Trip To Japan On Payson High Students’ Agenda

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Will they eat sushi on top of Mt. Fuji?

Likely not while climbing, but some Payson students could travel to Japan next summer under the guide of teachers Anna Van Zile and Doug Eckhardt.

Van Zile, a high school English teacher who also co-advises Payson High School’s Hike and Ski Club, said Japanese culture has interested local students for years. Several years ago, she taught Japanese in town during a school break.

Then, during a 2007 trip to Japan, she thought, “Gosh, I would love to take a group of high school kids here.”

She explored the idea. The trip’s pinnacle would involve hiking Mt. Fuji, which Van Zile coined “the stamp of Japan.” The 12,388-foot-high mountain has only a two-month hiking season — July and August. According to Van Zile, the mountain is a magnet for international hikers.

Students could learn the Japanese language and culture, as well as engage in a rail pass lesson, which Van Zile said offers cultural insight in itself.

On a previous visit to Japan, her backpack briefly became stuck in the doors of the train. The conductor yelled at her for costing mere seconds of efficiency.

The trains travel between 120 and 180 miles per hour, and visitors can purchase passes to traverse the entire country.

By organizing the trip through the district, and not a professional, for-profit student travel program, Eckhardt, who teaches automotive technology, said students can score huge savings.

A professionally-led trip can cost roughly $7,000. By contrast, students could fly to Japan and stay there for 12 days for roughly $2,400. The two biggest costs — airfare and hotel — would remain undefined until closer to the trip because of fluctuating costs and dollar values.

Eckhardt assured school board members during a recent presentation of Japan’s safety. “I couldn’t really find a place in that city that was unsafe,” he said.

Students would travel to Shinjuku, a popular shopping district in Tokyo, climb Mt. Fuji, see the Kyoto cultural district, and the Himeji Castle, which Van Zile said many consider the most beautiful of all the castles.

Students could enjoy a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and go shopping for kimonos.

On the return trip, organizers are contemplating a visit to Honolulu to see the Pearl Harbor Memorial.

The teachers have already met with parents to discuss the trip, and a handful of students have already turned in a deposit. The targeted student-to-teacher ratio is two adults for every 12 to 14 students.

Fund-raising events like the ongoing painting of house numbers on curbs for increased visibility will help pay for the trip.

“It’s not just another trip,” Van Zile said. It’s a cultural experience.

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