There is some nervous laughter as we spot the ‘Onsen day’ on our itinerary. Onsen is the Japanese word for hot spring, which is so ingrained in Japanese culture, that it’s something you shouldn’t miss when visiting the land of the rising sun. Bathing suits are banned, and this rule is non-negotiable. I can understand why my fellow travel companions are somewhat apprehensive; this level of nudity is not a social norm in Australia.
For now, we sit in the boardroom of Mitsui & Co., the window perfectly frames the beauty of the Sydney Opera House. Mitsui & Co. is one of the largest corporate groups in Japan. It’s business activities have a significant global reach, including into Australia.
Today there are eight students from as many universities around Australia. At this moment in time, we are strangers who are about to embark together on a tour of Japan for 21-days. We have been sponsored by the Mitsui Educational Foundation to visit Japan and learn about the culture, business and history of this fascinating country.
Fast-forward two weeks. The eight of us wear yukatas (cotton kimonos) and sip sake (Japanese rice wine). We sit on the floor as we eat dinner at the restaurant of our Ryokan (traditional inn). The dinner table buzzes with laughter. An outsider would think we have known each other for years. Especially after today’s bonding experience in the Onsen.
We return to our rooms to find our futon (quilt bedding) has been laid on the ground. As I drift off to sleep on my futon, inches from the ground, I am sure that I will later look back on the day and consider it to be the favourite of my time in Japan.
Only a week later I part ways with my fellow travel companions and board my connecting flight to Brisbane.
As I do after most experiences, I begin to reflect on the tour. I think to myself, what is my most memorable experience from this trip?
Has it been:
- The networking events with the Australian Ambassador and the Consul General?
- The Japanese homestay weekend and high school visit?
- Viewing the Japanese Kabuki theatre or the Onsen and Ryokan day?
- The tours of the Nippon Steel, Ozeki Sake, Sharp and Toyota factories?
- Or maybe it was one of our many visits to places of historical and cultural significance in Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, Nara or Hiroshima?
This tour has been so unique and we have experienced so much in our three weeks in Japan. I finally conclude that the opportunity to interact with such a variety of Japanese people, for me, has been the hallmark of this program.
There are a number of opportunities at QUT to gain international experience and enrich your tertiary studies. It is my understanding that QUT will be one of the selected universities again in 2016. If you are interested in finding out more details about the Mitsui Educational Foundation, visit the QUT website.
Finally, I must say a big thank you to Mitsui & Co., whose hospitality has far exceeded my expectations. I have nothing but fond memories of Japan and Mitsui & Co.
Until next time,