Right now, both Yamakiya Elementary School and Yamakiya Junior High School are sharing the school building of Kawamata-Minami Elementary School. I often teach at the Yamakiya schools, and having them in Minami Elementary feels a bit strange.
Of course, in a way it's convenient because they're very close now. And, of course, Minami Elementary is a very nice school. But it's also a little sad that I can't go up to Yamakiya now.
The first time I went to Yamakiya Elementary School was on September 11th, 2007. It was the third elementary school I visited, after Fukuzawa and Ojima (both of which are now closed). When I saw the school, I was very surprised at how new and modern it was, especially compared to the nearby Yamakiya Junior High School. Of course, it's the newest school building in Kawamata (whereas Yamakiya Junior High School is the oldest).
I remember that all the students gathered together in the front hall while I was introduced. Then, I was asked to give a self-introduction to everyone. I was still a little nervous in those days, but everyone seemed so friendly and interested that I soon was able to relax.
Later that day, I taught English to the second grade class. It was the largest elementary school class that I'd taught so far, and again I was nervous at the beginning. But we all had so much fun that I was quickly cured. I was teaching the names of fruits in English, and every time I showed the class a new fruit, they would shout out the name so loudly that I thought the whole school must hear it.
But I was most surprised when I showed them the picture of a peach. I held up the picture so that the peach's leaves were on top, because to me, that's the right way up. At least, I think that's how a peach grows on the tree... but all the children laughed and shouted "chigau!" [—wrong, mistaken]. They made me turn the peach upside-down so that the leaves were on the bottom. I learned later that, in Japan, that's considered the "right way up" for a peach. So the students taught me something in that class as well.
Those children are now in the sixth grade, and right now their classroom is in Minami Elementary School instead of up in Yamakiya. But my classes with them, and with the rest of Yamakiya's students, are still the same in many ways. Wherever they are, their spirit remains unchanged. I guess it doesn't really matter where they are... the heart of Yamakiya is more in its people than in its buildings.