Now that everyone is getting settled in back in the US, we took some time to reflect on the trip and all the things we’ve done and learned. We’ve seen incredible art, fantastic views, and new ways of life. We’ve eaten some crazy new foods and cool new drinks (milk tea, anyone?). We’ve learned about monastery life, modern Buddhism, Shinto purification rituals, Taoist temples, meditation, each other, and ourselves. Among the many lessons, was one we hadn’t entirely expected: how to get a large group to all of these amazing places. A lot of our time was spent travelling from place to place, and we ended up using several modes of transportation to get there.
Obviously, air travel was definitely a significant part of our trip. We had a total of six flights over the course of the trip: three getting to Japan, one to Hong Kong, and two back to the US. For some of us, the flight to Tokyo was our first overseas flight, and for most of us it was our first flight of that length. The trip to Japan consisted of a short flight to Chicago followed by a 14 hour flight to Tokyo and a three and a half hour flight to Osaka. Getting back to Minnesota meant a 13 hour flight to Dallas and a two hour flight to Minnesota. By comparison, the four and a half hour flight from Osaka to Hong Kong was a breeze! All in all, we spent over 30 hours flying during this trip, and we got very efficient at going through security and customs.
Trains were by far our most common means of transportation in Hong Kong and were how we moved between cities in Japan. The underground system (similar to subways here in the US) in Hong Kong was very user-friendly and easy to navigate, which was a nice change from the other confusing train stations in Japan. However, our favorite train was definitely the bullet train in Japan. Watching it pick up speed was incredible! The ride itself was quite pleasant, as the seating is set up like the seat in a plane but much roomier. We all agreed that the trip felt closer to twenty minutes than the two hours we were actually on the train.
Buses were our primary mode of transportation in Japan, and getting 20 people and their luggage onto a busy bus was always an adventure! We occasionally had to go in two groups, but we always got everyone to our destination. We also took taxis a few times when buses either wouldn’t get us where we needed or weren’t available. We especially enjoyed that the signs at Japanese bus stops indicate when a bus is one or two stations away, which was very useful.
In addition to the conventional modes of transportation (and lots of walking), we also used several more unusual vehicles. We got to ride in a gondola up and down part of Mt. Hiei. The seats were built to accommodate for the slope of the mountain, so it was quite comfortable. We also took two different cable cars (one up the last section of Mt. Hiei and one over the mountains to Hong Kong’s Big Buddha) and two ferries. A few students rented bikes on their own time, and one student even got carried up a mountain in a palanquin! The rest of us had to walk, so needless to say we were pretty jealous.
We’ve had a lot of adventures, many of which happened on the way to our destinations. In the end, even though we sometimes had to get creative (or run through a train station), we always got where we needed to go. Thank you so much to Professor Kopf, CY, and everyone else who made this trip not only possible but successful. These last three weeks have been an incredible experience that none of us will forget any time soon!