My November 2001 trip to Japan included visits to
11 elementary schools and 2 kindergartens. These schools are located in 7
different prefectures: Aichi, Kanagawa, Miyagi, Nagano, Yamagata, Yamaguchi,
and Yamanashi. Some schools are in large cities such as Nagoya and Kawasaki,
and others are in small towns and villages such as Azumi Village in Nagano
with 2,500 residents. Azumi's combined elementary and junior high school has
about 100 students, in contrast to several larger schools I visited where one
grade has 100 or more students.
||With children at
On this page I give some of my general
impressions and thoughts about the entire three-week trip. Each school visit
also has a separate web page with photos and comments (page
with links to individual school visits).
Planning the Trip -
My company implemented a huge new computer system in August, so I worked many
long hours (including almost every weekend) between May and October. I could
not take any vacation during the summer, so my wife Noriko went to Japan for
three weeks during June and July since she had to take her vacation when the
school where she worked was not in session. I decided to also go to Japan
when I could finally get some time off from work in November.
While working on the Friendship Dolls web site
since November 2000, I had been in contact with many Japanese schools to get
information and to get permission to publish the Blue-eyed Doll web pages
that I had translated from Japanese to English. I thought it would be fun to
visit some of these schools, so I started to contact them in September. In
general, I selected the schools to visit based on the following factors:
- school (or other related individual or
organization) has web page with detailed information about its Blue-eyed
- school gave me kind and encouraging response
when I asked for permission to publish translated material on the
Friendship Dolls web site
- school had recent activities related to the
Blue-eyed Dolls, or school has a long tradition of supporting activities
related to the Blue-eyed Dolls
Warm Welcomes - I was surprised by the
warm welcome I received at each school. Even though nobody at the schools had
ever met me before or even seen a photo of what I look like, the principals,
teachers, and students at the 13 schools all treated me kindly as a special
I had written to the schools that I would like
to talk with the students about American culture, geography, and English, but
I did not give any specifics about the talks. The schools were very open and
trusting to let me speak to their students, even though they did not know
what I might say or how much Japanese I knew.
Preparation and Organization -
The principals and teachers at the schools did much planning to set up
schedules and to prepare activities for my visits. The schools had detail
written schedules with times, places, and activities. My activities varied
greatly from school to school since I did not specify beforehand exactly what
I wanted to do during my visits. Each visit turned out to be very special and
memorable in its own way.
Three of the smaller schools had every grade
actively involved in my visit, which really astonished me. Saigo Elementary
School in Toyohashi City had assigned individual tasks to about 15 different
people (probably the entire school staff). Actually, this was the one school
where I started to think in the morning of my planned visit that maybe the
school had forgotten that I was coming since the plans had been made so long
ago and since I had never received directions on how to get to the school. So
I was astounded to find out when I arrived at the school how much advance
preparation had been done for my one-day visit.
Special Presentations -
The students at many of the schools prepared special presentations or
performances for my visits. The children sang songs or played music on
recorders to welcome me to the school. Students at three elementary schools
performed traditional Japanese dances, and the third graders at Monou
Elementary School did an energetic taiko drum performance when I arrived at
Several schools had performances related to
the Blue-eyed Dolls. One of the sixth-grade classes at Daiju Elementary
School in Yamagata City wrote the script of a play called "Helen's Story - Toward a Peaceful Tomorrow."
This play included two songs with the lyrics and music also composed by the
sixth graders. On the morning of my visit, this class of sixth graders
performed the play at an assembly attended by all of the school's nearly 600
students. The sixth-grade class at Azumi Elementary School sang a beautiful
rendition of "Blue-eyed Doll"
at a school assembly. The sixth graders at Daiichi Elementary School in
Yamagata City showed me a video of the play that the class had performed at a school assembly
less than one week before my visit. The play showed what it was like to live during World War II,
and it contained some parts about the school's Blue-eyed Doll.
Wide Range of Ages - During
my travels in Japan I had the opportunity to meet people of many different
age groups. The Friendship Dolls appeal to people of every age, from young
children to elderly people. The opportunity to get to know and be friends
with people of all different ages is one of the main reasons I enjoy so much
working on my Friendship Dolls web site.
During my visits to the two kindergartens, I
met many children from ages two to five. Conversation with this age group was
by far the hardest for me, since I many times had difficulties understanding
what the young children were trying to say. But we still had fun together!
During my visits to the 11 elementary schools, I enjoyed meeting students
from first grade to sixth grade, giving talks to them, and answering their
Surprisingly, as part of my travels in Japan
related to the Friendship Dolls, I met several "retired" people in
their late 50s, 60s, 70s, and even 80s. These people are actively involved
with the Friendship Dolls in many ways: making new dolls, organizing
activities for children, creating presentation materials, writing books,
performing historical research, and searching for missing Blue-eyed Dolls
sent by America in 1927. One activity I did not observe in the age group was
"making web pages" (or even "getting information from the
Internet"), so maybe widespread use of the Internet by retired people in
Japan is still a few years away.
Student Questions - Answering
questions from students was always fun, since I never knew what to expect.
One little boy at a kindergarten asked me whether I had a girlfriend. I had
just given a talk at a school assembly where I told the children I have a
wife who is Japanese, so I was thinking maybe he missed that part of the
talk. Well, then again, maybe he was listening to that part. I decided to
give the safe answer of repeating that I had a Japanese wife.
Some student questions stumped me. Since I
live in Connecticut, one student asked a natural question: "What are the
famous products of Connecticut?" Not having grown up in Connecticut, I
had a hard time thinking of anything "famous" about the state other
than it is the place between New York City and Boston. I thought for a few
seconds and came up with the uninspired answer that Connecticut has a famous
aquarium, many banks and insurance companies, and one of the most famous
universities in America. The students in the class were not impressed.
The students at several schools prepared
questions before I arrived, and many hands shot up when after my talks I
asked whether anyone had a question. The sixth graders at Yamagata City
Daiichi Elementary School and the first and second graders at Monou
Elementary School in Miyagi Prefecture had many detailed questions about the
Friendship Dolls. Some of these questions related to Blue-eyed Dolls in
Yamagata or Miyagi Prefectures, so a local resident who accompanied me was
able to answer these questions.
Several children, especially those in the
sixth grade, asked questions about the recent terrorist incidents in the
United States. I explained that many Americans feared anthrax contamination
and another terrorist incident. Many people have decided not to fly since
September, and airports and companies have greatly increased security. When
talking with some of the sixth-grade students at Yamagata City Daiju
Elementary School, a couple of students asked my opinion on the war in
Afghanistan. My response in class to this important but difficult question
did not take into consideration (a) the age and background of the students
and (b) my limited Japanese to explain in detail the reasons for my opinions
on this complex topic. When I told the students that I thought that the
United States must try to kill Osama bin Laden (thinking to myself that he
would not let himself be captured alive), they were somewhat shocked,
considering my limited explanation that bin Laden wanted to kill Americans
and their allies, so the US had no choice in the matter. Recognizing
immediately that my words probably sounded to the students quite inconsistent
with the message of peace of the Friendship Dolls, when I returned to
the US I sent to the students an e-mail with (a) an apology for my inadequate
answer in class and (b) a much more detailed explanation of my views against
violence and war except in very rare circumstances.
Before my November 2001 trip to Japan, I had
never visited a Japanese elementary school or kindergarten, so I learned an
immense amount from my visits to the 13 Japanese schools. Most of all, I
learned from my comments on the war in Afghanistan that when answering
questions I need to carefully consider the age and background of the students
and to fully explain myself on issues considered to be controversial.
Material for Web Site - I
received a tremendous amount of Friendship Doll material from the schools I
visited and from the Miyagi Blue-eyed Doll Study Group, Koneta
Friendship Doll Group, and Urayasu Friendship Doll Exchange
Association. In the future I hope to add some of this interesting
material to the Friendship Dolls web site.
The material included newspaper articles from
1927, historical photos, books, articles about finding a school's doll,
pamphlets, recent photos, and play scripts. Yamagata City Daiichi Elementary
School gave me a bound children's book about their two dolls Mary and Eileen
and the other Blue-eyed Dolls in Yamagata. Saigo Elementary School in
Toyohashi City presented me with a pamphlet in both Japanese and English that
gives the story of their doll Koneta and the two Koneta replicas.
Continuing Friendships - As
I left some schools, several students asked me to please come again. I was
very happy when I heard these words, but I also felt a little sad when I
thought how difficult it would be to return before they graduated. I
sincerely hope to continue friendships with the students and teachers at the
schools I visited, although it most likely will be through letters, e-mails,
and postcards rather than in person.