As I wrote a few months ago, my first visit to an elementary school was to Fukuzawa Elementary School, which has now been closed down.
The second time I visited an elementary school, it was Ojima Elementary School, which was closed down at the same time as Fukuzawa. It seems strange that my first two elementary schools in Kawamata are both gone now. And yet, I have special memories of both places.
I visited Ojima Elementary School only a few days after my first visit to Fukuzawa. My first impression was how different it was — Fukuzawa Elementary School was an old, traditional school building high on a hill, whereas Ojima Elementary School was a new, modern building surrounded by rice fields. But I quickly discovered that, in their hearts, the two schools were very similar: small, friendly, and welcoming.
One of the things about a small school is how close all the students and teachers are. At Ojima Elementary School, I noticed that every single student seemed to know each other by name, all the way from first grade to sixth grade. Everybody was friends, and they welcomed me like a friend as well.
They weren't just friendly, they were smart and helpful as well. I remember one day, when I was asked to lead some English activities for a mixed group of students after school, without any other teachers to help me. I still couldn't speak much Japanese, and I was having a lot of trouble trying to get the first and second year students to listen to me. I was beginning to panic when, suddenly, a sixth grade boy and girl realized I was having trouble, and — without me asking — came to rescue me. The boy helped me with my presentation, while the girl organized the young children into groups and got them to listen carefully. It's hard for me to imagine Canadian children being so thoughtful. I don't know if these two students ever realized how much I appreciated their help.
Before Ojima Elementary School was closed down, I had a chance to attend a "thank you party" held by the students for their teachers and parents. The students sang, played music, and gave entertaining performances. The mood was cheerful and happy, but I think we all felt a bit sad. At the end, I was given a beautiful flowering plant to take home with me.
I still have that plant today.