By Lilith VanDyke ’26

Editor’s Note: A key part of Morgan Park Academy’s global curriculum is a week of school-wide global explorations each March, which this year included an Upper School trip to explore culture and history in Japan.

Students visited temples, castles, and shrines; experienced a traditional tea ceremony; viewed the world’s most populous city from Tokyo Tower; snacked and shopped in the Harajuku district; conquered the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing; feasted on sushi, ramen, yakitori, and okonomiyaki — and much more!

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Project Week is always one of my favorite parts of being an MPA student, and this year’s trip to Japan was more than spectacular. I loved every minute of it.

Our journey began with a long overnight flight out of O’Hare, and then a short layover in Taiwan. We got to eat beef noodle soup that our teacher, Dr. Zhao, recommended to us and also stopped in airport shops like Sanrio and the LEGO store.

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Around 20 hours after leaving Chicago, we were finally in Tokyo, Japan. We met our tour guide, Tak-san, who would teach us all about historical sites. Our first stop was the Shibuya Crossing. The crossing was huge; people filled every corner of the street. It was hard to walk in such a big group of people, but stayed together by following Tak-san’s flag: a long, retractable pole with a small plushie at the end of it.

We explored a huge, six-floor mall near the crossing, and then checked into our hotel and went to eat dinner. Almost every night we walked to get snacks from a 7-Eleven or other convenience store nearby. Convenience stores in Japan felt like a four-star restaurant — you could buy a whole meal for under 4 USD!

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Our second day in Japan was my favorite. We started the morning off by visiting the Tokyo Tower to see the city from up high. The tower was fire-hydrant red with white stripes. We had to take an elevator to get to the top floor. The building was so tall, but I only realized it when we were on the elevator for so long. One level had glass panels on the floor, which was terrifying in the best way possible.

We then set off to the TeamLab Planets interactive art museum. Never did I think I was going to be asked to take my shoes off in a museum so we could walk through water. The music, textures, and visuals were so calming. One room was like a memory foam pit that was covered in soft sheets, and another had a dome ceiling that had projections of blooming flowers. There was also a garden area with very few exhibits. My favorite was one with mirrors everywhere and flowers that were suspended from the ceiling.

After that wonderful sensory experience, we ate lunch and visited the Meiji Shrine. The entrance had a large brown torii (gate) with gold details. Before we entered the shrine, we had to purify our hands and mouths with water from a bamboo fountain.

Afterward, we went to our final place of the day, the Harajuku District. More specifically, Takeshita Street. This was almost as crowded as the Shibuya Crossing but on a narrower street. We had a few hours to eat and shop here. Harajuku was my favorite part of Japan. The different fashion styles and extreme types of clothing were so unique.

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Our first destination for day three was the Suginami Animation Museum, which was very interactive. We could draw our characters, make a flipbook, watch movies and television, and even do voiceover audio for a short video. They even had a library of manga and DVDs.

Our next stop was the Imperial Palace Garden. This had a huge field and trail that circled it. Some cherry blossoms were in bloom, making for some great photos!

The final place we visited today was the Sensoji temple. It greeted us with a large red gate, with a giant lantern hanging from the center. To reach the shrine, we had to walk down a long street of shops and street food places. We had some shopping time before we went into the temple.

Afterward, we walked across the street to get a tempura dinner. This was a selection of battered and fried fish/vegetables with miso soup as a starter. Once we did our nightly convenience store run, we packed our bags to get ready for our next hotel.

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The next morning, we checked out of the Tokyo hotel early and rode a bus to get to Hakone, which took up the majority of our morning. Odawara Castle was our first destination. This was a tall castle that was like a museum inside. It had many artifacts, including suits of armor. There was also a balcony that had a stunning view of the city. We then went to Lake Ashi and on a short cruise where we saw Mount Komagatake.

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This morning we were again, going to a new hotel in Kyoto. But today we took a bullet train instead of a bus. Before we got on our bullet train, we picked up lunch from a huge market. We saw the Kasuga Grand Shrine. It had many red buildings and lanterns. We then visited the Nara Deer Park (one of my favorites). This was filled with friendly deer that you could feed and a whole section of stone carvings. Our ending visit on this day was to the Todaiji Temple. This was a large brown and ivory building. Inside is an enormous statue of Buddha made with bronze.

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Our second to last day began with Arashiyama, a bamboo forest. We walked through a small trail that had bamboo growing in every place possible. At some points, the bamboo even covered the sky.

A few blocks away, we got lunch and shopped. I went to the Miffy Bakery, which had adorable and delicious pastries in the shapes of different characters. After lunch, we participated in a tea ceremony. We prepared matcha and were given two different sweet treats (a sugar tablet and mochi) to enjoy beforehand. The person teaching us about tea ceremonies talked about etiquette and proper ways to hold, drink, and make our tea.

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Our last day was bittersweet. We had a lot of fun and made wonderful memories with one another. Following breakfast, we packed our bags and traveled to Osaka for our flight home. After a safe — and long — return journey, we said goodbye and marked the end of Project Week 2024.

I am beyond excited for what’s to come next year!


Lilith is a sophomore at Morgan Park Academy.

Want more from Global Week? Check out stories and photos from our other trips.