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Japan tour fulfils lifelong dream

When Hannah Salm was studying Japanese at high school, she couldn’t have anticipated she would have the opportunity to travel to Japan as a Curtin ambassador. Hannah was selected to take part in a prestigious study tour program administered by the Mitsui Educational Foundation.


Hannah and Sarah, University of Queensland, having fun in kimonos.
Hannah and Sarah, University of Queensland, having fun in kimonos.

The third year physiotherapy student was one of eight students chosen nationwide to attend the three week  tour, which is designed to promote mutual friendship and understanding between Australia and Japan.

The jam-packed itinerary included meeting Japanese university students, spending time with a homestay family, touring places of cultural significance, visiting Nippon steel and a meeting with the Australian Ambassador to Japan.

“It was such a dream,” said Hannah. “I suppose the main challenge was how to fit the most activities into one day and still get enough sleep! We were all determined to make the most of our time in Japan.”

Hannah and her homestay family.
Hannah and her homestay family.

Hannah was able to practise her Japanese with the many people she met on the tour, and discovered more similarities than differences in the lives of her Japanese counterparts.

“It’s so easy to travel, even with no language abilities. I was pleased to try and practise the Japanese I’d learned in high school with the people I met there. Every person I met in Japan was so friendly, even if I couldn’t speak English or Japanese I still would have had a great time…Even just walking through the streets of Tokyo was a great experience. It was autumn there, so the trees were all sorts of stunning colours.

I learned that the lifestyle of Japanese university students is exactly the same as ours. Once enrolled in university their approach to education was a lot more relaxed, especially compared to secondary schooling. Many students did extra-curricular activities and went out on the town just as often as any Australian cohort would,” she said.

The tour group enjoying some premium matcha (green tea) ice cream.
The tour group enjoying some premium matcha (green tea) ice cream.
The students visited Nippon steel, a partner company to Mitsui.
The students visited Nippon steel, a partner company to Mitsui.

Japan’s unique combination of high-tech cities, such as the densely-populated metropolis of Tokyo, and traditional ceremonies and cultural practices, has always intrigued and enchanted visitors to the country, and Hannah was no exception.

“Ancient and modern culture co-exist so harmoniously. Arts like kabuki (traditional theatre performance) and osado (tea ceremony), unique sports, such as sumo wrestling and kendo, and ancient festivals are still such a big part of society. I envy that for Australia and our Indigenous history and culture,” she said.

“There are breathtaking palaces and gardens even in the heart of Tokyo, where land is so precious. As I walked down streets of the city so often walled by high rise buildings, I appreciated that much more how clean and fresh it felt, and adored every colour of gold, red, orange and green in the Autumn leaves.”

Hannah had the opportunity to participate in many aspects of traditional Japanese culture and also joined in with karaoke, Japan’s ubiquitous, and decidedly more modern, Friday night activity.

“The most outstanding cultural activities for me were doing onsen (public baths) in the hot spring rock pools of Hakone, wearing traditional wear (kimono) and doing tea ceremony, and from the modern age, singing full heart and soul in karaoke with Mitsui’s prospective employees!”

The tour group in front of Todaiji Temple, the largest wooden structure in Japan.
The tour group in front of Todaiji Temple, the largest wooden structure in Japan.
The group visiting the Australian Embassy in Japan.
The group visiting the Australian Embassy in Japan.

Now back in Australia, Hannah has her sights firmly set on her next challenge, completing her Honours program.

“Out of high school I had no idea of what I wanted to study. My Mum was the one to suggest physiotherapy. I resisted the idea for a long time, but having entered the course I’ve been really enjoying it. I find the manual skills most interesting; I like the challenge of bringing understanding and practice together.

I intend to complete the Honours program this year and next, so I’ll see where that takes me. I love sport and music, so ideally in one of those areas. I suppose that’s the musculoskeletal pathway.”

The tour group enjoy Hannah's favourite meal, Hiroshima Okonomiyaki.
The tour group enjoy Hannah's favourite meal, Hiroshima Okonomiyaki.

A return to Japan is not too far away, however, and Hannah is determined to build on all those high school lessons and master the Japanese language.

“It has inspired me to want to live and work in Japan for at least one year at some point. I really want to become bilingual,” she said.

“Who knows, perhaps you may see me on TV, massaging an athlete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games!”