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Safe and nearby locations involving short stays are increasingly preferred by schools in Japan for student trips amid the spread of coronavirus infections.

Almost all school trips that had been planned for spring this year were canceled, according to a foundation related to such travel. Many trips scheduled for autumn were also called off, while some schools began to reconsider the cancellations on the back of growing calls by the government and others for the schools to help students create good memories.

To reduce infection risks, schools are organizing single- or two-day trips — shorter than those before the coronavirus crisis — and are tending to avoid urban areas as destinations, instead choosing historic sites or scenic spots nearby. Also as part of efforts to prevent infections, some schools are opting to hire additional buses and secure more rooms at lodging facilities by utilizing subsidies from local governments and funds saved through the use of the central government’s Go To Travel tourism promotion campaign.

Sanno Elementary School in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, changed its student trip destinations to locations within the prefecture, such as Chusonji, a Buddhist temple that is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, and areas devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Students of the school also visited Iwate Tsunami Memorial Museum in Rikuzentakata, which opened last year to pass on the lessons of the huge tsunami that hit the coastal city to future generations. “I was shocked by the change of destinations, but I’m happy to be here,” 11-year-old Mina Nakamura, a sixth grader, said.

“For sixth graders, the trip marks the culmination of their elementary school life, and I’m glad that all students participated,” Toshinobu Goto, head of the school, said.

The museum is set to welcome some 200 schools by March next year, up five-fold from fiscal 2019, which ended in March this year.

Upopoi, a museum introducing the culture of Ainu indigenous people in Hokkaido, has become a popular school trip destination amid the coronavirus pandemic. | KYODO
Upopoi, a museum introducing the culture of Ainu indigenous people in Hokkaido, has become a popular school trip destination amid the coronavirus pandemic. | KYODO

Hokkaido’s Upopoy, a center opened in July this year in the town of Shiraoi to introduce the culture of Ainu indigenous people, has also been a popular destination amid the pandemic.

Students from more than 350 schools have already visited the center, most of them from within Hokkaido. “It has been an opportunity for people to turn their eyes to local spots,” an official said.

Chiran Peace Museum in the city of Minamikyushu in Kagoshima Prefecture is also attracting many visitors from within the prefecture. The museum exhibits items left by Japanese troops who died as pilots while on suicide attack missions during World War II.

Conversely, the number of school trips to Tokyo has plummeted, with bookings for about 50,000 students and teachers canceled at large hotels in the capital.

“I think central Tokyo won’t get school trips back for the time being,” a hotel employee said.

Students from Iwate Prefecture visit the Iwate Tsunami Memorial Museum in Rikuzentakata during their school trip in September. | KYODO
Students from Iwate Prefecture visit the Iwate Tsunami Memorial Museum in Rikuzentakata during their school trip in September. | KYODO

Kyoto, also a popular destination, has seen school trips decline by two-thirds compared with ordinary years.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in the atomic-bombed city of Hiroshima is also seeing a plunge in the number of school trips. The number of lectures by hibakusha, or atomic bomb survivors, has dropped to less than a 10th of that for last year.

Junko Yokoya, a staff member at the museum, expressed regret at the situation, noting that the museum would give students “precious opportunities” to learn about peace.

The museum is now working on online streaming and sending out lecturers in an effort to reach out to people amid the crisis.

The government of Nara Prefecture, meanwhile, is sending local souvenirs to students who could not visit the prefecture due to the pandemic. “We hope to maintain ties so that Nara will be among the candidates for school trip destinations after the coronavirus crisis is contained,” a prefectural official said.

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