Go! Japan

Go! Japan

Eighty students, 27 adults, six tour coordinators, three large buses – Punahou was big in Japan this Spring Break.

The Symphony Orchestra, Academy Chorale, boys varsity volleyball team, and supporting faculty, coaches and staff embarked on a 10-day trip to Tokyo and Osaka to perform, play, visit schools, participate in community service and see the sights.

Joined by President Jim Scott ’70 and Academy Principal Emily McCarren, the diverse group immersed themselves in the culture and history of Japan – not to mention the green tea ice cream! – and made meaningful connections with each other, their counterparts in Japan, Student Global Leadership Institute (SGLI) students and Punahou alumni along the way. 

Monday, March 19 3:40 p.m. Arrive at Narita Airport in Japan

Go! Japan

Touchdown in Japan

The group boarded the tour buses and made their way into the country’s busy capital. On the way, the students learned the fundamentals about their host country: that traffic passes from the left, instructions on how the famous Japanese washlet toilets work and how to pay with Yen. 

Tuesday, March 20 10:07 a.m. Travel by Shinkansen to Osaka

Faster than a Speeding Bullet

If the Shinkansen (bullet train) arrives more than one minute late to its destination, the conductor issues a formal apology. The group mentally prepared for the 60 seconds they had to enter once the slick doors of the train opened, and succeeded with flying colors.

1 p.m. Visit the Osaka Castle

Go! Japan

A Historic Landmark

Students explored the 16th-century shogunate Osaka Castle, which is surrounded by a moat and park with plum, peach and cherry blossom trees. They climbed the eight stories to the lookout at the top and were rewarded for their efforts with a striking cityscape view.  

Wednesday, March 21 8:30 a.m. Arrive at Shitennoji Senior High School, Osaka

9 a.m. Volleyball game

Friendly Competition

“Ohayougozaimasu! Good morning!” The welcome from faculty, some visiting from other campuses, warmed students as they entered the school from the rainy and chilly streets of Osaka.

Not only did Shitennoji have a very coordinated cheer squad, complete with a catchy chant and plastic clapper noise makers, they also cheered for the Punahou players! ‘Let’s go … Punahou … ey!’ I had never seen cheering in support of the opposing sports team before. It impressed upon me how truly welcoming and genuine people can be to opponents and total strangers.

Nicole Ikeda ’18

12:15 p.m. Intercultural concert

Honolulu City Lights in Osaka

At the school’s ornately decorated concert venue, Punahou’s Orchestra and Chorale participated in an intercultural concert with elementary and high school students from Shitennoji. A few practiced their Japanese language skills as they addressed the audience to give greetings and share about Punahou and the selected songs. Shitennoji students, who had been practicing for this event, joined them in “Honolulu City Lights.” The volleyball team gave their classmates a standing ovation. 

Performing with different people from across the world was profound and demonstrated the power that music has to connect people across language and cultural barriers.

Anna Kimata ’18

2 p.m. Visit to Shitennoji Temple Orphanage 

Time to Play

Punahou students were showered with applause and greetings of “aloha” as they entered the Shitennoji Temple orphanage. The excited young hosts quickly invited the Punahou students to play before beckoning them towards the miniature cultural festival they created for the special day, complete with a magic show, balloon art, fresh mochi treats, a taiko drumming lesson and more. The Punahou high school students warmed quickly to the children who led them around by the hand or engaged them in friendly games of tag.

The students were reluctant to leave their newfound young friends. Both groups bid each other aloha and flashed shakas, their spirits lifted from a playful lesson of empathy learned through service to others.  

Thursday, March 22 10 a.m. School visit to Shitennoji Junior School, Osaka


As students entered the school’s auditorium, Shitennoji Junior School’s entire student body was clapping for their arrival. After greetings were made in both languages, the Shitennoji Junior School students shared songs on the koto, a Japanese stringed instrument, and Buddhist chants.

Punahou students returned the gesture with a mele oli, which Ke‘alohi Reppun ’99, co-director of Hawaiian Studies at Kuaihelani, had taught them so they could share about their home. After all, you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’re from, a key component to study abroad opportunities.

Along with Reppun, Japanese Language faculty Naomi Omizo prepared the group for their trip by teaching them important Japanese customs, like proper bowing and omiyage gift exchange. She was also the one who paved the way for the visit to Shitennoji via a partnership with the school.

Afterward, students followed the children to their classrooms where the youngsters led them in calligraphy and origami practice, all while testing their English and standing by to assist the Punahou students as they tried their hand at the traditional art forms. “Today we are learning to write a Chinese character which means harmony. Let’s have fun,” said the hosts.

The young Shitennoji students saw Punahou’s buses off, running through the school’s soccer fields, jumping and waving all the way until the bus was out of sight. 

Sharing laughs as we ate lunch and folded paper cranes both provided optimal Japanese language practice and reminded me that despite our starkly different ages and backgrounds, these students and I could still have meaningful interactions.

Isabelle Rhee ’18

Oh! Deer!

The group visited the city of Nara, the capital of Japan from 710 to 794. Their first stop was the Todaiji Temple, home to the famous bronze Daibutsu (Great Buddha) statue, which was built in 752. The students were lucky to witness cherry blossom trees in full bloom while taking pictures in front of the picturesque temple. Many of them lit incense at the entrance of the temple and purchased omamori, Japanese amulets commonly sold at Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.

6 p.m. Depart Kyoto Station on Shinkansen, back to Tokyo 

Fast Food

One of the joys of riding the Shinkansen is partaking in the bento box, a meal packed with such precision it’s just as pleasing to the eyes as it is to the tongue. Consuming it at 200 miles an hour makes it some of the best fast food in the world. 

After visiting Todaiji, we explored Nara Park, which surrounds the temple. Nara Park is home to over 1,200 freely roaming deer. We were able to purchase biscuits to feed the deer, many of whom are trained to bow before being fed by strangers. It was such a fun and memorable opportunity to visit the signature cultural sites of Nara. From exploring Todaiji Temple, the largest wooden building in the world, to taking selfies with the Nara deer, this trip has provided us with so many new, once-in-lifetime experiences.

Isabelle Rhee ’18

Friday, March 23, 9:30 a.m. Students arrive at Keio Senior High School at the Hiyoshi Campus, Yokohama

A 50-Year Partnership

At Keio Senior High School, while the orchestra and choir students were setting up for a concert, volleyball players participated in a sports practice of a different sort – the Japanese martial art Kendo.

The players watched as the Kendo students crossed the room dressed in protective armor and wielding wooden swords, rapping their opponents on the helmets. Along with the clap of the bamboo hitting the metal face grate of the helmet came shouts from the swordsmen expressing their fighting spirit with every move. When it came time for the volleyball boys to try, many were hesitant to strike their Japanese partners on the head, but they quickly picked up the new techniques.

Before the orchestra and choir performance by Punahou and Keio students, the school hosted a lunch reception for Punahou. The two schools are celebrating an unprecedented 50 years of partnership.

The relationship between Punahou and Keio is special. It’s the longest lasting Japan-America school partnership in the history of both countries.

President Dr. Jim Scott ‘70

A day 50 years in the making

In the late ‘60s, Wo International Center’s first director, Sig Ramler, envisioned a partnership between one of the top schools in America and one of the top schools in Japan. The exchange between the two schools would create a lifelong relationship and, with it, a chance to work together to make the world a better place.

“That was 50 years ago,” said President Jim Scott, speaking at a reception at Keio Senior High School. “We are here to honor the years that have come before us – and the thousands of Punahou and Keio graduates who are connected to one another through the Pan Pacific program, school exchanges and Student Global Leadership Institute – and to also celebrate the next 50 years.”

Mikio Furuta, headmaster of Keio Senior High School, responded through a translator, “All of us here are the ones who will make it possible for our strong close relationship to continue in the future. Today’s visit is one step forward for our long-lasting relationship.”

Some trace the Punahou-Keio connection back to 1816, when Keio founder Fukuzawa Yukichi crossed the Pacific Ocean and reached the U.S. On the way back, the ship stopped in Hawai‘i and Yukichi witnessed Punahou students performing rhetorical exercises at Fort Street Church.  

6:30 p.m. Alumni Panel at the Tokyo-American Club, Tokyo

Global Networking

The students attended a special panel discussion of Punahou alumni who are living and working in Japan. The alumni – Ernest Higa ’70, Rory Spire ’92, Brent Kobayashi ’01, Jadie Geil ’17 and moderator Kei Ando ’93 – answered students’ questions before joining an alumni reception, which included former participants of the Punahou-hosted Student Global Leadership Institute, proof of how broad the Punahou community is.

The Punahou alumni who spoke offered valuable insights into their experiences moving to Japan from Hawai‘i. Each of their stories exemplified the variety of ways that the graduates have used their Punahou education to thrive in a diverse global community.

The panel discussion also served as a reminder of the power of the Punahou network – an organization that connects people around the world.

I was able to reunite with two of my friends that I met during the Student Global Leadership Institute this past summer. SGLI was an amazing opportunity to make friends from different countries. It’s always fun to reconnect with the people I meet and experience the culture of their home country. Even though we were only able to spend a short time together at the event, I was glad we had the chance to see each other again.

Anna Kimata ’18

Saturday, March 24, 10 a.m. Arrive at Fujisan World Heritage Center, Yamanashi

Hitting the Slopes

Students visited one of Japan’s most famous landmarks: Mount Fuji. Commonly referred to as Fuji-san, it is the highest peak in Japan at 3,776 meters tall. When they arrived at the museum, students were surprised to observe a layer of snow on the ground; for some, it was the first time ever seeing snow! After exploring the museum, which housed an impressive model of Mount Fuji, an impromptu snowball fight took place.

The view of the mountain from the First Station was breathtaking. The clouds covering the mountain cleared up before we left, so we were able to take many photos of the snowy summit. Witnessing such a picturesque natural landmark up close was unforgettable. As a resident of sunny Honolulu, I know that I will look back fondly at our snowy day at Mount Fuji.

Isabelle Rhee ’18

Sunday, March 25, 2018 9 a.m. Arrive at Sundai Gakuen High School

On the court, there’s a sense of competition, but off the court, it’s about celebrating each other. The Japanese teams really showed that by welcoming us into their communities and treating us like we were a part of them.

Rick Tune ’93, volleyball coach and Academy dean

Embracing Differences

Punahou and Sundai Gakuen High School’s administrators exchanged some uplifting words before the volleyball game. From the rafters above the gym, the Sundai Gakuen boys held up printouts of both the U.S. flag and Hawaiian flag to welcome and support Punahou’s team.  

The task of education is to produce a new generation that understands the value of international relationships and friendships.

Sundai Principal Kanehide Seo

Everyone around the world wants the same opportunities for our children. This friendship is greatly appreciated by all of us at Punahou.

Academy Principal Emily McCarren

12 p.m. Tokyo sightseeing: Meiji Shine, Harajuku and Tokyo Tower

Out and About

The group experienced the famous sights of the bustling metropolis, from the ultramodern to the traditional.

We visited Emperor Meiji and Empress Shouken’s Meiji Shrine. We later took a short walk to the extremely crowded Harajuku, an upbeat shopping district popular among young people for cosplay (costume play) and highly fashionable clothing boutiques, cafés and colorful shops.

Nicole Ikeda ’18

Monday, March 26, 2018 9 a.m. Volleyball game at Toa Gakuen High School

Go Puns!

The musicians practiced their cheers on the bus, and made buff and blue signs to support the volleyball team. Throughout the trip, the cheering section grew increasingly rambunctious as the students learned more about the game. Alumni who joined the trip added to the cheering.

During some downtime after the match, a group of musicians and volleyball players crowded around the net together, bumping the ball high into the air and laughing.

1 p.m. Arrive at Gakushuin Boy’s High School, Tokyo

A Perfect Matcha

At Gakushuin in Tokyo, which participates in SGLI, the adults of the trip were honored to take part in a tea ceremony. The group was awed by the quiet practice, hospitality of the hosts and the symbolic gesture of peace the ceremony represents. 

3:30 p.m. Final concert with Gakushuin students

Aloha ‘Oe

Gakushuin and Punahou students shared their talents on stage. The Hawaiian performances and hula transported members of the audience across the Pacific.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018 5 p.m. Depart Tokyo for Narita Airport


After a day of shopping for last-minute snacks and souvenirs, students boarded the tour buses for the last time to make their way back to Hawai‘i.

You have been one group. You’ve not been three. I hope this sense of community extends beyond Japan and to campus when you get back home.

Chai Reddy, Wo International Center director

We always look for ways to cross-pollinate and ‘shrink’ the campus. By having these different groups together, students gained a deeper appreciation that there are multiple ways of being excellent.

Rick Tune ’93

9:30 a.m. Arrive in Honolulu

Broadened Horizons

Landing home in Hawai‘i came with a mix of emotions. While happy to be back in their warm island home, some wished the trip had lasted longer. As with any trip abroad, no student returns home the same as he or she left. A glimpse of the greater world leaves all wide-eyed with a sense of possibility and exhilarated for future explorations.

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