So after a month of living in Japan, today was my first day at my first school, Higashi Yonesato Elementary\Junior High School. I was warned beforehand that the school was incredibly tiny - there are only 5 kids in elementary school and 4 in junior high! I knew this was going to be a completely different experience than any other school I will visit this year, and was a little nervous when I arrived at the school this morning, since I was told earlier that the English teacher would be absent today.
As I entered the school, there was a sign in English, bidding me welcome, take off my shoes in my shoe locker, and to find the vice-principal in the staff room. As I entered the room, there was Mr. Wakamatsu, the school's vice-principal. He gestured for me to sit down and handed me a message he had written with the use of Google translate:
"Today, the school principal is not for the meeting.
English teacher in charge of today is closed.
If you have trouble, please tell me.
He then handed me a few papers regarding the schedule and school, and attempted to talk to me in Japanese. I had no idea what he was saying, but I figured I could read the papers and answered with a few "OK"s. I was then led into the the staff room, where I was to introduce myself to the 6 or so staff in Japanese. It went a little something like this:
"Ohayo gozaimasu. Watashi wa Sarah Stone-Robinson desu. Sarah to yonde kudasai. Amerika no Texas kara kimashita. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu."
I had practiced so much more for this very occasion. I was going to say, this is my first time in Japan, and that I had a husband and a son, but a combination of the oppressive heat (schools have no air conditioners here) and nervousness allowed only those few sentences. They clapped for me anyway, and Mr. Wakamatsu showed me around the school. As he was leading me, I noticed all the empty classrooms. This once-thriving, two-story, 50 year old school was now reduced to less than 10 children. He told me that the school will be shut down next year because of lack of enrollment. Of course he said this in Japanese, but I got the gist of what he was telling me.
The rest of the morning was spent waiting to meet the elementary students, taught by Mr. Yamanaka. The class consists of four 4th graders and one 6th grader, with Mr. Yamanaka teaching them all. I was to give them a short introduction of myself and where I'm from, and then the students were to introduce themselves to me. A sweet 4th grader, Miki, gave me a flower, and told me that she loved english. After introductions, they gave me a tour of the school (again), and then I was asked if I wanted to eat lunch with them - a delicious meal of curry rice, some kind of salad, and a tangerine. Everyone was interested in if I like Japanese food. I told them I loved it, and asked them if they like American food. " Hamburger!", Mr. Yamanaka said, and the rest of the lunch was spent trying to communicate with him and the school counselor, since neither speak much english. After lunch I played tag with them in the gym, which didn't help the heat factor at all, but I had a lot of fun.
I have to say that my first impression of a Japanese school are good so far. All the teachers and staff have treated me very kindly and with a mild curiosity, especially the vice-principal, who seems very interested in Texas and US maps. I've been given loads of iced Japanese tea, and been given a tour of all the bathrooms by the school nurse (it's important to know - not all bathrooms have Western toilets. When any of the teachers want to talk to me or I to them, we just fire up the good ol' google translator - I've had full conversations with the vice-principal today merely using that! So despite the size, it's a great school full of great people, and I can't wait to meet the (4) junior high kids tomorrow!