Students travel to Japan, help recovery efforts

Travel to JapanTravel to Japan was disrupted last year when a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on March 11. The disaster brought an alarming death toll, fear of nuclear explosion and travel alerts cancelling hundreds of flights and stranding tens of thousands of travelers. But that disaster also elicited enormous response from people all over the world who pledged their help to the affected area. As we approach the one-year anniversary of the tragedy, recovery is well under way but there is a lot of work to be done. One of the organizations helping in the effort has students traveling to Japan for an immersive foreign travel experience like no other.

People to People Ambassador Group will be sending over 100 students to Japan in July for the first time since the devastation. These students were so committed to traveling to Japan that they’ve waited a full year to be able to make this trip.

People to People’s Spirit of Japan program puts student ambassadors in the heart of Japan, on an immersive itinerary that provides an immersion in a rural Japanese community where students will work at local schools and farms in the ravaged Tohoku area. The idea is to lend a hand to a host community, providing much needed help doing everything from assisting farmers in clearing their fields to teaching local students English. Working side by side with local citizens during a home stay with a Japanese family is part of the experience as participants offer up close and personal time with those actually affected by the natural disaster.

It is all part of People to People’s mission to get students involved and raise their global awareness with immersive experiential learning through travel.”In our interconnected world, we cannot be isolated-our decisions have an impact on other people, sometimes even those who live half a world away. Global citizens are people who accept a responsibility to others in their local and global community,” says People to People on its website.

Conditions in the affected area were so bad last year that it was unsafe for People to People groups to travel there. Both Narita (NRT) and Haneda airports (HND) which handle international and domestic flights for Tokyo were closed; leaving 14,000 passengers stranded. Sendai airport (SDJ), 300 kilometers to the north, was virtually destroyed by the tsunami.

Many travelers around the world felt the effect of Japan’s airport failures combined with a huge increase in demand for flights into Japan that had a cascading effect on travel. Airports from Canada to London saw delayed flights as the U.S. issued a travel alert urging U.S. citizens to avoid tourism and non-essential travel to Japan.

Here, some of the survivors look back-

Japan Quake Victims Look Back

Image provided by People to People

Travel to Japan returning to normal, slowly

Travel to JapanIn the wake of the major earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit Japan in March, travel disruptions were fueled by a rising death toll, fear of a nuclear disaster plus travel warnings issued worldwide. Now, just a few months later, flights, tours and cruises are returning to normal scheduling.

“We are confident of returning the capacity to full level on July 1” Japan Airlines President Masaru Onishi told the Mainichi Daily News today noting that business travel in Japan has rebounded and Japanese tourists have also resumed making overseas trips following a drop-off after the disaster.
Passenger bookings had fallen nearly 30 percent in March, and were still down by about 20 percent for international routes and 15 percent on domestic routes in April.

Cruise lines are returning too with Royal Caribbean’s Legend of the Seas set to be back calling in Okinawa on August 1st.

“Judging from the current situation in Japan, we are well-assured of the safety of travelling to Japan. Japan has always been an attractive tourist destination and its show of great resilience in the face of the recent crisis has given travelers the confidence to visit the country again,” said Kelvin Tan, regional director Asia Pacific, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

It looks to be a long road to “business as usual” in Japan. The US Department of State downgraded a Travel Warning just after the disaster to a Travel Alert recently, signaling an improvement in conditions but still urges caution:

“Japan is one of the most seismically active places in the world. Tokyo and areas to the Northeast continue to experience strong aftershocks related to the March 11 earthquake. Aftershocks following an earthquake of this magnitude can be expected to continue for more than a year. Identifying potential hazards ahead of time and advance planning can reduce the dangers of serious injury or loss of life from an earthquake” the Department of State notes in their most current analysis.

Photo courtesy Royal Caribbean International

Read signs in Japan, even if you don’t know Japanese – International travel tip

Afraid to visit Japan because you can’t read the signs? Are you intimidated by all the Kanji? Don’t worry! First, buy a Nintendo DS, and then, buy a Japanese/English dictionary cartridge called: Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten.

No matter how bad your Kanji stroke order is, and no matter how sloppy your handwriting, this dictionary helps you read Kanji in a light and compact way. After you write the character, it will show you the various English translations.

It also breaks down the Kanji into hiragana and katakana for a simple read for those with limited Japanese language training.