by Asako Clark, Physical Education Teacher and Japanese Culture Program Coordinator
Once you have been in Japan the experiences you have here and the different awareness that you develop will always be a part of who you are. For that reason the Japanese Culture Program has an important role to play in student learning at YIS. This role connects not only to a rich host culture but also contributes to developing each of our identities.
This year the Japanese Culture Program (JCP) kicked off the year by creating Japanese spaces in the First Floor HUB and ELC. In these areas of the new campus, we set up tatami (straw) mats with shoji (Japanese paper) screens to create a Japanese-themed space. Teachers introduced the space to the students and inquired into how students would like to use the space. Through this process students connected to the aroma of tatami, imagined where the materials may have come from and what could be good things to do on the mats. Some students shared their previous experiences and knowledge of tatami rooms and they organized themselves to take off their shoes and read books there. It is wonderful to see that they think of tatami as a good place to relax and learn.
The JCP aims to introduce aspects of Japanese culture in all grades of the school. Some past and current highlights are:
- ELC students learned about otsukimi (moon viewing) and made odango (mochi rice cake) to celebrate the Harvest Moon in September. Grade 1 students also learned about otsukimi through origami and odango-making.
- Grade 2 students had an opportunity to learn ikebana from Kindergarten Learning Assistant Mr. Daniel who is a certified ikebana teacher and who was recently featured on NHK.
- Grade 7 students visited many historical places in the Minatomirai and Chinatown districts learning about the “Story of Yokohama”. It is amazing to be able to learn about many historical buildings, businesses, and landmarks that have a foreign cultural influence in the place we all enjoy today.
- This year’s Grade 9 students planted rice during the last school year and could finally harvest that rice this September. It was the first experience of this kind for many of the students. One student commented, “I didn’t know how the rice came out from the plant” when they opened up the small plant to find rice grains inside. The students used a traditional Japanese method to grow their own rice using no machines or agricultural chemicals, in Maioka Park in the city of Yokohama.
Gr. 8 students and teachers preparing the rice field for planting.
Children in the Early Learning Center preparing odango, sweet balls of rice flour, to celebrate the Harvest Moon watching, known as otsukimi.
On other curricular levels, the Japanese music and Japanese language programs have both been thriving for a long time. Additionally, there are many yet unexplored opportunities to access Japanese culture in other areas of the school.
As students are discovering, Japanese culture is not only about traditional culture but also about modern culture to which we all have a direct connection. When our students learn and make connections with the real world, their learning becomes more authentic and meaningful. Through these experiences students develop their understanding of the world around them, and the stories that emerge strengthen their identities and the role their time in Japan plays in who they are, no matter how long or short their stay in Japan is.