3rd day in Japan. 1st day of Youchien (Kindergarten). Can’t be that different from nursery, right? Well, I wasn’t right. Same age kids, sure, but a very different experience.
The first half an hour was…well, I don’t really know – I got told which class (white rabbit class), said ‘hi’ to the teacher, the teacher points outside and says “play”.
Sounds easy enough I thought. But since none of the kids knew me (as there’d not been any kind of introduction yet), this first half an hour was spent trying to entertain and interact with a small bundle of kids that seemed more intimidated by me than anything else. Any kind of question was often met with a little whimper and a hasty retreat to familiarity. But I can’t say I blame them. I had been warned that it would be like that at first.
It was better once back in the class when things got moving. The kindergarten would turn out to be a real pleasure…the most enjoyable of the things I would do in Japan. It could be extremely tiring, but as a volunteer here it was so much easier to build up some relationship with the kids and get involved.
The kids would do different things like arts and crafts, music, singing, and little outings. For music they would take out tiny keyboards with tubes they had to blow into to make a sound – and so a keyboard had been turned into a wind instrument… bizarre!
The singing was massively fun. Now and then they would have little breaks, put some music on and the kids would organise their own singing, dancing and little games. They sang one about sushi, the lyrics of which I can only remember as “Ohh sushi, sushi, suki, suki～” repeated a few times with the most adorable actions, and the kids loved it! So cute it hurts.
Another thing they did was some kind of chant to what I can only consider as some Dragon-Ball-Z type move, directed at all their other classmates.
The song I loved most was the Natsuyasumi Song – the summer holidays song…
“Konnichi wa natsuyasumi, sayounara otomodachi…..
Ya-ho-o natsu yasumi, ya-ho-o natsuyasumiii. Getsu ka sui moku kin do nichi, mainichi tanoshii, natsu yasumi～”
Kinda went something like that – I never got all the words… “hello summer holidays, goodbye my friends… heyy summer holidays, heyy summer holidays, mon, tue, wed, thur, fri, sat, sun – every day is fun – summer holidays” ….yeah I know it doesn’t work that great in English, but in Japanese…THE BEST.
It is one of my big regrets that I didn’t ask if I could record them singing some of them… I assumed that they were generic Japanese children’s songs that I could find on Youtube, but not so unfortunately! Even so, trying to sing along to some of those songs, with those adorable Japanese kids, remains among my fondest memories from my entire experience in Japan.
So, continuing with the story… After kinder, off I go to the site of Myoushinji Temple.
Walking up the stone path of this large area of temples and gardens, an elderly lady walking by rambles something to me in Japanese (I say rambles because I haven’t no idea what she said, nevermind what it meant). Then another Elderly lady a few paces behind says “English?” So I say yes… and then the moment I have to explain I’m not American…
When I spoke a little Japanese the lady and her friend got maybe a little too excited. 5 minutes later I’m being led by 2 elderly Japanese ladies that I neither know nor really understand, round a Japanese garden – the ticket for which they paid for.
So here I am being pulled around a garden with 2 women pointing out flowers and parts of the garden and try to explain, and I’m just thinking “what???”….. It even came into my head that these 2 old ladies were planning to kidnap me! Which of course is absurd, but if that happened back home in England , well… it just wouldn’t happen really. If a stranger even approaches you in England (at least the part I’m from) you wonder if he’s either going to try to rob you, sell you drugs, or start a fight.
They simply wanted to show a visitor around and have a good chat. It was a beautiful, scenic garden with beautiful features — and now somewhere out there, exists a photo of me in that beautiful garden with a couple of eccentric, elderly Japanese women.
I was very grateful for their kindness, and yet by the end, somehow they seemed far more delighted by the whole experience than I!
I would later be shown, again and again, the easy kindness of the Japanese. I can’t help but feel ashamed at the thought of what a different reception these people might receive if they were to travel to my homeland. They thoroughly impressed me as such a hardworking and thoughtful people – and what a difference such things make.