I had an opportunity to volunteer at Ritsurin Garden with a group of kids. The garden is a very beautiful place once belonging to the government from a few hundred years ago. I had been there once before, but in the late fall. The vivid greens of the summer were really quite nice, and certainly gave merit to going at least once in each season.
Lotus flowers are huge
The reason why I was there was to help out with a group of kids, doing a sort of extracurricular field trip. It was on a Saturday morning, and would be a great excuse to get out of the house and do something good for the community. Our job after all is not only to convey language, but also offer an exposure to foreign culture that the people of Japan wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. As such, I try to throw myself out into anything like this as often as possible.
I was joined on by a handful of other foreign teachers from the prefecture, not all from the JET Program, and we were assigned to groups of students. From there, the first half of the day was to walk around the gardens and answer a few questions that had been prepared on sheet of paper. They were mostly pretty easy, and existed only to give us a place to go investigate. The true goal here was not really to learn about the garden as these kids had been here numerous times, I got the feeling it was more about taking in the international aspect of the teachers. I was asked numerous questions about what I thought about Japan, or how to say various things in English. The kids, shy at first,warmed up and then were busy asking about all sorts of things.
Playing with some turtles brave enough to let us pick them up…
After our walk around the park, we went over to a meeting area to have Nagasoumen. It is a type of noodle served cold, but the interesting part was that they put it in halved bamboo poles that had water flowing down them. The noodles would then luge down with the flow of the water and we were tasked with plucking the noodles out with chopsticks as they passed. I had never seen something like this before and it was certainly fun.
After this, we moved over to a field where we played a couple games. First was a ripping bout of Duck, Duck, Goose that lasted about 10 minutes. Then we moved onto a game called Gotcha. Basically you had to capture the finger of your neighbor before they pulled it away, all while protecting your own finger. It’s a game that is pretty easy to play and fun with kids. Last, we played a variation of tag, where you could only walk. The other catch was that you were only playing in pairs, so it was more like 30 concurrent games of speed walking. It was a pretty good hour for everyone, and I too came away with some new activities to implement in my classes.
The only other piece of note it that this event actually got a bit of media attention. There was a camera crew there getting shots of the kids and our activities. However, at one point I was pulled aside for an interview where they asked me a series of questions, mostly pertaining to what I thought about working with the kids and the beauty of the park. They were easy enough to understand, though I was certainly far from perfect on my responses. I managed to do well enough to use on the news later that evening, marking the third time I had made the prefecture’s evening news. I pretty much forget about it until the next Monday at work when it was mentioned by a number of my students and teachers that they saw me. I laughed that my Japanese must have been horrid, but they said they understood just fine. Great. All in all, operation foreign exposure was a success, and now I’m just waiting to get noticed and make it big.