Thank you SET-J!!!

Upon my arrival back in the States, family and friends have asked me about my trip. It is hard to put into words how truly magical my trip to Japan was. The experiences that I had were extremely rewarding both personally and professionally. I was exposed to new experiences that extended my comfort zone, saw new forms of beauty, learned from both adults and children in many different contexts and met many generous individuals.

The amount of effort put into the trip and the careful planning done by SET-J was evident throughout ever step of the way. Your attention to detail allowed everything to go smoothly. I know I was able to see and do things I would not have without your guidance.

I am equally thankful for the many families in Japan who gave their time to host us and show us around your beautiful country. I wish that I could have brought back the kindness that everyone showed us in Japan to Boston.

Please know that Japan was everything I dreamed it would be and more. I am lucky to have had so many enriching experiences throughout my trip. I am lucky to have so many wonderful connections on the other side of the world. And I am lucky for the continued support of SET-J who made this all possible.

With great gratitude, Arigatou gozaimasu

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Time in Japan with former Students

Throughout the last few days of my trip, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting many areas of Japan with former students. I feel very fortunate that they were willing and excited to show us some of their favorite places. I know I got to experience many things I never would have if I had been exploring Japan without them. After visiting Rios Wattanabe’s school on Wednesday, we went back to his house for a little while. This was my first experience in a Japanese home. I enjoyed seeing Rio’s bedroom and study room as well as the tatami room his family has in their apartment. I also saw that Rio has kept many of his projects from when he was in 2G. This made me happy to know that he has brought a part of 2G with him back to Japan. He also gave me a little token from his home which will serve as a remembrance of our wonderful day together.

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After visiting Toshiki and Riku’s school on Thursday, their mom took us to Kamakura. Kamakura is famous for the giant Buddha statue that stands there. Toshiki had a recommendation form a friend at school to go to Kamakura Komachidori, a famous shopping street, so we went there! What a great idea this was! Ms. Russell and I enjoyed walking in and out of the authentic shops on this street and viewing many unique items from this area. We were able to buy many gifts for family and friends. As an extra wonderful surprise, Yu and Go joined us in Kamakura. Yu was in my first second grade class and it was so nice to see him, his mom and brother in Japan. I was happy to hear that school is going well for him in Japan and he continues to practice karate. Did you know Yu was in World Championship for Karate last year!?

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On Saturday, we went with Rio Ito and her family to the Tokyo Station area for a delicious lunch. I was so excited to spend some more time with Rio! We went to a traditional style Japanese restaurant that overlooked Tokyo Station. We had an unbelievable view of the city! We then walked down to a cafe, where we enjoyed the famous fruit parfait at Sembikiya Nihonbashi Fruit Parlour. This parfait was perhaps the best thing I have ever tasted! It was vanilla soft cream topped with banana ice cream, whipped cream, mango sorbet, strawberry sauce and some of the best fruit you’ll ever eat. I’m still dreaming about it…

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Thank you to the many families who helped to make our days in the Tokyo area extra special!

Lawrence Reunion in Japan!

On Saturday night, former Lawrence Students from many areas of Japan came to our hotel in Shinnagawa for a reunion. There was a great amount of energy and excitement in the room as old friends were reunited.

It was so nice that so many families were able to be there. Personally, I was overjoyed to see four former 2G students and their families. I always grow rather attached to students and thus am saddened when they leave to go back home to Japan. I couldn’t believe how much students had matured and grown! Some are almost as tall as me!

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During the reunion, it made me happy to see friends who hadn’t seen each other in a few years, playing, laughing and sharing fond memories of Lawrence School and life in Boston. Many students are sending me back with messages for former teachers and classmates.

Ms. Russell and I joined in many of the games with the kids and got to chat with the parents. Whether we had met before or were meeting for the first time, we shared great conversation and we were all able to agree that Lawrence School is a very special place. The relationships that are established between families from Boston and those coming from Japan is truly special and rather unique. It was evident that the experiences that these families had in Boston have had great impact on their lives. Many parents shared that they feel grateful that their children were able to have this life experience in Boston. I know I feel lucky to have the chance to teach many students from Japan.

At the end of the evening, Ms. Russell and I once again thanked everyone for being there and for the great amount of thought and energy they put into our trip. When we left, it wasn’t goodbye it was “see you later”. This trip goes to show that we have connections all over the world and you never know when and where you are going to meet an old friend.

I went to bed on Saturday night with a happy heart and memories of a great night with so many generous people. I feel lucky to have been in Japan. I feel lucky to have seen so many former Lawrence students again. I feel lucky to be a teacher at Lawrence school and I am excited to share many of my memories with parents, teachers and students upon my return to Boston.

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Schools in Japan

Over the past three days, we’ve had the opportunity to visit three public schools in the Tokyo area. All the schools have been extremely welcoming, and Ms. Russell and I feel so grateful we were able to witness the similarities and differences between Japanese and American schools first-hand.

On Wednesday, we went to Fukushima to the Fukushima First Elementary School to visit former 2G student, Rio Wattanabe. I was so excited to see him again and travel to his school in Japan The school was extremely welcoming at the Vice Principal gave us a detailed overview on the school’s history. We learned that at this school there is only one class/ grade and there are about 32 kids in a class. We spent our time at the school with Rio’s fifth grade class. We were very exctied to be able to teach a lesson to the students with the help of Rio’s mom, Aya who served as our translator. First, we showed the class a slideshow about Boston and more specifically Lawrence School. The students were excited to see what schools look like in America. Then, we led the class in a game of “Simon Says”. The students picked up on the English words quickly and only a few students did the movements at the wrong time. It was a lot of fun! Lastly, we gave the students the opportunity to practice speaking in English and while having a simple conversation. Using modeled sentences and pictures, students practiced saying

“Hello my name is _____________”

“My favorite hobby is ____________”

“What do you like to do?”

The students were quite successful and Ms. Russell and I were very impressed!IMG_2999

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Before leaving for Japan, we had our second grade students in Boston make postcards for the students in Fukushima and were were excited to give them a book of Boston Landmarks. We were even more excited to find out that the students in Fukushima made a book for our classes explaining important features about Japan and many things that are a part of children’s culture. It will certainly serve as a wonderful teaching tool during out Japan unit!

After our school visit, the Wattanabe Family took us to a delicious authentic Japanese restaurant where we feasted on sushi. We then went to COM COM, which was a public indoor play space. It resembled the Boston Children’s Museum, and we had fun as Rio showed us all his favorite activities. These indoor play spaces were particularly popular after the earthquake.

On Thursday, we went to the Fujisawa city Daido Elementary School. Former Lawrence students Toshiki and Riku Suzuki are currently students at this school. We met Mrs. Oka in the lobby of our hotel at 6:45am. We were so happy she met us to lead us around and translate for us throughout the day! We would have been lost without her!

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Upon arriving in Fujisawa we were greeted at the train station by the Suzuki family. We were incredibly happy to see the dynamic brother duo- Toshiki and Riku. They greeted us in their Red Sox jerseys and we were off to the school, walking amongst the students. The principal of this school planned an interesting day for us and we were able to see many different class settings including a traffic safety class, gym, shodo, math and more! We even got to eat lunch in Toshiki’s 4th grade classroom! We especially enjoyed playing dodge-ball with the students at recess!

As an after school treat, Mrs. Suzuki took us to Kamakura for sightseeing and dinner! We really enjoyed this historic little town. It was especially exciting for Yu and Go Fukunaga to join us for this part of the day as well!
On Friday we met Mrs. Osaka at our hotel in Shinagawa and she  traveled with us to Mitaka where we met the Ito family. We went to Rio’s school, which was called Mitakashiritsu dai 5 Elementary School. Rio was in my class two years ago and I was beyond excited to see her again! We were greeted by the principal, vice principal, and Rio’s classroom teacher. Mr. Ito was kind enough to take the day off from work to translate for us.

 

At the beginning of the day, we introduced ourselves to the school during an assembly similar to Lawrence Community Meeting. As we walked around the school it was so nice to be greeted by the students. They were very excited to say “hello” in English. If you ever want to feel really popular, go to a school in Japan for the day as an American teacher!

During first period, we were invited to participate in the Shodo lesson. We were both a little nervous as we hadn’t had much practice with Japanese calligraphy. The students assured us though that we did an okay job. We spent the majority of the day in Rio’s fifth grade classroom. We observed a few lessons and got to participate in the sewing class as well as library. During library, we read the class the book Take me out to the Yakyu. The students seemed to enjoy this though it is written primarily in English. We also enjoyed playing card games with the students during break and chatting with them over lunch. We quickly learned that there are many more similarities than differences between American and Japanese students.

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The teachers and students at this school could not have been nicer! We feel incredibly lucky to have had the experience of visiting Rio’s school.

Classrooms:

The set-up of the classrooms we saw in Japan had some differences than our classrooms at Lawrence. At the entrance of the school, there was a space where students stored their outdoor shoes and umbrellas. Students’ backpacks were kept inside the classroom, because there were no cubbies or lockers outside. Japanese students tend to have the same backpack from kindergarten through fifth grade, and they can cost between $300 and $900. Oftentimes, grandparents give the backpacks as gifts. Students spend most of their time at their desks, which were organized in rows. The teacher stood in the front of the classroom to give directions. Student work was displayed on the walls, otherwise the walls were left empty. The math tools included an abacus and the clock from the wall.IMG_3136 IMG_2979

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General Environment of the Schools:

When the students are not in class, there seems to be more freedom for the children than we have at Lawrence. Most children get to school independently. We were surprised by the private school students (as young as first grade) who were taking the trains in Tokyo by themselves to get to school. The children who attended public schools would walk through the neighborhoods on their own beginning in first grade. They receive training on this each year, and sometimes, parents would wait in designated spots along the commute to make sure children are safe. Each student also has a alarm on their backpacks that they can pull if they have an emergency and need help from adults.

Once the students arrive at school, they can walk around the school freely while the teachers get ready for the day. The schools have music and chimes that can be heard over the loudspeakers that signal transitions throughout the day. When the students changed classrooms or got ready for lunch, they did not walk in lines, but went on their own without the teacher. With this freedom, came responsibility. The students took turns serving food to their classmates in the classrooms. They were also responsible for cleaning the classroom and the school each day. After lunch, you would see students wiping stairs clean, emptying and flattening milk cartons, sweeping the floor, and cleaning the bathrooms.

The students hold the adults in high regard, bowing when exiting the office to show respect, and thanking their teachers before and after each class (ahem…2G should take notes on this section!).
Pictures to follow later!

We arrived in Tokyo!

The past few days have been very busy in Tokyo! Although I don’t want to admit it, jet lag has caught up with me and has been worse the last couple of days than at the beginning of the trip. I have found myself going to bed very early and have had trouble writing about my fabulous experiences at night.

We arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday night. The city is bustling with excitement and there are people everywhere. I think I could most compare it to Manhattan. Everywhere you look there is something new to see or discover.

I feel very fortunate to be seeing Tokyo alongside people who live here and know the city quite well. I know that I am doing things I would never have done on my own and getting many authentic Japanese experiences along the way.

On Wednesday night I was picked up by Mrs. Kida and together we went to the Tokyo tower. She greeted me in a beautiful kimono with her hair perfectly done. I enjoyed seeing her in the traditional dress.

At the Tokyo Tower she was able to point out many places of interest from 333 meters above the ground. It was very interesting to see Tokyo from above.

After, we went to a Japanese style restaurant for dinner. What an incredible experience it was! We ate an exquisite 8 course meal at a beautiful Japanese style table while viewing the 71,000 square foot Japanese garden. I could not stop starring at the window!

We enjoyed the dinner with Mr. Kida and their son, Haruto as well! Haruto was a student at Lawrence for 5 years and although he was not in my class it was nice to see him and connect with him again. He was able to tell me a lot about schools in Japan and how his life has been similar and different to when he was living in Boston. We also shared a lot of laughs and talked about Haruto’s favorite Manga character, Luffy. I think kids in Boston would also like to read about the adventures of Luffy and his squad.

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After dinner, we went back to the Kida’s home as they were generous enough to host me for the night. In the morning Mrs. Kida made a delicious Japanese style breakfast complete with gluten-free miso soup! I am still dreaming about some of that food..

I am so grateful to have spent the night in Tokyo with the Kida family!

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Hiroshima Peace Park

Yesterday, we visited Hiroshima Peace Park. It was a very moving experience. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Mrs. Unezaki, our interpreter for the day. She was incredibly insightful and helped us understand more about the events that occurred on August 6th 1945.

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For me, visiting Hiroshima is one of those life experiences that is hard to describe in words. I was honored to be there and place the paper cranes made my Lawrence School at the children’s garden, especially those made by my class. Seeing the cranes along with 2G’s names and messages for peace was extremely special.

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I got to see the statue of Sadako and Mrs. Unezaki helped me to further understand about her story.

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One of the highlights of the day was hearing an Atomic Bomb survivor speak. Her story was of course very sad and I commend her for being brave enough to share this aspect of her life with us. I was surprised to learn that many bomb survivors forever keep this a secret. Today, she is a 76 year old women and volunteers to share about what she went through with those who come to visit the Peace Park. She showed that she is courageous and strong. I know her words will stay with me for a long time to come.

She wanted to share these two thoughts with others..

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*Do something to contribute peace to our world.
*Enjoy life.

How will you do this?

Miyajima Island

It was another wonderful day in Japan! This morning we awoke early and took the Shinkansen train from Kyoto to Hiroshima. This was an exciting experience all in itself. Never have I seen or felt a train that travels so fast. Our train shook a few times when another train whizzed by. DSC_0005

I had planned to rest on the train but I was too mesmerized by all that was going on outside the train’s windows. The lush greenery atop the mountains that surrounds the cities of Japan continues to amaze me. We also saw the stadium for the Hiroshima Carps, the local baseball team.

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When we arrived in Hiroshima, Mrs. Kamei and her eldest son, Kota, greeted us. Kota and one of these brothers were students at Lawrence for four years. Mrs. Kamei and Kota took us to Miyajima Island. After a short subway ride and a quick ferry, we were there and I was instantly amazed of the beauty that surrounded me. This island is considered to be one of Japan’s top three most beautiful locations. I would agree!

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Miyajima is famous for many things, one of them being the super “friendly” deer. Unlike in the United States, the deer go right up to humans. They are also known to eat paper, cloth, or any food they can get into their possession! Watch out! At first, I was very scared to be around them. Kota helped to assure me that they are not all that harmful when he went right up to take a photo alongside the deer. I tried it too! It wasn’t awful but I was excited to get up and walk far away!

 

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I spotted the O-torii Gate before we even got to the island, while on the ferry. This is the most famous symbol of Miyajima and it stands just in front of main shrine on the island. The gate often stands within the sea but because it was low tide, we were able to walk right up to it. I was glad I go to see this beautiful piece of art from many different perspectives.

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As we toured the island, we noticed an overwhelmingly delicious smell wafting through the air. Kota told us they were the famous momijido, a maple leaf shaped cake that is deep-fried and includes bed bean in the inside. Although I couldn’t eat it I certainly enjoyed the smell!

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We had a delicious lunch and I ate the most giant oysters ever. They actually tasted quite different than the ones in Boston but I enjoyed it very much!

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After lunch, we continued our sightseeing and explored the other temples and shrines of Miyajima island. We even got to witness a traditional wedding ceremony! Once again, the views as we walked around were spectacular! We ended our day soaking our feet in a hot bath atop one of the points of Miyajima Island. It was a real treat!

After we road back on the ferry and JR rail, we went into the city of Hiroshima where we were staying for the night. Ms. Russell and I were excited because we were staying in a real authentic Japanese room. The only time I had seen one of these style homes before was at the Children’s Museum in Boston. The floor was covered with tatami mats and we set up futons to sleep on for the night. We think we did a good job however some others who are more familiar with this process might disagree.

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Mrs. Kamei picked us up for dinner later in the evening. On the way to the restaurant, we all sang along to Sweet Caroline. We went to dinner with Mrs. Kamei, her three sons, her sister and niece. I was very impressed with how “high-tech” the restaurant was. We ate at a sushi restaurant where the food came around on a conveyer belt. It was far fancier than the ones I have seen in Boston. Additionally, you could special order a roll on a computer and the roll came out within minutes down the belt, straight to the table! Wow!

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I think what I enjoyed most about the day was the time I spent with the Kamei family. Their kindness was so greatly appreciated, they are extremely fun to be around, and we shared many great laughs. I feel very lucky that I am getting to know more families in Japan and that we all share something that connects us, Lawrence Loyalty.

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(Way to represent, Yuta!)

 More to come later…

<3 Ms. Gannon

Kyoto

Our day in Kyoto with the Oki family could not have been better. They were the perfect family to show us around this beautiful city and their kindness and generosity is something that will stay with me forever. We quickly learned that Kyoto (Boston’s sister city) has a wide variety of things to see and while it is Japan’s oldest city, rich in history, it also is home to some of the world’s most modern technology and inventions.

Our day started with a trip to the Ryonanji Temple. Here we explored one of Kyoto’s beautiful lush gardens as well as the famous rock garden which consists of only 15 rocks. The simplicity of this garden amongst the lush greenery helped to create a very peaceful experience. We also enjoyed seeing the Kyoyochi pond.

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We then headed off to the Golden Pavilion. What a spectacular sight! We learned about the history associated with the temple. Did you know that the top two levels are covered in gold foil and a golden phoenix stands at the top. The phoenix is also on the back of the 10000 yen bill!

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Here we also got to explore some Buddhist traditions. Below Ms. Russell tries to awaken the Buddhist gods to listen to her wishes.

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In an effort to see some of the more modern aspects of Kyoto, we took a visit to the Manga museum. We were excited to go here as we know that many of our students enjoy reading manga. While at the museum, we got to see many characters we recognized and learned more about Manga history. I was surprised to learn that many adults read Manga and that it is also used to explain about important events in history such as World War II through non-fiction Manga books. The museum is also used as a library for both adults and children to go and enjoy books at the museum.

 

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Here I am with a book of one of my favorite Manga characters, Doeraemon

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We shared an incredibly delicious lunch with the Oki family and got a surprise visit from Aika, a soon-to-be second grader at Lawrence. She is visiting her grandparents for the next three weeks and we were excited to see her.

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After lunch, we went to see some more of Kyoto’s wonders. First stop was the Heian Shrine. Did you know that Heian is the former name of Kyoto? Upon arrival, we were greeted by a giant orange gate. I had seen many pictures of the gate before but I was so surprised as to how large it actually was! The shrine grounds were very spacious and of course, beautiful. The Oki family helped us perform a customary ritual for determining if you would have good luck in the future. We shook a golden jar (see below) and a stick with a number on it came out. The number that appeared, determined our fortune. While I didn’t mind what mine had to say, Ms. Russell was far from pleased. She was however able to change her luck at our next stop!

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Off to the “old city” of Kyoto we went! Wow! This was for sure my favorite part of the day. There were so many new things to see and discover here. With every corner we turned, a new hidden gem was discovered. The old roads and buildings were sights I had only seen in movies. The shrines and temples were magnificent and the views from atop were simply spectacular. I could have stayed here forever! Perhaps the pictures below will help to explain why I was so in awe. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.

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Sadly we had to say goodbye to the Oki family tonight. I am so thankful for their willingness to show us around their beautiful city. I am glad that I got to know them and look forward to continuing my relationship with Aika and her parents back in Boston.

Until tomorrow…

 

<3 Ms. Gannon

We have arrived!

Wow! I cannot believe I am finally here. I have been looking forward to this trip for over a year now and so the reality of being here in Japan is still sinking in. The night before I left, I couldn’t sleep, I was way too excited!

Our journey started at 3:30am (Boston time) on Friday. We made a successful trip to San Francisco and took off on time to Osaka. Ms. Russell and I were impressed with the service on the plane and the amount that we were able to sleep. In between naps we watched movies, read, chatted about memories of second grade and picked at some very questionable food. The plane ride actually went by quickly!

When the plane touched down we were so excited to get off the plane and get our first glimpse of Japan. Everyone in the airport was very friendly and helpful. We got some yen, a Japanese phone and went to catch the bus to our hotel. We were feeling pretty confident about navigating this country so well (keep in mind we hadn’t left the airport). This confidence quickly diminished when we had to buy the bus ticket on a screen in all Japanese for a bus that was about to drive away! Yikes! Don’t worry though, we made it! The process was a bit rushed but we managed to figure it all out and get on the right bus to Kyoto We are quickly learning how hard it must be for our Japanese students to come to Boston for the first time and be presented with materials in only English!

Tonight, we checked into our hotel and explored Kyoto Station and Kyoto Tower. We were able to see a lot of Kyoto from up there. I am looking forward to a good night’s sleep and an exciting day ahead tomorrow.

 Sayonara!

<3 Ms. Gannon

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Preparing For My Trip!

Our trip to Japan is only 15 days away! I am getting more excited as the days pass. I am looking forward to learning new things, seeing all of Japan’s beauty, meeting new people and visiting with former students who have returned to Japan.

Over the past months, there have been a few events that have helped to heighten my excitement for the trip.

In early February, my class and I made paper cranes with the help of many wonderful Set-J moms. This was a very special honor. My class and I loved learning how to make paper cranes. With the help of many SET-J volunteers we made about 100 of the 1,000 paper cranes that I will bring with me on my journey to Japan in June and place at Hiroshima as a sign of peace.

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In May, Lawrence held the annual Japanese Fun Fair! Students look forward to this event every year. This year, I also got to participate in a variety of the activities. I especially enjoyed the tea ceremony, making origami and decorating the headband that I am wearing below.

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In the next few weeks, I will continue to read and do research in preparation for my trip. I am even trying to learn basic Japanese phrases although I find it very hard!

 <3 Ms. Gannon