Students at Sarugaku Elementary School in Shibuya Ward in Tokyo received the bad news that many others in Japan have heard over the past year during the new coronavirus pandemic.
The school’s fifth and sixth grades were disappointed when they were told that their overnight excursions planned during their summer vacation were postponed.
The decision was announced on July 9, one day after it was decided to issue the fourth COVID-19 state of emergency for Tokyo.
As school trips are put on hold due to the pandemic, school principals are struggling to give students like them at Sarugaku Elementary School an opportunity to have valuable experiences and make memories while protecting their health.
While students are discouraged by the postponement of their overnight excursions, travel agents offer virtual reality experiences as an alternative.
TRYING TO OFFER PERMANENT MEMORIES
According to principal Toshiaki Miyata of the ward-run Sarugaku Elementary School, students appeared to have been prepared for the cancellation because it had been decided to either postpone or cancel the plans if a state of emergency was to be declared.
The sixth graders also had their overnight trip canceled last year due to the pandemic.
“We want to plan an event so that they have good last memories of their primary school time, even if it means a day trip,” said the principal.
According to the ward education board, all 18 ward-run elementary schools decided to postpone their summer vacation excursions, citing the state of emergency.
None of the students at the eight ward-run junior high schools have yet made a school trip in the academic year that began in April.
“As some schools postpone their athletic meetings until the fall due to the coronavirus pandemic, we do not know if all schools can conduct excursions overnight or after the fall,” an official said.
On July 8, the government also decided to continue the state of emergency in Okinawa Prefecture, as well as place three prefectures near Tokyo and Osaka Prefecture under state of emergency.
Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui announced during a press conference on July 30 that four city-run youth schools will go on school trips as originally planned, even during the state of emergency.
“The Olympics are being held. I want to implement events that will be remembered for the rest of their lives,” he said.
Students can participate in tours after testing negative on a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
Students at the four schools will visit Nagano or Gifu prefectures in late August, the mayor added.
But when asked by reporters on August 2 about a voluntary ban on school travel, Matsui said: “If the central government sets it as a major political goal, we have little choice but to abide by it.”
In Kagawa Prefecture, Takamatsu Sakurai Senior High School officials in Takamatsu postponed a school trip for second-year students to visit Hokkaido in late June, although no state of emergency or pre-emergency measures are imposed in the prefecture.
They were to decide in May whether it was possible to greenlight the trip, but the state of emergency was in place for the nation’s northernmost prefecture at the time.
Officials must decide if the trip can continue in or after the fall about two months before due to cancellation fees.
“This generation has seen many events canceled. We hope they can somehow create some lasting memories,” said Vice President Yukihiro Kasai.
VR TRIPS IS TRYING TO FILL THE GAP
Meanwhile, virtual school trips have attracted attention as an alternative to enjoying sightseeing and learning about travel destinations from classrooms.
On June 17, about 160 third-year students at Tokyo Metropolitan Oedo Senior High School wore a virtual reality headset to embark on an “underwater” stroll on the ocean floor off Okinawa Prefecture.
The headset featured interactive digital images jointly created by World Scan Project Co., a company dedicated to drone research and development, and Kyushu University from 3D scanning data from a sunken American warship.
The students were seen looking up and down and stretching their arms.
The students were originally scheduled to visit the southernmost prefecture in June this year, but their trip was canceled in May due to the pandemic. Instead, the school turned to the VR trip, where they also enjoyed the hands-on experience of controlling a drone.
“It was fun to experience VR. I never imagined I could see the bottom of the ocean,” said Tomoaki Nakao, 17.
While the need for travel has decreased, travel agencies have also taken note of VR school trips.
Since October last year, JTB Corp. has been offering a VR service that allows participants to see temples in Kyoto and Nara prefectures and gain hands-on experience with “uwa-etsuke” glazing techniques to draw patterns on pieces of Kiyomizu-yaki ware while receiving online advice.
At the end of June this year, 9,170 students from 77 schools took advantage of the service. Of these, 80 percent were from schools in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
The company said it will launch a VR program with Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture from September.
However, it is undeniable that VR travel is less than satisfactory compared to the real thing.
“It feels unrealistic,” one user said on social media, while another added: “Once our school trip is conducted online, why does the Olympics happen?”
(This article is composed of reports from Azusa Mishima, Tomomi Abe, Aya Shioiri and Yukihito Takahama.)
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