However, the greatest parts of the trip for the organizers were the community connections that were made. Students learned tree planting techniques, shitake mushroom farming, and participated in a home stay with families that were eager to share their culture with our group. The heartfelt relationships that were fostered will last a lifetime. This is what world travel is all about: making connections with people. Walk Japan is a breath of fresh air in a world of commercial tour options and our trip organizer Mario made it all happen. Domo arigato gozaimasu and thank you very much. Peace.
Cheryl Lee of Tyee Middle School
Walk Japan unequivocally exceeded our expectations for our school's first ever trip to Japan. Not only did our guide Mario and other Walk Japan employees exude passion, warmth, and enthusiasm in introducing our students to the Land of the Rising Sun, but they also displayed a sense of humor, patience, flexibility, and problem-solving skills that made our trip as smooth and enjoyable as a trip overseas could be for a group of 19 people, many of whom had never even traveled abroad or to Asia. All members of our group were put at ease at every turn of events, at every location of interest, at every juncture of cross-cultural communication - there was never a point where our group felt unsure, uncomfortable, or disengaged from our experience; rather, all of us were always at ease, engaged, and enthusiastic throughout the journey.
What also made an enormously positive impact on our experience was Walk Japan's on-the-ground, grassroots relationship with local communities and their first-hand knowledge of organizations, resources, and activities that would suit our group's preferences and tastes. Obtaining an authentic taste of life in rural Japan would not have been possible without this particular strength of Walk Japan - something that other larger educational tour companies were unable to offer us. From the intimacy of meeting a local monk in the countryside of Kyushu to the pleasures of partaking in daily family life with locals, the long-standing and long-forged relationships between Walk Japan and the local people of Japan made all the difference on our trip.
Lastly, we as educators and teachers cannot stress enough the importance of a holistic educational experience. By the end of our 8-day journey, our students became more conscientious, more competent, more empathetic, and more compassionate young people who valued understanding ourselves and our world, and who value acknowledging differences and embracing them rather than being afraid of them. From the eye-opening and sobering talk with a Hiroshima bombing survivor to serene walks in the countryside, our student’s holistic inner growth from this truly immersive experience is ultimately the most worthwhile and valuable asset Walk Japan has bestowed on us. We at Tyee Middle School wholeheartedly recommend Walk Japan and continue to look forward to working together for many years to come!
Nora Yamada of the British School Tokyo
“Without a doubt (and all the teachers on the trip agreed) this was the best school trip that I have ever been on! Mario was brilliantly flexible and ensured that we had an amazing, unique, challenging (but safe!) experience which came in on budget and ticked all our boxes. Walk Japan's close relationship with local people enabled us to get an intense taste of what life in rural Japan is like - we certainly didn't expect to be visiting peoples' homes or meeting thier extended family - but that's what we did!
I have lived in Japan for over ten years, but I felt that I learned something new from the trip, and I know that my students got a glimpse of a world that is alien to them, despite many of them having lived here for years. The accommodation far exceeded our expectations and the food was deliciously prepared and delightfully local. I would not hesitate to plan another trip with Walk Japan, in fact, Mario's already got our dates for next year!”
Becky Green of the Singapore American School
"Walk Japan offers our high schoolers everything we could hope for on a high-school interim trip: Connections with amazing adults, pushes out of comfort zones, unique experiences, outdoor adventure, and relevant learnings. For the second year in a row, we’ve returned from a winter hike on the Nakasendo Way grateful, invigorated, and wonder-filled. Our students have many options for their interim excursions, and Walk Japan’s Nakasendo Way is one of the first to fill, as students spread the word that it’s a fascinating, enjoyable, and memorable week.
As a trip leader, I can’t sing the Walk Japan guides’ praises enough. They make my job easy with their positive attitudes, careful planning, and flexibility. I feel like they truly partner with our trip teachers and also make it a goal to connect to our students and spend the week alongside them. We’re already looking at calendars to make sure next year’s students get the same tremendous experience with Walk Japan!"
Barry Barankin of the Head Royce School
"I just realized I haven’t yet told you what an absolutely wonderful trip to Japan we had. Mario was spectacular. How he made the movement of 27 people through 1500km of Japan, including so many one-of-a-kind experiences, SOOO smooth and pleasant was frankly magical. Plus, he was supremely competent, confident, patient, knowledgeable, open to new things, and downright nice to be around. When we said goodbye to him at Narita the students just swamped him and wouldn’t let go. The four adults felt the same way. We’re going to have a little reunion in the Bay Area in August, I believe.
For me it was the trip to Japan I hoped but never expected to have. We did some things I’ve done before, and a lot of things that were new and exciting for me. Best of all, I got to do them with my daughter, who was 7 months old the first/last time she was in Japan. She has always wanted to know why Japan was so important to me, and at the end of the trip she said she not only understood, but that it had become important to her in that same way. Sitting in the Heian Shrine garden surrounded by the irises in bloom, as I had in 1962 but this time with Meghan, was a gift. And there were so many moments like that!"
Ashley Ault of The Harbour School
"The trip remains a vivid memory for students years later as they visit classrooms discussing the highlights from the year before. Students are enthralled by the peacefulness, artistry, tradition and natural beauty surrounding them along the route. For me as a teacher I am always so impressed with the sense of self and independence that the students take away from the trip. Walk Japan allows students to experience history and the evolution of Japan through their knowledgable guides and friendly and professional organization."
Brian Christian, Principal of the British School in Tokyo
Running Through History
It is dark. It is raining. The occasional vehicle sweeps past, splashing up rainbows of spray beneath the streetlights. It is four o’clock in the morning and a motley crew of slightly dazed students and teachers from the British School in Tokyo are huddled together at one end of an ancient bridge in Kyoto. They are about to find out if a crazy idea can possibly be made to work. They are preparing to run the Nakasendo Way.
It had all started months earlier with one of those what-if conversations. I had just met Paul Christie of Walk Japan and we were throwing around some thoughts about ways in which we could work together to do something special for BST’s 25th Anniversary; something that would involve students of different ages and open their eyes to the beauty and fascinating history of a Japan beyond the urban sprawl of Tokyo. Paul waxed lyrical about the Nakasendo Way, the ancient route from Kyoto to Tokyo through the Kiso Valley and over the Japanese Alps: a 360-mile journey from post town to post town that had reached the peak of its popularity in the Edo period and which probably hadn’t been covered in its entirety for a century or more. We couldn’t possibly take on something like that, could we? Could we?
A few months later, at the beginning of July, we were about to find out. Just like the Emperor’s elite messengers and countless merchants and pilgrims all those years ago, we were going to journey from Sanjo Ohashi in Kyoto to Tokyo’s Nihonbashi – and we were going to do it as an ekiden (a relay) in a little over five days.
What followed exceeded all of our expectations. The 16 students taking part, boys and girls, ranged in age from 12 through to 18 while the teachers and parents included the young and fit as well as the rather worn and decrepit – me! At times it was tough, but there were so many highlights: getting up before dawn and reaching a mountain pass by sunrise or jogging along quiet country roads through immaculate rice fields; an early morning run down a deserted post town street or watching fireflies by the river after a traditional Japanese supper. And, of course, there was the finish: the welcome on Nihonbashi, the whole school lined up to cheer us home on our return to Showa, the glow of accomplishment. We did it – but it would never have happened without Paul, Mario, Mayumi and Yohei from Walk Japan.
From start to finish it was a massively complicated logistical and physical challenge, and without their know-how, their limitless enthusiasm, determination and good humour we would never have carried it off. The last word must go to Paul Christie who was the architect of what will undoubtedly prove to be an unforgettable experience for all of us.
What an adventure! Let me offer a heartfelt thank you to all in the BST/WJ team. This is how the world should work: productive and inspirational – and so much fun!
Eric Usher, Canadian International School of Hong Kong
"Our first Experience Week trip to the Kunisaki region in November 2013 exceeded the expectations of both students and parents. Students’ reasons for choosing the trip varied, but were often one-dimensional (e.g., good food or relatively safe country), but they came away with a much broader appreciation of Japan, especially traditional Japan and the issues facing those who wish to maintain the traditional lifestyle.
Walk Japan worked with us to develop a trip that combined both action – plenty of hiking – and service through some small farming tasks. The key to the trip’s success was the human element, which took the students beyond sightseeing into true experience. Working alongside resident farmers, having the opportunity to participate in an overnight farmstay, spending a half-day interacting with a local monk, learning traditional crafts from local teachers, even trying to communicate with innkeepers – all contributed to students reflecting more deeply on their own lives and choices. Walk Japan did a great job arranging diverse experiences, and putting us at ease in unfamiliar circumstances. In particular, the guide who journeyed with us throughout the trip quickly developed a good rapport with the students, ensuring that their conversations with him clarified and extended their learning.
Overall, we were extremely pleased with this trip and have plans to return on a yearly basis. The final day visit to watch sumo provided an exclamation point to an eye-opening experience."
Janet Tan, Humanities Dept., Hong Kong International School
"This year marks the fifth year Ian Gill and I are bringing an interim group to Japan for a week’s hiking along the Nakasendo Trail. We look forward to it every year- and each year confirms for us that this is one of the best interims we offer.
For a start it is a new experience for 20 students who do not really know each other much at all, to walk for most of the day along a trail that lives its 1200 year old history. We engage in a unique way with the culture of an area that is both rural, through mountain trails and forests, and quietly urban with its villages and towns, with their traditional shops and houses as well as more modern supermarkets. What makes this trip such a fulfilling experience is that the students learn about the culture and history in an organic manner – as we are hiking, and as they put on their yukata each night at the inns they reach each day, as they eat traditional Japanese meals, and as they engage in activities with a tea master, with a traditional folk singer, and with the Walk Japan guides whose local expertise not only in the language and culture but in the history and terrain, is fantastic. The excursions to the onsens after a longs day’s hike are a treat for aching legs and tired bodies.
As a school trip it is perfect on several levels.
This interim is one faculty love to run. Outdoors all day, on the Nakasendo trail, everyday is different. The guides are great about stopping to give us information about an area or a landmark that we might otherwise miss, and are clearly comfortable about working with teenagers. By the end of the day we are all tired in the healthiest of ways, and even though we have groups of six or so sleeping together on tatami mats, they go to sleep quickly! An outstanding interim."
- Engagement – we spend the day walking and talking. It is an opportunity to see students engage in a natural way with a culture that is unfamiliar. We are not spending time looking at it through bus windows, but walking through villages and towns and forests so they can engage with the environment, and see it closely- and at a slower pace. The booklet that Walk Japan prepares for us, helps give the students a historical and cultural context for each day’s hike, without overloading them with too much information, about things to look out for and understand – like the jizo for example, that we see all along the way. The evening meal – in the inns provide a situation where it is easy to go round the long table and share observations and insights from the day’s walk. They love wearing the yukata provided and sitting cross-legged at breakfast and dinner tables with home-cooked or inn-cooked beautifully presented Japanese meals. The evenings with the tea master, and the folk singer are always enjoyed.
- Challenge – the hiking can be a bit of a challenge for some, but not impossible. The days are broken by breaks at coffee shops, and of course for lunch. Our pre interim hike is essential to see levels of fitness and endurance! There are cultural challenges – the onsens are fantastic after a days hike – and for some this is a little uncomfortable at first, but most students end up loving them. We don’t insist students take part and all the onsens have a waiting area where those kids who really do not want to go in, or cannot for some reason, can sit and read or talk while everyone else goes in.
- Relationships. Because we have mixed grade levels taking part, and the students do not initially know each other much at all, this interim provides a great opportunity for genuine connections. They support each other, and because we walk and talk all day, they shift around on the trails and ‘clicques’ just never form. You see seniors and freshmen mixing comfortably.
January 28, 2014
Caroline Lui, Chinese International School, Hong Kong
"Walk Japan is a professional company who customised and prepared our trip to suit our needs. From planning to implementation they paid a lot of attention to detail and made it easy for us to implement. Students found the trip engaging, and even though many have visited Japan before, this trip provided eye-opening experiences that students would never normally experience on a holiday. This gave our students new insight into Japanese culture and was well balanced with physical, cultural and community service activities as well. I highly recommend Walk Japan's school tours for schools, so much so I'm already in the process of organising next year's tour already."
Nathan Mees, Seoul Foreign School
"It proved to be life giving to our students in ways I could not have predicted. It is a regular topic of conversation in many of my classes, which is exactly the purpose of our Discovery Week. On a personal level, it was a much needed reprieve for Angela and myself in the midst of a crazy fall and it would have been a much longer semester without our time. Brilliant all around."
Chad Lyew, Almaty International School
"Walk Japan was able to offer a custom trip for us that perfectly fit our needs for our week without walls trip. It had the perfect mix of city, countryside, culture, service learning, physical activities, and a homestay at the end. We were late in getting our trips organized, but Walk Japan was able to accommodate our requests and provide all the visa support required. Our professional guide was informative, friendly and really became one of the group. He gave us a deep insight into Japanese culture and was able to meet all of our needs. This was a truly meaningful trip for our students and really provided the learning that we seek on a week without walls trip. I highly recommend Walk Japan for any future school tour and we plan to use them next year."
If you or your school are interested in organizing a trip to Japan, you can find more information on our planning your school trip page, or you can see how our school trips are organized by looking at our sample programmes.