Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A bright spot

Well, in light of my new resolution to be more positive, I wanted to write about one of the bright spots of my life here in Japan -- Bonnie's school.

The picture is not of Bonnie or even her school. Just something I found on the web to illustrate the blog. Will post her pix on her private blog when they are developed. Warning: They are CUTE!
  • Name: Nagao (our part of town) Sho(little) Gakko (school). In this case "sho" means little children. It's also used for a small portion of rice.
  • Teacher's name: Mrs. Tanino. She looks and acts just like you would expect from her name. Very bright, positive, loving and dedicated.
  • Number of kids in Bonnie's class: 42. Bonnie is "ichinensei" (first year), "B" gumi (class)
  • Number of teachers in B's class: 1
  • Number of first grade classes in B's school: 3. Her school is considered quite large for Japan. The class size is average! Yikes!
  • Number of pairs of shoes one kid needs for school: 3 (outside shoes, classroom shoes and gym shoes for the gym floor only). And they are a specific kind of shoes. The gym shoes have to be bought at a special store and the school shoes can only be one style, white with a yellow stripe. The principal was very specific about having a yellow stripe. NOT a red stripe. I've seen shoes with a blue stripe, too. Fortunately we bought shoes with no stripe and there are acceptable.
  • Number of cloth bags one kid needs for school: seven -- 2 for shoes, one for gym clothes, one for the mask she wears when she's serving lunch, one for her pianica (a musical instrument), one for her library books, one for her special ed class. All are to be handmade to precise measurements and should be made out of quilted material. There are special mailorder stores that make these bags. We got most of ours from friends.
  • Cost of a first grade school uniform: Too much! One pleated navy blue skirt ($40), one navy blue jacket with hideous red buttons ( $50), gym clothing ($40), gym shoes ($20), navy blue hat ($20), red/white cotton hat ($10). Then add on the school supplies (all very specific), the very expensive backpack ($100) that someone gave us, thank goodness. And you can see why I have not had much spending money since B started school in November.
  • Is school free in Japan? Yes and no. I don't pay tuition, but I have to pay $50 each month for lunch. There is no option to bring your own lunch. I also pay about $20 each month for school supplies and they charge me for everything she uses -- paper to print her homework on, her nametag, art supplies, etc. On the other hand, there are no fundraisers!
  • How the school day starts. The kids all stand and bow to the teacher. Then they sit down. The teacher calls out one kids name. He/she says, "Hi, genki desu" which means, "Here. I'm fine today" and then he/she calls out another kids' name. This continues until all 42 names are called. Not sure if this is done alphabetically or randomly. But the kids don't seem to take long to think of who to call so there must be some kind of system. Bonnie is the last one and she likes it that way.
  • Climate control. Although school is in session year round and Japan is very hot and humid in the summer (think Orlando), there is no air conditioning. There is also no central heating. On December 1st a gas "stove" is brought into each classroom. The windows and doors remain open, though. Remember, the school uniform is a skirt for girls and shorts for boys! They don't seem to care. Bonnie wears a t-shirt and sweatshirt under her jacket. She is allowed to wear jeans instead of a skirt after December 1, but not sure when she has to go back to the skirt. I'm sure her teacher will tell me, though. We are given a lot of leeway because we are not Japanese and therefore can never be "really" Japanese and there is no need to force us into the mold. Still, Bonnie doesn't want to be different than everyone else so many days she wears a skirt.

Despite the lack of heat/ac and the large number of kids in her class, I love Bonnie's school. When I bring her there in the morning, the kids are all outside sweeping or watering the flowers, calling out "good morning" to us in Japanese. You can't help but be in a good mood when you see all those happy faces. When the kids in B's class spot her, they all come running to the door to help her change her shoes and get her homework out of her backpack, etc. Sometimes this can be a bit overwhelming for her, but I told her that everyone at her school really likes her. "Mommy," she replied seriously, "sometimes there is too MUCH liking!"

Anyway, I am never worried about leaving her there, like I was when she went to KG in the U.S. For a mommy, there can never be too much liking!