It is with mixed feelings that I write this final entry in my blog. While I miss my family and friends back home and am anxious to see them, I also will be sad to leave Japan. This past week has been so incredible! Yesterday, as Mrs. Shimizu and I were walking through Ueno Park to get to the International Library of Children’s Literature, I was thinking that I would like to spend more time in that area. My wish came true today, when Mrs. Kida (dressed in a beautiful kimono) met me to take me back to Ueno Park. I taught Mrs. Kida’s son Haruto for two years in a literacy group, and it was wonderful to see her again. This time at the park, I got to visit the Ueno Park Zoo, something this animal lover really enjoyed. They have two giant pandas at the zoo, and they were both very visible. So cute! I had mentioned to Mrs. Kida before my trip that I would like to go to the National Museum of Japanese History, which is also at Ueno Park. It was a first visit for her as well, and we both felt the museum was fabulous. On such a humid day, it was also a good choice for spending part of the day. After the museum, Mrs. Kida took me to a restaurant that specializes in shabu-shabu. It was absolutely delicious, and the restaurant was very traditional in looks and how the meal was served. The restaurant was just down the street from the Senso-ji Temple, another site I wanted to see. We had just enough time to see the temple before returning to the Shinagawa Prince Hotel for the Lawrence School party. So many former Lawrence families were there! I almost felt like I was at school, with so many familiar faces around me. Several families traveled quite a distance to be there; I was so appreciative that they made the trip. The food was delicious (and plentiful!), the children were adorable and very patient with the multiple pictures I took, and I had a great time chatting with the parents and catching up. A big thanks goes to Mrs. Suzuki for organizing the get-together. It is a testament to the families, to Lawrence School, and especially to SET-J, that this community of former Lawrence families is still so strong. I am very fortunate to be part of this community, by extension. Lawrence Loyalty was strong tonight in Tokyo, Japan!

DSC00905Shin-Shin the panda at Ueno Park Zoo

DSC00925Mrs. Kida, before our delicious shabu-shabu lunch

DSC00932Senso-ji Temple

Lawrence Loyalty!

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Today (July 1) I visited the Koike Elementary School in the Ota section of Tokyo. Mrs. Sawada and her son Naoki (formerly in KG and 1C) met me at the train station and we walked to the school. I didn’t want to risk being late, so I chose to take a taxi instead of trying to take the subway and train during rush hour. Mrs. Shimizu, mother of Ryoichiro (formerly in KG and 1C as well), joined us at the school. Mr. Igarashi, the principal, made sure that I was able to see many examples of literacy instruction (my focus on this trip). First, I observed a grammar lesson in a first grade (31 students and one teacher!). Then I got to see second graders working on listening comprehension, which was very interesting. I was taking many mental notes about things I can add to my own instructional repertoire, and continued to do so during the next class period. First graders were reenacting scenes from a classic tale they had read. They were given feedback from peers and then given time to polish their performances before acting out their scenes again. It was a lively lesson! Then it was my turn to teach. I taught a lesson to Naoki’s third grade class on English words, using the book “It Begins With An A.” I was impressed with how many of Naoki’s classmates knew the English words presented in the book through riddles. I could not have taught the lesson without Naoki’s help; he translated directions for me. His classroom teacher, Mr. Yamamoto, as well as Mrs. Sawada and Mrs. Shimizu, were also incredibly helpful, especially when I broke the class into small groups to create their own riddles about English words. After eating lunch with all of the third graders, it was time to leave the school and venture to the International Library of Children’s Literature with Mrs. Shimizu. It is located in Ueno Park, which is a beautiful section of the city, filled with museums, wide paths on which to walk in the shade of trees (very welcome on this hot day!), and the Ueno Zoo. The library houses not only Japanese children’s books, but books from other countries that have been translated into Japanese. It was fun to see so many familiar titles – everything from “Make Way for Ducklings” to “The Giver” – written in Japanese. Mrs. Shimizu has a friend who is a teacher, and she met us at the library. The three of us enjoyed discussing favorite books, and commenting on the usefulness of the library as a resource for teachers. Another very full and wonderful day! I can’t believe that tomorrow is my last day in Japan! :(

DSC00870outside the Koike Elementary School

DSC00856with Naoki, whom I remember as a first grader at Lawrence!

DSC00833first grade teacher explaining to the students the “glue words” (the ones on colored paper) that denote whether a word is a subject, object or verb

DSC00840a first grader writing sentences and making sure that she is using the “glue words”

DSC00862teaching the third graders – more than 30 of them! (Mr. Yamamoto is on the right)

DSC00868Mrs. Shimizu, me, Mr. Igarashi (principal), and Mrs. Sawada

DSC00876familiar books – written in Japanese – in the International Library of Children’s Literature

 

As I write today’s entry, I am on another Shinkansen. The three hour trip to Tokyo is allowing me to do a lot of blogging. Today (June 30) began with a visit to the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park and Museum. It was incredibly moving, and an emotional experience. My interpreter and guide, Masako Unezaki, first took me around the grounds of the park, pointing out the various important monuments; among them, the Flame of Peace, Cenotaph (which covers a box containing the names of all of the victims), the Peace Bell, the Children’s Peace Monument (which I like to think of as the Sadako Monument), and the A-Bomb Dome). We also walked to the hypocenter of the blast. In addition, we stood in the exact spot where President Obama delivered his speech a few weeks ago. Judging by my conversations with many Japanese people over the past week, it is clear that they are very happy that Obama came to Hiroshima. I then got to spend time in the museum, which houses artifacts that clearly show the horrors of what happened that day. The paper cranes that President Obama made were also on display, with pictures from his visit. Following my time in the museum, I laid flowers at the Cenotaph. Masako and I then went to meet with a survivor of the A-Bomb blast, Mr. Takashi Teramoto, with whom I had a private audience (with Masako translating). I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to meet Mr. Teramoto, who often speaks to groups of people about his memories of that day. After this unique experience, I met up with Mio Ochi (in 1L this past year at Lawrence School) and her mother. Together, Mio and I placed the 1000 cranes made by Lawrence School students in the special area designated for donations of cranes at the Children’s Peace Memorial. What an amazing morning! While Masako was taking me around the Peace Park, we learned that there was an emergency today on the Shinkansen train line due to the heavy rains in the southern part of Japan. There was a chance that I would have to find another way to get to Tokyo, but by the time Mrs. Shimizu dropped me off at the train station (with Masako, who kindly stayed with me to translate, as we tried to figure out what was going on with the trains), the line was up and running again. Whew!

DSC00787getting ready to place flowers at the Cenotaph – I know I don’t look happy in the picture, but that is because I didn’t feel that it was an occasion for a big smile, and there was glare from the sun in my eyes.

DSC00798It is probably hard to see, but the sign outside the room where I met with Mr. Teramoto said 11:00-12:00, SET-J Lawrence School.

DSC00796with Mr. Teramoto

DSC00811Mio Ochi and me adding the Lawrence School paper cranes (all 1000 of them!) to the Children’s Peace Memorial.  Our cranes have the wide, white ribbons on them.  Mio got to leave school for a little while so she could meet up with me.

Yesterday, June 29, I got to take my first ride on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to get to Hiroshima. Mrs. Kamei (former Lawrence parent and mother of Kota, Taro and Yuta) and her sister, Mrs. Shimizu, met me at the station in Hiroshima and drove me to the dock to board the ferry to the island of Miyajima. It was pouring – my first day of really bad weather. Upon arrival on the island, the deer that usually crowd around humans for handouts of food were almost nonexistent. Only a few brave ones willing to stand in the rain were roaming around. The three of us ate a delicious lunch of eel, and then Mrs. Kamei and I set off to explore the temples and shrines on the island. Even though I am sure that Miyajima is spectacular on a sunny day, there was definitely still beauty. The mists that surrounded the nearby mountains were breathtaking, and once inside the temples/shrines, the sound of the rain added an extra level of peacefulness. After we left Miyajima, Mrs. Kamei took me to the Shukkei-en Garden in the city of Hiroshima. It is known as a “strolling garden,” and that is a perfect name. There were paths around ponds and over beautiful bridges that were relaxing to wander around on. The carp in the ponds were huge (and also looking for handouts of food)! I retreated to my lodgings for the night, a Japanese style guest room in one of the highest buildings in the city. After setting up my futon and taking a nap, I met up with the Kamei’s for dinner. I got to try Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, which I liked better than the Osaka-style (although both are good).

DSC00712The Otorii (Grand Gate) at Miyajima Island – when the tide is in, it looks like the gate is floating

DSC00746In Shukkei-en Garden

On June 28, I had the opportunity to explore Osaka, the city where my father was stationed after World War II. My guide was Tomoya Sasaki, who attended the Heath School in Brookline when he was a child. We first visited Tomoya’s elementary school, Minamiyamada Elementary School. This school was very different from the one I visited in Kyoto, as it is an urban school with over 1,350 students in grades 1-6. The school building is also very old. I observed a fourth grade reading class, where again I saw many of the strategies being used by the children that are the same as those used by children in American schools when reading: activating prior knowledge, making predictions, and supporting one’s thinking with evidence from the text. There were 40 children in the class and one teacher. I also observed a history class and a math class where students had been broken into a small group of 17 (out of the total 40 in their class), in order to give them more help. I also caught the end of an English class, where the teacher was from Florida. The students in this school delighted in being able to say “good morning” to me in English. After our visit to the school, Tomoya and I walked to Osaka Castle, which is absolutely beautiful. The exhibits inside helped me learn about ancient wars and how power transferred from one warlord to another. I had my first taste of okonomiyaki for lunch (delicious!). It was then time to make a quick run to the Hanshin Department Store to get a Hanshin Tigers shirt to wear to the baseball game in the evening. I had just enough time to get back to my hotel and change for the game. Mr. and Mrs. Takemoto (grandparents of Yu, in KF last year) met me to take me to the game. Mr. Takemoto is a big baseball fan like me, so even though he wasn’t fluent in English, and my Japanese is virtually non-existent, we spoke the language of baseball! The game was so much fun! The Tigers ended up winning, 5-3, after some nail-biting innings. One of my favorite parts of the game was when everyone in the stadium released balloons after the seventh inning, and again at the end of the game because the Tigers won. It was beautiful to see all the balloons being released at the same time. It was an exhausting, but awesome day!

DSC00635Minamiyamada Elementary School – It was a very rainy day, so in addition to leaving their shoes in the designated cubbies (in order to put their school shoes on), the children also stored their umbrellas here.

DSC00644Osaka Castle

DSC00665Mr. Takemoto and me on our way to the game.DSC00686Go Tigers!

I’ve had two very busy days, so there is a lot to catch up on in this blog. On Monday, June 27 I visited the Saganakadai Elementary School in Kyoto. Two of the Soeda children (Mizuki – formerly in 1C and 2G, and Kazuki – formerly in KE) attend this school; their mother was kind enough to be my guide for the day. When we arrived, an apology was made that the principal was not immediately available, because she was teaching a swimming class! (All elementary schools in Japan have swimming pools on-site and swimming is part of the curriculum.) I first went to a fourth grade classroom and participated in a calligraphy lesson, learning how to write the words “left” and “right” in Kanji. The students thought I did a good job. I was then able to spend time observing a first grade reading lesson, where the teacher focused on many of the skills we have our youngest American readers focus on: word families, numbers of syllables, and vocabulary. A big difference was that there were 30 children in the class (with two teachers). I also observed math and history classes and an upper grade reading lesson. I then ate lunch with Mizuki’s class. The children had many questions for me, which Mizuki translated. In between observing the children, I had time to talk with the principal, one of the teachers, and my translator for the day, Mr. Narumi, about all different aspects of education. Following my time at the school, Mr. Soeda took me to Nara, to visit the temple that houses the largest Buddha in Japan. I am sorry to say that no photos from that visit will be on the blog yet, as my camera battery ran out! I will try to post the pictures that I took on my phone later. After visiting the temple and Nara Park (where the tame deer tried to eat my skirt!), Mr. Soeda and I had a delicious meal of rice, seafood and vegetables. A very full day, to say the least!

DSC00629me and Mizuki – notice the shirt she is wearing! Her brother Kazuki wore his Lawrence shirt to school that day, too.  The last time I saw her she was in first grade.  Now she’s a fourth grader.

DSC00597getting help from the principal with my Kanji writing (Mrs. Soeda is in the background)

DSC00615a first grader reading his writing to the class.

DSC00622another first grader following the sensei’s (teacher’s) directions to write three words that go together in some way, with two of them having 4 syllables and one of them having 5 syllables

I spent a wonderful day in Kyoto with Mr. and Mrs. Oki (grandparents of Aika, who was in 2G this past year). The weather cooperated (only a few raindrops), so we were able to see many temples and shrines, among them Ryoan-ji, Kinkaku-ji and Kiyomizu. We had lunch at a noodle restaurant in Arashiyama, overlooking the Togetsu Bridge. Yummy!

DSC00504Beautiful Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion.

DSC00514Lotus blossoms on the grounds of Kinkaku-ji.

DSC00525Togetsu Bridge

Final meeting with SET-J

On June 6 I had my final meeting with the wonderful SET-J parents to go over my Japan itinerary.  SET-J has carefully planned almost every detail of my trip.  I feel so fortunate to have this dedicated group working behind the scenes to make sure I have a once in a lifetime experience.                                                                                                Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 10.12.48 PM

Paper Cranes

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Students in Ms. Russell’s class made some of the paper cranes that I will be taking to Hiroshima.  They were combined with those made by other Lawrence students. It will be so special to see our cranes added to others at the Peace Park.Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 10.16.03 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-05 at 10.40.48 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The finished cranes, currently

hanging in the Lawrence School Library.