平成23の遠足:倉敷とJFE工場 – 2011 Field Trip To Kurashiki & The JFE Factory

Every year I have the opportunity to join the 5th and 6th graders from my elementary schools on a field trip.  These trips are always a one day excursions to nearby a attraction.  They are intended to be fun, but also have a learning aspect to them as well.  Last year we went to the Pocari Sweat Factory and a Science museum in Tokushima Prefecture.  This year, we improved on it by going north to Okayama Prefecture to see the city of Kurashiki and the JFE metal foundry.

We left in the morning, and I slept a good portion of the way there which felt incredible.  Out first stop was at Kurashiki, which is famous for its Bikan Historic District.  This area has one of Japan’s best preserved streetscapes from the old Edo era.  The first place we spent time at was the Ohara Museum, the oldest Western art museum in Japan.  There was some history to be had about how some guy sponsored a number of trips to Europe for the purposes of learning about western art.  This guy would buy what he considered the best pieces and bring them back to Japan.  Eventually a museum was created to house them.  I really haven’t spent much time at art galleries in my life, but I was still enjoying seeing works by names that I should know.  Highlights were the works by Picasso, Renoir, Monet, Matisse and Warhol.  Especially interesting to me though was just the vast different in subject matter portrayed in Japanese and Western art.  Seeing these Christian themes and events that dominated European works in the last couple centuries seemed remarkably foreign to me, worlds away from the art you happen across in Japan.  There was also a museum that had a number of Chinese relics as well.  Despite all of the fantastic works I did see, this was most certainly the greatest..

I had to snipe the shot from my pocket.  Star Wars, Dobby the House Elf… wow.

Then outside, we spent some time walking along the canal and enjoying the beautiful storehouses and old architecture.  At this time, the students were required to draw something they liked, so I was free to roam and mingle with different groups.   Meanwhile, there were Venice-like boats that were ferrying couples down the canal, and some of the largest koi I’ve ever seen swimming about.  The weather was perfect, so it was easy to soak in all the beauty of the scene.  Soon though, it was time to board to bus and head on to the next stop, a steel foundry called JFE.

The building in the back was the museum.  Something about it doesn’t really work with the scene.

This wasn’t too far away from Kurashiki, and took about 20 minutes by coach to reach.  Once we arrived at the welcome center of this vast complex, the first order of business was to eat the lunches we had all brought.  A Japanese lunch from home (bento) and an American one are vastly different.  Where as ours is a smattering of what ever happens to be in the cupboard, the Japanese version has numerous small portions of properly prepared food.  Then, they are generally arranged artfully.  Well, I wasn’t about to waste my time like that, so I embraced the throw-whatever-I-got-in-a-bag strategy.  They thought that this was pretty funny, and I thought it was delicious.

After lunch and a short informational video, we hopped on the bus to see the process in action.  For reasons of safety, and the likelihood of a Rudy-esq explosion, we didn’t spend too much time in the factory.  We did see one of the later stages of the process, where red hot blocks of steel, weighing tens of tons were flattened into sheets.  Despite being almost 100 feet away from it, the radiant heat coming off of these bricks was incredible.  It was an uncomfortably warm heat that would all but disappear when there was no direct line of sight.  From here, we rode around the campus a bit more as they showed us some of the product flow.

A small portion of the facilities.  I actually thought it looked pretty cool.

I really did enjoy both parts of this field trip.  The factory because I was legitimately interested in what I was seeing, and hadn’t yet seen anything like it before.  Also the museum and historical city because it only does more to strengthen my knowledge of and intimacy with Japan.  I’ll be looking forward to the next trip too!  On the bus ride home, I was a bit more alert and enjoyed just messing around with the kids.  I also snapped what I would call a beautiful picture of the Seto Bridge, a monster structure that connects Shikoku with Honshu.

This isn’t even half of it.

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