Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Snowman: Two Lumps or Three?

Observing Shogakko Again

My bike is parked partly on the road, where it should not be, because the kickstand sinks into the soft dirt unlike the mama bikes next to mine with their triangle stands that hold the bikes up and balanced. When I return, later, my American bike has fallen over.  Japanese mamas ride bikes without helmets so their hair is never flat and fuzzy like mine, they never strap a band on their pants to keep them out of their chain because their chains are always covered, and their bike locks with a twist of a key in the stem of their seat unlike my snakelike chain that flops about and requires looping through my tires and frame. At least I remembered my slippers today. I scuff up to the second floor where the Mule and the Moose both have open class for observation to be followed by a mamas meeting.

Cleaning Time

Entering the halls, I am early and the children are finishing up oshoji-school cleaning done every afternoon after recess. They spend twenty minutes sweeping, dusting, and wiping down the halls, stairwells, and classrooms with brooms, dustpans, and zukin cloths. The children work in pairs, groups, and by themselves stirring up clouds of dust in a great hubbub of noise.

A few children recognize me as the "Mule's Mama" or the "Moose's Mama" and a few just stare at me. A few, who can't resist the impulse, blurt out, "Hello!" I always smile and ask them a question like, "What's your name?" since if they know a bit of English they usually can answer this one. One boy with flowing brown hair gives me a double take- I'm guessing he has a gaijin father, we haven't noticed each other before. He says nothing to me. Soon the desks are pushed back into place and the children and rooms are ready for their lessons and their mother's observing eyes.

Both classes worked on their Japanese lessons- they read, they write, they play a game. I spend fifteen minutes in one class and then go to the other, then repeat, allowing each child equal time. At the end of the school day, the Mule trots home and the Moose opts to wait for me- he of course has to call me in the middle of the meeting to tell me he can't find a place to do his homework. The mama meeting is all above my head. I catch a drift of this and that when talking with the mothers, but the meeting is akin to Charlie Brown's teacher's, "Wah, whah, whah." My eyes stray. I notice the children's drawings and search for the Mule's while also enjoying each child's interpretation of the assignment. It appears that the children drew Christmas or seasonal pictures in blocks.

Snowman Art

The Mule's snowman is different- her snowman has three balls whereas the remainder of her class drew only two balls. The yukidaruma or snowman is modeled on the daruma doll which derives from Zen. The children, including the Mule, also drew mekons and kotatsu which I don't think many American children would include in a holiday drawing. Mekons are known as satsuma, a kind of orange, in the west if you know of them- they are seedless, easy to peel, and in season in winter. A kotatsu is a low table  with a heater under it and is covered by a blanket. Japanese houses are often poorly insulated and thus quite cold. The warm table is a place the family gathers to read, play games, and eat mekon.

I took photos of the children's drawings from the Mule's class. The children labeled each drawing. There is no right or wrong way to draw a snowman, but I did think straddling two cultures means never quite getting it right even for a ninhongo speaking gaijin. 
Three balls for an American Snowman 
Two balls for a Yukidaruma or Japanese Snowman
Yukidaruma & the table has omochi piled like a snowman
This snowman looks like he's wearing a glass helmut 
Two balls
I loved this snowman's boots, but still only two balls