Sunday, February 22, 2015

Celebrating Presidents... with a trip to a Japanese elementary school.

On President's Day, 16 Americans celebrated their national leaders by... going to a Japanese elementary school. We chose to do this on one of our school holidays because we didn't want our kids to miss any school for something crazy like a cultural exchange. So, here is how we celebrated the long weekend...

First off, we took a microbus... I just found out a few weeks ago that base residents can lease buses that can carry anywhere from 19 to 41 passengers... complete with driver. Here is the link to access for this surprisingly affordable service. I highly recommend it for trips with large groups.

The elementary school was located in the town of Hikari, which Google maps told me would take about an hour and a half to get to... turned out it took an hour and, since I had built in an extra 30 minutes for "just in case," we ended up hanging out at the local 7-11 convenience store for 45 minutes. I'm sure the employees loved it.

Now, I had gone to this school with eight other ladies last year. I was thrilled to hear from my friend Junko again this year, inviting me back, only this time, the school thought it would be fun to have American kids involved. I agree. This exchange was a lot more lively... and a lot more active!

Once we did get to the school and disembarked we were greeted warmly by both the students and teachers and then whisked away to the school's music room (which was not warm... the school, like Japanese homes, is heated room by room with space heaters... this gym was heated with space heaters, too... until the basketball games started, and then it got plenty warm with body heat) to make large name tags for ourselves.

We were all also offered hot coffee. I didn't have any, but my kids did, and they enjoyed it once they put about three sugars and a couple of creamers in.

The staff was also kind enough to label the bathrooms for us.

We were then escorted to the gym, where 90 6th-graders were sitting in wait for us. The following pictures were only a few of the ones I took, simply because some of the Japanese students' parents haven't given permission for their kids to be in public media. I have no idea which ones they are, so I tried to select photos that showed what we did, but made it tough to see distinct faces in the photos. But, here are the backs of all 90 students... sitting in wait as we walked in.

Our kids did very well. None of them ran away in fear... they all introduced themselves and said what grades they were in. Our kids ranged from 3rd to 7th grade and were from 5 different families.

After the American kids introduced themselves, they were placed in groups with about 10 Japanese students. There was an entire schedule of events posted:

So now we were on #5: they played "Rock, Paper, Scissors." The problem was that in the Japanese version of the game, they show their rock/paper/scissors on the third count... Americans generally show on the fourth (rock, paper, scissors, shoot!) So, I'm sure the Japanese kids thought the Americans were trying to cheat and the American kids were trying to figure out how get in to the right beat. Everyone was laughing at the end, so I'd say it was a success despite the timing differences.

Next up... the interrogation! Just kidding. Our kids sat in circles with their groups and showed pictures of their hobbies and where they were from/born. I say from/born because these are, for the most part, military brats who aren't really "from" anywhere. So, I printed off pictures of Yuma, Az, and Laguna Hills, CA. Two very exciting, noteworthy places on Google images, I assure you. Each of the Japanese students had cards they had made, with information about themselves, such as birthday, favorite food, and favorite sport. Each group also made a poster, kite or display for their assigned American. Conversation was fairly limited after the Japanese students each introduced themselves and their hobbies. Our kids didn't know much Japanese and the Japanese kids had used all the English they had memorized.

We were treated to a taiko drum performance, and then the American kids got to try their hands at it. They took it very seriously.

Then it was time for more group activities! Calligraphy, origami, jump rope, a traditional Japanese ball and cup game called kendama...

And then it was time to be helped in to our coats...

And say good-bye to everyone...

... because it was time for lunch!

Japanese students eat in their classrooms and are responsible for not only serving the meals and cleaning them up, but also for cleaning the school. There are no janitors. Our kids became instantly grateful. And most of the American kids liked the lunch... only one needed a granola bar on the ride home.

Lunch for the school was: boiled barley and rice, dumplings, tofu Chinese saute', bean sprout vinegar salad and milk. Fortunately, most of the Americans thought the tofu was chicken and didn't find out the truth until they had enjoyed it. Hee, hee. And the milk... was amazing. There is nothing as tasty as this brand of Japanese school milk in the glass jug. I would have asked for more if it hadn't have been rude to do so.

Oh, and, of course, in true William fashion, he was selected to talk to the local press. I heard he made the Japanese news, and hope to have a copy of the broadcast soon.

As we left, the school presented the kids with cookies from a Japanese bakery as a thank you:

I didn't expect these gifts... we are trying to brainstorm some ideas (we'd need 100) of American gifts we could bring next year if we are welcomed back. Suggestions are appreciated. ;)

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