Japan School Trip Bureau
What do Japanese senior high students know about the country Brunei? Maybe as a “country of petroleum” or a “Muslim country.” To be honest, I only knew Brunei as much as they do until I had an opportunity to visit for a prep study there. For most of Japanese people, Brunei seems to remain a “country unknown.”
After visiting Brunei this time, I assessed the possibility of including Brunei in the choice of educational trip (Shugaku Ryoko or Kenshu Ryoko) destinations from my perspective of long school career, taking what I have experienced through my eyes and ears into account. What will senior high students do, learn and feel there as takeaway from the trip to Brunei?
Bottom line first, I would like to say Brunei deserves to be a destination for educational trips. Though there remain a few issues to be improved moving on, Brunei is quite a rich source of materials for “learning.” Because of this, an educational trip to the country will surely bring “learning” benefits once these materials get organized as conveniently available programs for “group activities” of schools. Let me discuss in detail about the issues and benefits.
1. Will Brunei help us achieve the overseas Shugaku Ryoko goals?
i. Muslim and native culture of Brunei
The Course of Study for junior/senior high schools stipulates “To broaden knowledge and to experience nature and different cultures in unusual living conditions” as the goal of educational trips. Just visiting a foreign country allows us to immerse ourselves in the “unusual living conditions.” One of the significant objectives set by the schools is to let students experience different cultures and values by visiting the country, through which they may obtain a broader vision of their own, while making the experience as an opportunity to take a closer look at themselves. As a matter of fact, to learn about the natural environment and historical or social background on which such cultures have developed will be an important element in understanding different cultures.
The first impression I had landing at the Brunei airport was the climate that is different from Japan. It was middle of March when I visited there. A 20-degree C difference of the Brunei and Japan temperature. In the tropical zone, I surely was. As the travel peaks of overseas Shugaku Ryoko fall into October through December, a trip to Brunei begins by experiencing this difference. There are shops selling “halal” foods in the airport. Visiting the two glorious mosques or “New Mosque” soaring in the center of the Brunei capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, I heard an “Azan” from somewhere that called for ritual prayer, “Salat.” Most women I saw on the street were in “Hijab” that prevents their skins to expose despite the heat. Muslims are said to perform Salat five times every day. My company from the Tourism (Development) Department for my prep study also had to interrupt the itinerary and stopped by a closest mosque for Salat at a regular interval. No alcohols and no pork for meals… In Brunei whose state religion is Islam, you can experience the distinct Muslim culture anywhere. Because the Muslim culture is less familiar to Japanese, the “learning” effect can be significant.
There are two unique “housing” styles with a distinct cultural flavor in Brunei. One is the Iban tribe’s “Longhouse.” It is a long and grand house built in the woods. One of the native tribes in the Borneo Island, Ibans still live in the same traditional large household from generations ago. When a family grew even larger, the house got alternated and extended to add new rooms, repetition of which made the house thus long and grand. The house we visited regularly accommodated 52 people from 11 families and they say the number of residents would even rise to some 100 or more when young students in the boarding schools come home for school holidays. In the Longhouse, experience of crafting and cooking or even the traditional dance performance are provided. The traditional living culture based on the non-Muslim, elemental gods, and the people who inherit the culture – interaction with these people is a priceless experience.
Another housing style is Kampong Ayer (the water village). 42 villages of stilt houses built on the river comprise a huge settlement. Almost one tenth of the nation lived here and the Sultan’s palace is said to have been here once upon a time. Although it is a settlement on the water, it is an ordinary modern town with solid infrastructure including electricity and tap water, accommodating schools, police stations and hospitals as well. There are many bridges connecting the houses and water taxis are used as transportation. I hear some houses are open to travelers for visiting. The life culture in the water village that is said to have a history of over 1,000 years is something we can never experience in Japan.
ii. Nature experience in Brunei
These cultures were born and raised in the tropical nature. In the Tropical Biodiversity Center in Kuala Belait District, different trails are prepared in the rainforest (jungle) and programs for a stroll listening to tale of the guide are available there. Plants and insects we have never seen in Japan and how they are connected to the life of local people. How the wildwood in the rainforest is protected. A gentle and detailed description by the guide made me perfectly educated.
Getting in the boat at the jetty of the Brunei River mouth, a 10-minute upstream cruise brought us to a dense mangrove forest. If lucky enough, you may find a troop of proboscis monkeys that populate only in the Borneo Island an nowhere else. Unfortunately, we did not have the luck to encounter them, but we saw crocodiles that inhabit in the river instead.
Let’s move to the Temburong District, which is an area mostly covered by the rainforest. In the Ulu Temburong National Park, located in the deep upstream of the Temburong River after a longboat ride in the river, a completely deserted wildwood is preserved that shows you the original and natural landscape of the Borneo Island. You are not allowed to walk in the jungle without a guide. Now, the experience only available here is the “Canopy Walk.” Climbing up the 42m-tall tower built on an elevation in the jungle, you walk on the bridges made of iron that connect the five towers. Underneath lies a huge green carpet of the rainforest that makes you once again realize the richness of the nature. Around the Temburong River watershed area, additional outdoor activities such as trekking and kayak rafting are available. Also available are other programs including traditional dance and music performance or crafting and cooking through which you can experience the culture of native tribes. These programs help us fully appreciate the Bruneian nature and culture. Keeping SDGs in mind, these areas would be best fitted for deepening the “learning” focused on protection and reservation of the natural environment as well as the ecosystem.
iii. Interaction with Bruneians
The key to cross-cultural understanding is to interact with the local people. To this end, many schools add interactions with local schools and B&S programs into their school trip itineraries, so the students may have opportunities to interact with youths of their generation there. During my preparative visit this time, it was a pity that I did not have a chance to visit some local schools and interact with teachers and students there. Having said that, I hear visiting private schools, let alone some busy public schools with full of curricula, should not be a problem. The B&S program, in which college students work as a guide for visiting senior high students, is not yet available in Brunei. However, the students of Universiti Brunei Darussalam who were my company to the Temburong District were all pleasant and friendly, and spoke fluent English. I am sure the Japanese students will have a fun experience if these collegers can help us as the tour guide. Visiting mosques in Bandar Seri Begawan and the water villages, and enjoying local foods in local restaurants and shopping in the local market. These activities will definitely become a valuable opportunity of the firsthand experience of the life of Bruneians.
2. Will Brunei overcome the hurdles to overseas Shugaku Ryoko?
i. Securing students’ safety and relief
Securing students’ safety and relief is what schools give the highest priority to. Overseas Shugaku Ryoko in particular, the key is whether the risk management is established or not, such as public security of the landing country, epidemic conditions, responding to a disaster, sickness or an accident, as well as controlling allergies of the travelling students. Actually visiting Brunei, I felt the public security level of the country is as good as Japan or even better. In addition, the traffic rules, observation of which is often problematic in Southeast Asian countries, are well followed and you can safely walk around the streets. With regards to the outdoor activities, I hear that the entire staff of the managing agents is well acquainted with the emergency response and first aid, and the hospital transfer procedure is well established. For allergy control, which is of high awareness among the accommodation facilities there, it should not be a matter once the close collaboration between the concerned parties is confirmed upfront. Still, regardless of the country you visit, students themselves MUST take extra care of the food served and eaten in the market as there is no knowing what ingredients are used in it.
ii. Trip costs, foods, accommodation and others
Talking about the trip costs, prices in Brunei are a little lower than those in Japan. I see little difference in airfares and lodging expenses versus other ASEAN countries (except for Singapore). The flight hours from Japan to Brunei is around six and half hours. Brunei time is one hour behind Japan. I think the flight hours is fair enough for an overseas Shugaku Ryoko. However, be reminded to pay attention in planning the trip because the only available non-stopover flight is between Narita and Brunei by Royal Brunei Airlines, which unfortunately is not a daily flight. Moreover, because only around 120 coach class seats are available in one flight, a sizable school using the flight for Shugaku Ryoko may need such consideration as two-day departures. The local foods are not that spicy and should be friendly for students to eat, with rather comfortable flavor in general for Japanese. Eating the food served in the market? Floor of the market is totally clean with no litters and particular care seems to be taken for sanitation and hygiene statuses. We ourselves also enjoyed the daily Bruneian foods there. Since items sold in the market are much less expensive than those available in town, you must try shopping there though English may not work for communication sometimes. Hotels are clean, with shower and bathroom, but I missed to confirm if the floors can be separated for men and women. For public toilets, I saw those in somewhat Japanese style within some restaurants and visitor facilities in town. Yet, you need to be careful because even if the bidet hose is available, no bath tissue is provided sometimes (which we should request the Brunei Tourism Department staff for improvement).
As explained, most of the different hurdles to be considered in conducting overseas educational trips to Brunei, as well as other ASEAN nations, are something the conducting schools can overcome by some efforts of their own. Therefore, I believe students can then spend the time during the trip without having any problems.
Out of all educational trips, Study Tour (Kenshu Ryoko) comes with such particular clear- cut goals as “language studies,” in which only interested students participate. For this reason, reasonably high costs can be accepted and the size of the travelling party is not large. On the other hand, Shugaku Ryoko basically requires participation of all students in the subject grades, with which substantial costs cannot be justified. Under such conditions, schools wish to let their students have as many experiences as possible. Moreover, because of the party size and diversity of the student backgrounds, there are far more aspects to consider compared with Kenshu Ryoko. All these taken into account, if a school decides to conduct an educational trip to Brunei, the trip there may better begin with a trip of a small-scale Kenshu Ryoko with a distinct “learning” focus, such as a designated SSH (Super Science High School). Yet, even for Shugaku Ryoko in these days, a growing number of private schools are taking a form of preparing different course options to allow students to make a choice and participate. The purpose here is to avoid disadvantage of scale while realizing the new Course of Study’s “proactive, dialogic and profound learning.” As some public schools are also beginning to follow this trend, Shugaku Ryoko in the future seems to be trending in that direction. If so, Brunei will turn to be an eligible landing country even for Shugaku Ryoko. Provided, however, it would be better if we can develop a few options for choice to the need of schools and students as long as a diversified activity programs are available in a target district such as Temburong. This should be achievable once the respective local agents work in a joint effort. I wish each district as a whole could develop a system to accept the schools and students. Then, as more schools come visit Brunei, more brushed up such programs would be for the better. Looking forward to making this happen, we as well are committed to providing continuous support.
Last but not least, let me express my sincere gratitude to the people who lent their hands to my prep study tour to Brunei this time, including the staff of the ASEAN-Japan Center, the Brunei Darussalam Tourism Development Department of the Ministry of Primary Resources & Tourism, and the Embassy of Brunei Darussalam in Japan. My deepest thanks to you all. Thank you.
*English translation courtesy of Embassy of Brunei Darussalam.