Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Japan Day 9- Mizumaki

After our first night of sleeping on futons on the floor (surprisingly comfortable), we all woke at the much more civilised hour of 5:30 am (rather than the 4:00 that has been the norm since we got here) & got up for breakfast around 6:00. Charlie & Brendan went for a walk before breakfast. Nobuko-san made us a traditional japanese breakfast of gohan, lovely soup, tamagoyaki (rolled omelet), kamabuko (pressed fish cake- these were made in her hometown by the sea & particularly delicious), grated daikon radish, & pickles. Brendan had his usual edamame & gohan :) She also made us fresh-squeezed natsumikan juice, a citrus fruit that’s very sour (Brendan had lots of sugar syrup in his) & very refreshing. It was wonderful. Today’s plan was to visit the local elementary school (Eburi Sho Gakkou) where Shin-kun & Dai-chan are students & participate in a 4th-grade class- including the english class- for the morning. All japanese elementary school are within walking distance of their homes & school buses are practically unheard of, so we walked over & arrived at the expected time of 9:30. Brendan was really looking forward to meeting more japanese kids, but also just a bit nervous. Tomoko was with us to translate, though, so I reminded him he could ask her for help any time. It was a very warm day, humid, & looked like rain to boot, - good day to be indoors :) We were greeted by the vice-principal, exchanged our shoes for slippers, & then went to the principal’s office for an official greeting & some green tea.

Then the teacher (Nobuoko-sensei) whose class we were visiting came down with a contingent of kids & led us to the class. Elementary school children don’t usually wear uniforms, so the school felt very like home- like Brendan’s own school. There were about 25 kids in the class & they were all very excited & curious to see us. They were having a calligraphy (“shuu-ji”) lesson, with ink & brush, & were all writing the kanji for the word “bug” (“mushi”). They had set up 3 desks for Brendan, Charlie, & me to also practice writing. The teacher showed us all the proper order to make the brush strokes & we got to work. It wasn’t long, though, before most of the kids were up & watching us. They were very generous with their praise :) After that, the vice-principal took us on a tour of the school during the class's next lesson. Brendan was feeling a bit overwhelmed by his popularity (& the heat), so we ended up in the library (where the librarian kindly put on the air conditioning for a bit) & looked a Miyazaki movie picture books while we cooled down & caught out breaths. Then we went back to the classroom for their english lesson, taught by a man from the US (whom we really didn’t get to speak to much, but was very nice). He made the lesson very fun (they had to guess objects by feel, hidden under a sheet, then say what they were in english), then moved on to talking about the japanese holiday of Tanabata, where you make wishes. He had them write the sentence “I want to be a ___” on a piece of paper (the sort you write Tanabata wishes on, then hang on bamboo trees for the wish to come true) & then handed around a chart with pictures of occupations for them to choose & write in english to finish the sentence. Brendan was given a desk & I sat right beside him to help translate. A girl nearby lent him a pencil, & while they were working, all of the kids were surreptitiously chatting to Brendan about Pokemon :) (We had sent, via Tomoko, self-introductions that explained a bit about ourselves. Brendan had mentioned liking Pokemon, Kamen Rider Den-O & Gekirangers, & I mentioned liking origami :) Brendan wrote “I want to be a Pokemon Trainer” on his piece of paper, much to all the kids’ delight. Just sitting at the desk & interacting with a smaller group of kid really helped him re-equilibrate, & he was really ready to participate with the rest of the lesson- which was a rather raucous game supposedly teaching the concepts “left”, “right”, & “straight”.

The kids were paired as car & driver & the driver had to tell the car which way to go, in english. Things became rather mad when the teacher declared one of the cars a “monster car” (funny eyes drawn on a towel & pinned around their eyes), with loads of squealing as kids avoided the monster car. It was a riot. Brendan was right there in the middle of things & had a great time. After english class, we all took chairs & moved to the larger room next door for introductions.

There was a greeting on the blackboard with lots of pictures of pokemon & one of the kids came forward to give a greeting for the whole class. Then all of the kids came up in groups of 5 & introduced themselves individually, telling us their names & favourite foods & activities (& fave pokemon, of course :). Tomoko translated as they went along. Then each group came over to where we were sitting & gave us origami that they’d made! Amazing origami. I tried very hard to admire each one as it came to us, & Brendan kept saying “sugoi!”, which means “awesome!”. Then it was our turn. We shared a book we’d made of Brendan’s life in the US, following him through a whole year, showing friends, holidays, & school. I had a second copy of the book that I walked around with while Brendan read the captions on the photos. Tomoko translated for us. We left one of the books as a gift for the class. Then, it was time for “kyuu-shoku” (lunchtime) & for us to go home. It was difficult to leave. We told them they were awesome & that we appreciated how well they had cared for us. A group followed us down to the pricipal’s office & we made our thanks & goodbyes to him. Then, we said final thanks, gave final handshakes & bows, put up our umbrellas, & walked home.

Brendan was exhausted after our visit, but he made so many friends! These kids were so interested in him & what he liked, & wanted to talk to him very much. Tomoko had explained to us that for many of these kids, we were the first westerners they’d seen. There is one teacher in the school from the US (the english teacher), but they’d probably never seen a kid from the US before. I was so proud of how well Brendan held up under the scrutiny of so many curious kids. He really wanted to communicate with them, too! Interestingly, one kid who attached himself very closely to Brendan was obviously a special needs kid. From what I’ve read & learned from Tomoko, only the most severly disabled kids go to special schools. (In fact, Tomoko’s father was the principal of a school for disabled kids when he was alive.) On the other hand, what happens to kids who have special needs but can physically attend their neighbourhood school can't exactly be called mainstreaming. Most of them go to school & their teachers just cope with them. The boy who followed Brendan around, Kaishi-kun, seemed bright & very with-it, but was also unable to sit for more than 30 seconds, seemed hypotonic to me (just like Brendan), & was usually latched onto his teacher’s side for guidance (when he wasn’t latched onto Brendan :). Unlike the other kids, who were wearing socks & the special slippers worn by schoolchildren, he was barefoot. He also seemed to be wearing vestiges of everything he’d done that day on his clothes- including the ink from the writing lesson :) The other kids in his class took part in trying to keep him in hand, part of the japanese group-functioning in action, & there were quite a few choruses of “Kaishi-kun!!!” when he wandered to where he wasn’t supposed to be. When we got home Brendan mentioned that Kaishi-kun had been a bit different than the rest of the class & I asked Tomoko if he would probably be considered a special-ed kid if he were in the US. She agreed that he would be, & would probably be having other needs, such as fine-motor skills & social skill assistance if he were in the US, but it wasn’t likely to happen in Japan. Sigh.

We didn’t get home until 1:00 & were really ready for lunch. Nobuko-san made us her famous okonomiyaki for lunch- yum!! Okonomiyaki means “as you like it” & is pancakes fried with any filling you like. She made edamame ones for Brendan (of course) & ours had cabbage & seafood. Mmmmm.... oishii!! (Yummy!) After lunch Brendan lay down on his futon & read Artemis Fowl for a couple hours. He was really tired. I revved-up the laptop & downloaded today’s photos & shared our travel photos so far with Tomoko & Nobuko-san. I spent the next couple of hours writing about the the past couple days’ adventures. Brendan, much to my surprise & delight, immersed himself in the Artemis Fowl book for about an hour, until Charlie suggested that they go for a walk (Brendan brought his new katana set to practise with). He had a “tic attack” when they got home, this first since we got too Mizumaki. We set a kekkai & in time he was able to get back to his book. I can’t say enough how impressed I’ve been with his ability to self-regulate since we got here. We’re still pretty jet-lagged, & he’s had occasional anxiety about saying or doing the wrong thing, but he’s basically been happy & involved with what we’re doing.

Brendan read on his futon (contrary to usual custom. Tomoko suggested that we keep the futons available for napping rather than putting them away in the closet for the day) until dinner, then joined us in the dining room. Nabuko-san made a lovely dinner of squash soup, fish, side-veggies, & gohan (Brendan had his usual soup, edamame, & gohan). Brendan had his first difficult meal-moments when he saw the fish. He’d been feeling pretty confident about being near fish being eaten, but he had trouble with seeing the remaining bones & skin, plus the little bit of smell. He was quiet about his distress & managed to stay at the table with us until he was done eating, then quietly went back to his book. I was really proud of him! After we were done eating Charlie gathered up the fish remains & made the table a fish-free zone for Brendan, so he could rejoin us for suica (watermelon), tea, &- Pokemon!. Tomoko had checked the tv listings & found when it would on & we were very excited to see the new Diamond & Pearl series. There are some new characters, although Satoshi (Ash), Takeshi (Brock), &, of course, Pikachu are still there. It was fun to see. After pokemon was Naruto, which Brendan had never seen. He got sleepier & sleepier while watching it, &, after promising us that he’d shower in the morning, Charlie got him into his jammies & he was asleep as soon as he got under the covers.

We stayed up a chatted for a while, then Charlie went to bed & I went to shower & get ready for bed. Tomorrow we are doing some shopping & in the afternoon we leave for our ryokan & onsen weekend!

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