School visit to Oyama elementary school and Oyama Afuri Shrine

Andrea in front of the Afuri shrine
Andrea in front of the Afuri shrine

First activity day in Isehara! Today we first went to Oyama elementary school. At our arrival, we got some information about the school. The staff told us that their elementary school was quite small with few students, and that the kids were very excited to meet us. We were excited as well!

Meeting the kids was so much fun. The interaction started with the WCI participants doing country representations, telling the children some interesting facts about their home country. It seemed like the children enjoyed learning more about other cultures’ food, nature and traditions. After the presentations, the kids performed their school’s anthem for us. In my elementary school in Norway we never had a school anthem, so for me it was really special to see them sing. We then had the chance to interact directly with the students. Mingling with the kids, we introduced ourselves and interacted with them by signing papers with name and country.

Afterwards, we were introduced to spinning tops, often used by the children at the school. A spinning top is a toy designed to spin rapidly on the ground. Made mainly from wood, it is set in motion by a rope coiled around it. The children taught us how to play. I got the impression that most of the participants struggled to get the spinning top to remain balanced on the ground. The children, however, were so good at it! It was really entertaining to observe their spinning techniques, and maybe pick up some tips from them.

Our next activity with the children was to exchange introduction cards. In addition to name and country, we were supposed to write down our favorite word in our native languages. I picked the Norwegian word “pølse”, meaning “sausage” in English. My number one food! It was nice learning about the kids’ favorite word, as well as sharing my own. Towards the end of our visit the children taught us how to write our name in Japanese kanji, as well as our name’s meaning. Writing my name in kanji was a bit difficult, but still very fun to try.

After saying goodbye to the children, we went to a 200-year-old hotel for lunch. The meal consisted of tofu-based food. Apparently, the Oyama area is famous for its tofu. The food was very oishii! At the hotel, we also received traditional costumes for our visit to the Oyama Afuri Shrine. We took a cable car up to the shrine. The ride gave us an incredibly nice view of the landscape, and a closer look at the mysterious fog covering Oyama’s treetops.

The priest at temple let us take part in a cleansing ceremony, in which he played on a large drum and cleansed our souls. He then began telling us more about the history of Oyama and the shrine. Some of the participants were also lucky enough to try on some traditional priest clothing. Lastly, the priest gave us a tour through the beautiful shrine. Afterwards we had some free time to head into small shops near Mount Oyama, before the day ended with a wrap up meeting at the Support Center in Isehara.

All in all, today was a very fun day with lots of new experiences. I would like to thank the teachers and children at the school for letting us visit the Oyama elementary school, as well as the priest at the Oyama Afuri Shrine for sharing his knowledge. Arigatou gozaimashita!

Andrea Voldnes, Norway

Helping out at a Home for the Elderly

Playing games with the elderly in Uda
Playing games with the elderly in Uda

Today the WCI troop visited a Home for the Elderly in the morning and performed the Arigatou Event in the evening. First off was coordination as per the usual. Today we didn’t need to do very much organization since it was the second Arigatou Event and the Elderly weren’t demanding. After that we traveled to our first destination by bus. After we arrived we introduced ourselves to the old people and received a short explanation on what that facilities purpose was and such like. After the Introductions we were each seated next to a random old person. Followed by a game, in this game we received multiple choice questions on random topics such as “Where in Japan is the castle on this picture” or “How many Lakes are there in Finland”. In this game it basically ended up with my partner answering the questions on Japan and me the other questions. Together we scored 9/10, we did well. We talked as much as we could but sadly since we were limited to Japanese only the conversations were short, but very fun since it was funny trying to communicate and then having some success. I was surprised when one of the other participants told us about how his partner asked him the same questions a few times. I knew these things happen with old people, but having it really happen was quite a shock none the less. Just as we were leaving 2 of the elderly gave each of us a souvenir. One was an origami chain thing, and the other was a ball with a strange pattern woven into it. According to the explanation it takes 2 days to make one of these gifts. A short round of math would reveal that they each spent 2 and a half months making these gifts. Truly heartwarming. And when we were leaving they followed us partway out of the building, some in tears. This event was very short, not even half a day, but even an idiot could see that our visit was a moment that those cute elderly treasured dearly. And so even tho the game we played was a simple one, the time we spent was but a few hours and we went to the building for “yet another” round of meeting new people, the sincerity of the elderly touched all of our hearts and many of us left in Tears (of joy). A truly unforgettable experience.

After this we headed back to the Community Center to eat lunch which was prepared by the LOC, followed by preparations for the Arigatou Event. Both of these proceeded normally. Lunch was yet another Japanese something or other and the preparations were basically just practicing the dances and singing. The actual Arigatou Event itself however was a lot of fun. Personally I like to refer to it as a goodbye event, rather than a thank you event. Reason behind that is because it’s a lot of fun and it does the job of marking the end of the homestay very well. Today everything went very well. There were a few mistakes, however when my host-family and I were looking at the videos after the event the mistakes were actually a good thing since it gave us a good thing to laugh about.

Today was a very special day. Special because it was a very emotional day, this for multiple reasons, mainly the looks on the host-families faces and those of the old people. What was just another day in Japan for us was the highlight of the year to many of the people involved today. Being able to make people that happy truly moved many hearts in our group today. A signature on a “Thank you card” will never again be rushed by me. I feel very embarrassed when I think back to signing those 120 cards and thinking “what a pain” and rushing them. Today when looking around that facility I found a ball with the signatures of people from WCI on an obviously very important shelf.

Lastly I’d like to once again thank the host-families for their generosity for housing us. This Wonderful program can only exist thanks to you.

Griffiths Michael, English but living in Switzerland

Visiting Murou elementary school and weeding a rice field

Weeding a rice farm in Uda

Today we visited Murou Japanese elementary school and had the opportunity to interact with students and participate in classrooms. We also experienced a day’s work in the rice fields and learned about agriculture.

Going to the elementary school was quite adorable to say and it was astonishing for me to learn about how differently schools here in Japan are run compared to back at home in the U.S., starting with the cleanliness. I should mention that I absolutely love that here it is the norm to take off your shoes before you walk into a home, school, and even bathroom, so when I was welcomed to the Murou school I appreciated that we had to take off our shoes to walk through the school. The students were so excited and interested in learning about us, I was constantly smiling and excited to interact with the students who looked at us like we were someone important. I was put with a 3rd grade class and the students were so sweet, they got comfortable with us after a while and started playing games with us, running around the classroom and laughing excitedly as they got closer to us, it was adorable!

At lunch time, here they wait for everyone to have their food and before eating we put our hands together and say in unison, “Itadakimasu!” It’s such a small action but immensely significant to me because it shows so much respect and good manners. The farewell they bid us was the most amazing ending to the school day for me; I’ve NEVER had a view like that of the students saying goodbye so happily from the windows and from the entrance of the school where we were leaving. Needless to say, these students showed me a whole new world in a school environment and made me feel special and like a part of them.

The hard part of our whole day came after though, when we were going to work in a rice field picking out weeds. This was the first time for me to go into a rice field and get to experience a day’s work in agricultural labor, and I’ve got to say it was a little challenging. I did not expect to come in contact with deep deep muddy grooves filled with water and all kinds of creatures and bugs. I was scared! But, I had Sara next to me to support me and comfort me while picking out the weeds despite the small walking bugs on water and spiders… it took me a while to get used to the feeling and just ignore it. Still, I’m happy to say I did it and faced my fear! It was pretty interesting getting to know the feeling of working in a rice field and see what other people have to do on a daily basis. I enjoyed it nonetheless and had fun laughing at our reactions, people were yelling and freaking out about the bugs, some of us found tadpoles, some of us had flying insects crawling on our pants, it made the work a little more light heartening and fun. Today was very active but an amazing experience!

Hinata Orantes, USA