Thursday, March 17, 2011

Everything I learned at a Buddhist Yochien




Yochien Graduation

After three eventful years, today was the Moose's yochien graduation. It consisted of two parts: the ceremony, attended by both parents, and the party, attended by one parent. Having kids only a year apart in school, I encouraged my husband to attend the party. I had learned last year what a heart wrencher the "party" was. I told him to bring a towel. He thought I was kidding, but I am getting ahead of myself.

The Moose had a long face all morning. He likes routine, not change. His dad reassures me that he was exactly the same when he was a child. However, this isn't the best attribute for a Navy brat living in Japan which is currently experiencing earthquake aftershocks several times a day, rolling blackouts, and the threat of a radioactive dusting in the ominous future in addition to a graduation ceremony which will lead to a change in schools.


A Speech Inspires

After the diplomas were handed out, the president of the PTA gave a speech. It was all in Japanese, but she mentioned a book title I had read, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. I suppressed my tears by coming up with this my list of "Everything I Learned at a Buddhist Yochien.0"

My List of Everything I Learned at a Buddhist Yochien

* Greetings are important- every bus and child are greeted by the principal and a teacher every morning

* A child's work is to play outside, play with friends, and to make lots of odango mud balls

* Announce your arrival and exit to the sensei- Ohio good morning and Sayonara good bye

* Bring your own wabukee slippers for mama meetings- the yochien ones are hard to walk in and most everyone else will have their own from home

* The children bring their wabukee home every Friday so you can clean them (it took me longer than I'd like to mention to figure this out)

* Patches are better than buttons on colored hats because sometimes you have to wear your hat inside out for a game of white hats versus colored hats

* You eat together and no one starts until, in unison, you say "itadakimasu" I humbly receive

* Everyone gets a turn and the same undivided attention, but it takes a while

* Obento lunch trash is disposed of at home so pack it up

* Speak softly, reassuringly- in four years the only time I heard a yochien sensei yell, was to cheer the kids on in a game of dodge ball

* Stay calm, it helps the kids get calm

* Get on your knees, down at kid level, and when necessary, gently assist the child- most often seen when the teacher's assistant quietly redirects a child back to their seat during assemblies

* Hugs & piggyback rides are always ok

* Growing vegetables and cooking with them is a great way to get a kid to try them- the whole class is involved in this so it adds a social element as well, annual curry party

* Japanese kids really do eat brocoli and tomatoes in their obentos (and lots of other things mine won't)

* Emergency training starts early, Yochien has disaster drills- fire alarms will go off and kids learn from age 3 what to do- calmly exit, hold your hands over your head to protect it from falling debris, and regroup in a safe location

* Masks are worn to protect others from getting your cold- if you are sneezing or coughing, wear one

* Onigiri rice balls are the staple of every skinny Japanese mama's diet- from my observations

* Wear a coat to mama meetings, the room may be heated but the windows and doors will be open, even in winter

* Bring a hand towel, everyone carries their own hand towel for drying their hands in the bathroom; there are no papertowels or hand dryers generally in Japanese public bathrooms

* Mama's always have a purse and a bag-  this is where the trash, slippers, and hand towel are kept

* Everyone participates- even mamas with babies in backpacks when playing a game of Dodge Ball; there are no excuses

* No one is left out- even those who can't speak a lick of Japanese, thankfully

* You can make a lot of art with garbage- the Moose brought something made out of newspapers, milk cartons, tape, and various kinds of paper every day he went to yochien


* Don't intervene, the kids will take care of themselves especially when putting on clothes and shoes or sorting out problems

* Always say, "Gomenasai" "I'm sorry" when you hurt someone & they will say "Eeoh" "okay" to acknowledge your apology

* Difficult assignments such as volunteering for the PTA are decided by the game of rock, paper, scissors! It is the culturally acceptable alternative to the American coin toss

* PTA is a lot of work & you will have very little free time if you do this

* Yochien mamas make healthy obento to show their love to their children. Obenots generally include different colors and textures of vegetables, meat, dairy, and fruit.

* When invited to someone's house, bring a gift such as a small fancy baked good or seasonal fresh fruit- every time

* Ceremonies will go on despite earthquakes, blackouts, and the threat of radiation- no steps will be skipped!

* Bring a towel to graduation- a handkerchief will not be big enough- your baby is a kid now!

It has been a gift to experience Japanese yochien for four years (between the two kids).  We have absorbed so many cultural lessons from this one decision. We also made many wonderful friends who have overlooked our lack of Japanese language skills and our muddling of Japanese cultural ways. No wonder the Moose would like another year!

And about that towel, since my husband was staying for the "party," the other two expat dads decided to join him. By the end of the party, they were debating which was worse the "party" or the torture technique of "water boarding." My husband confirmed the mamas had towels into which the supposedly stoic Japanese mamas boohooed. The dads unanimously voted for "water boarding."

The Youtube clip from graduation: