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Parents and schools looking to expose their children to nature are turning increasingly to experience-oriented family and school excursions.

In one such program launched three years ago by the Kinki Nippon Tourist Co. travel agency, kids observe sea fireflies at Shima Marineland in the resort city of Shima, Mie Prefecture.

“Wonderful,” children on a recent excursion shouted when seeing the sea fireflies glowing bluish-white in a water tank to which an electric current was applied. Some children were taking notes.

“I wanted to give my daughters an opportunity to experience something unusual,” said Yasuhiro Watanabe, a 32-year-old company worker who participated in the program with his daughters.

The program costs 500 yen for tourists who stay at nearby hotels. The overall number of visitors to the resort city has been on the decline, but the excursion program has seen participants increase by 1,000 a year.

At Nemunosato Resort in Shima, instructors open outdoor classrooms for children to observe the stars and creatures living in seawater and wetlands. These classrooms are popular with children looking for research targets for the summer holidays.

“This is the only facility that can take advantage of nature for experience-oriented classrooms,” said Yoshinobu Torinoumi, the 50-year-old Nemunosato manager and guide for stargazers. The resort facility boasts a higher occupancy rate than nearby hotels.

School excursions have dramatically changed in recent years.

“Excursions to take children to Tokyo Disneyland are out of date,” said Shigeru Harada, 44, who runs a small inn that accommodates students on experience-oriented excursions on Shiraishi Island in the Seto Inland Sea.

The island has grown popular with teachers eager to have kids experience an island life, including kayaking, traditional dances and salt production from seawater.

Less than 20 percent of junior high schools had experience-based learning excursions in fiscal 1994, but the percentage rose sharply to 51 percent in fiscal 2002.

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