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Friday, Dec. 17, 2010

Cities try new tacks to woo school trips

KITAKYUSHU (Kyodo) Communities are exploring various avenues to lure school trips beyond the usual tourist attractions, particularly because being on the tour map makes good business sense.

News photo
Field trip: Students and teachers on a school trip from Nagasaki Prefecture watch cars being demolished at West-Japan Auto Recycle Co., a waste-reprocessing plant in Kitakyushu's "Eco-town" complex, on Sept. 30. KYODO PHOTO

In a break from the tradition of exposing youths to ancient culture in cities like Kyoto and Nara, or giving them a fun time at Tokyo Disneyland and other popular amusement parks, teachers and parents are pursuing new school trip concepts.

And localities are eager to seize the opportunity as they struggle to revitalize their economies.

Kitakyushu began full-blown efforts this year to entice students by offering an environmental-learning school trip package with the word "eco" at the heart of its campaign.

The package features workshops at the "Eco-town," which accommodates waste-reprocessing plants in varied industries, including the automobile and electric appliance sectors in addition to research laboratories and other environment-related facilities.

Students are also given the chance to make wind power generation kits using discarded plastic bottles in trips to the same area, in recognition of the city's history of overcoming notoriously heavy industrial pollution during the period of Japan's high economic growth. Kitakyushu was named an "Eco-Model" city by the central government in 2008.

"Look at the sea on your left. Though it looks clean now, it used to be severely polluted and called the 'sea of death,' " Yukari Ueda, a Kitakyushu official in charge of eco-tourism in the city, told about 30 students and teachers from Nagasaki in their recent tour of the site.

Snatching a microphone from a tour guide on a bus, Ueda continued, "Thanks to the efforts of the people here, companies and the government, we have recovered this clean sea."

As an optional tour, the excursion package took participants to an amusement park and a zoo in the city.

"Our municipal government put great energy into environmental policymaking, so we want students visiting Kitakyushu to know what we are doing," Ueda said. "At the same time, we want them to stay as long as possible — even by one minute or one second — and hopefully they will stay one night in our city and spend money."

The reality is that visitors have no choice but to spend a night there to complete the package tour.

"The trend of school excursions has changed from sightseeing trips to experience-oriented tours," said Mizue Nakano, director at the editorial department of the Japan School Excursion Association.

"Plans in which students can experience and directly feel what they have learned in their classrooms are very popular. They now can meet people they don't usually see in everyday life," Nakano said.

Staying the night in the houses of farmers or fishermen is a popular school trip, Nakano said, adding packages bearing the words "eco" and "environment" in their tag lines are selling well.

Another city attempting to add to its allure as a destination for school trips is Hiroshima, a top site for peace education.

Concerned that merely attracting schools to well-known spots like the Peace Memorial Museum and Atomic Bomb Dome, a world heritage site, is insufficient to reverse the declining number of school trips, the city has joined hands with neighboring municipalities on campaign promotion.

Staff in a new section have been traveling across the country to make pitches for packages featuring a trip to Itsukushima Shrine, also a world heritage site, in Hatsukaichi, west of Hiroshima, as well as exchanges with atomic-bombing survivors.

"Despite the general tendency of declining figures in visitors on school trips, we have been able to keep the number at 300,000 or more annually, and I think our steady efforts have paid off so far," said Masakazu Shiraso, an official of the city government's school trip promotion division.

Nagasaki has meanwhile had success in luring foreign students, mainly from China, by playing up its history as the only gateway to Japan under the national isolation policy adopted during the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1867).

The Edo Period exchanges through maritime trade have helped Nagasaki maintain good relations with China even amid a bilateral row over disputed islands that has led to the suspensions of a number of exchange programs between the two countries.

On top of that, the port's pitches over the past decade aimed at teachers and school officials in China played an important part in the success.

"So far this year, we have accepted about 3,000 students from China and another 1,000 are coming in the winter," said Kentatsu Tokunaga, an official at the overseas promotion department of the semipublic Nagasaki Prefecture Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"Though Tokyo and Beijing are beset with diplomatic problems, I hope there will be no problem. China has already been an essential part for us in the field of school trips," Tokunaga said.

The bureau started similar tour promotion efforts among schools in Singapore a few years ago and plans to add South Korea to its "customer" list in the near future.

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