The Foreigner and the 5 Year Old Terrors

Day 2 in Japan. My first day of volunteer work. Today I would be at the Nursery and Elementary school. Where these were? Currently no idea. What I would actually be doing? Currently no idea.

I was shown the way by Nick, one of my roommates from California. We had to be there for 9am. On approach to the nursery you are greeted by elderly man who is the gardener and caretaker for the nursery – and every day he calls out “ohayou gozaimas” with a big smile as you arrive.

Outside the front of the nursery is a little play area and garden – climbing frames, a little stream and pond, and vegetable plants. (The nursery is name ‘Uta no Sato’, meaning ‘home/village of songs’)

The main doors slide open to a spacious area, the building built predominantly out of wood. I slipped of my shoes and put them in a shelf as directed, before a lady came out the office and greeted us. She pointed at Nick and said “Kaze” (wind), then at me and said “Mori” (forest). I had no idea why she was saying ‘forest’ to me, but it turns out these are the names they give to their different classes. (During my time in the nursery I worked in Mori, Kaze and Niji – forest, wind and rainbow – Mori being the oldest, aged 5).

We went up the wooden staircase (that I admired maybe a little too much) in the middle of the room, up to the classes. I shyly slid open the door to my assigned class and attempted to greet the teacher with my poor Japanese skill, making what must have been a lousy and awkward attempt at bow, not being used to it.

The teachers were very polite, and had me introduce myself to the kids with my name and where I was from. By this point I was already incredibly grateful I knew at least a little Japanese! When signing up to volunteer here, Japanese ability wasn’t necessary, but it would be pretty difficult without I think.

Within 5 minutes from entering the class, the kids were lined up and singing songs with the teacher – then reciting a morning greeting song led by a couple of their little classmates…

“Sensei ohayou gozaimasu! Minna san ohayou gozaimasu!” (Good morning teacher, good morning everyone!)

Then we were outside the class doing aerobics and stretches… But I was sweating from the heat even before the stretches! It was good fun nevertheless. Then it was back in the classroom, where I heard the word “sanpo” (walk), and then pretty much straight back out again!

We all went out, the kids holding hand and lined up two by two, and walked to a park not too far. The teacher set out the boundaries and threw them a ball, before the little people shot of screaming.

The teacher indicated I should go play football with the kids. I say “sure!” but really I’m thinking “seriously…i’m gonna die”. The walk in that humidity was enough to tire me out and leave me hot and sticky, and now I had to run about in that heat?

I obediently did so, chasing after the ball with the kids. Most of the kids, however, were more interested in trying to catch one of the dozen dragonflies flying low above our heads, by throwing their little caps at them (granted it’s not terribly effective but seriously cute…). So I ended up picking them up and holding them in the air while they flayed about with their caps, laughing and shouting which way.

This caused a new problem a wasn’t particularly anxious to discover… You pick one child up, they all want picking up…  ‘oh please no’.

Within 2 minutes there was a little line of kids waiting to be thrown in the air. I think I preferred it when they just pretended to shoot me.

When finally the teacher called everyone together, I was hot and sweaty and exhausted. Some of the kids had sweat dripping down their faces but seemed unphased. How do kids have so much energy?!

We started on our walk again and I thought I’d been saved, until we ended up at another park. I there spent another half an hour picking up kids and holding steady as they slid down a pole. Some of the kids were a bit shy but others had no reservations when it came to giving me their orders – pick me up! Let me go, I can do it by myself! Help me! Again again!

I didn’t particularly mind any of it. Being honest I found the whole day a lot of fun, despite being tiring. The kids can be demanding but, that’s just kids.

In any case, I had lunch to look forward to, which would be kindly provided by the nursery. I was more than happy to work and simply earn that meal! And it did turn out to be a good one. After helping serve I sat to eat with the kids. A bowl of rice, a bowl of soup, a plate of vegetables and a small main dish of chicken I think (the dishes changed everyday but were normally a similar thing).

I was handed chopsticks to eat with…no question of whether or not I could use them. Thankfully I could use them, though not nearly as skilfully as the little ones sitting next to me.

I would try to make conversation with the kids, and though I understood some of their responses, my attempts were often met with an enthusiastic ramble I could make little sense of if any. Then when the pause and wait for a response, looking at me… I’m faced with 2 options – pretend to understand, laugh and say yes… OR admit defeat and say I don’t understand. Either was usually met with a puzzled look. Once I said I didn’t understand, to which the boy repeated the same thing I didn’t understand a word of. So I say “Wakarimasen, igirisujin desu” (I don’t understand, I’m English), To which the kids kinda rolls his eyes and says something like “Yeah I get it, I get it”.

The kids are definitely very used to having foreigners around from volunteers coming and going. Some aren’t really interested, they just do their own thing, others are shy, and others having fun trying to say your name or punch you playfully and pretend to shoot you or sword fight. In all it was good fun and I loved the volunteering already. After a few days the kids got a little more used to me, running to give a high five or a hug before we left which was always nice.

I finished the day after working at the nursery and elementary school by going for a walk around Nijo castle. I didn’t go on, only around the perimeter since it had already closed. I couldn’t believe how it could be over 25 degrees Celsius, even at 8pm in the rain. So even though it was raining a bit, it never really bothered me. It was a nice walk but I’d absolutely have to go back another day to go in.

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