The following day some of the folks went to tour the neighboring villages in the historical area of Shirakawago. My backpack decided it was done with life and I spent some time back at the house sewing it- tacking stitches of course – the one stitch I still remember from years gone of home science classes….[I hated home science.] The stitches were strong enough though and the bag managed to survive for the rest of our trip.
Later in the day we went to Takayama. They had all sorts and special sushi and we indulged in those. In the evening we took a night bus to Tokyo. We got to Tokyo the next morning and took a bus to Ohira – Natsuno’s hometown. In Ohira, we were going to spend two nights as homestays with Natsuno’s family and the families of her friends.
We got to Ohira and immediately went to Natsuno’s primary school. It was a lovely day there with all the kids. Japanese children have to be the most disciplined children I’ve ever met. The first thing I noticed was that the children did not have uniforms on. For some reason, I just assumed that such levels of discipline had to go hand in hand with uniforms:-) . Kenyan upbringing….Natsuno had told us quite a bit about how Japanese childhood education has a major emphasis on discipline, obedience and order. She remembered weeks spent learning how to bow perfectly. The day started off with joining the kids for their PE class. Before they began working out, they formed neat little squads who walked around the field picking up all stones to reduce chances of injury. It worked like clockwork. The children were extremely friendly. We also learnt that they are not punished in the conventional sense of the word. If they do something wrong, they are told to reflect on what they’d done. Why was I not educated in a Japanese primary school? I was a product of the “Spare the rod, spoil the child” primary school system. We then joined a large dance class – the instructor’s moves were kinda basic though:-). We visited different classes one by one – labs, classes used for teaching Kanji – the Japanese writing system that has 3 variations and requires one to know at least 3500 Kanji (characters) to be considered proficient in it…..Cramming/constant repetition is how it’s taught….Cramming…now this I can relate to…
One of our Kenyan travel buddies was our translator. She’s amazing. She speaks Kipsigis, Kiswahili, French, German, Italian, English, Korean and Mandarin. She went to UPenn for undergrad to study Mechanical Engineering and was now off to Munich for her Masters in Robotics. Basically, she’s a genius. Lorna was the reason we were able to understand most of what we were being told during the tour.
Lunchtime came and all the fun began. The children were broken up into committees – blackboard committee, lunch committee etc. The lunch committee was very impressive. Quite quickly, they had on their aprons, headscarves etc. and were serving out lunch to everyone. It was delicious – rice, chicken curry, some yummy fruit and desert. Those kiddie portions left me starving though…..Immediately after lunch, all the kids pulled out their toothbrushes and began brushing their teeth – a process that lasted at least 10-15 minutes. I had seen Natsuno and our other Japanese friend, Aya, do this every evening. They would walk around the house doing stuff while brushing their teeth for what seemed to be half an hour. Turned out they learnt how to do this in primary school. Immediately after that was cleaning time. All the kids – just like clockwork – got to cleaning their class together. Small kids with brooms, mops – working as if they enjoyed it.
By afternoon, we were so beat and needed to go to our new homes to crash. It was great though spending the day with those lovely kids.