Work hard. Play hard. A field trip to the airport – with schoolbags visible from space.
My Japanese kindergarten doesn’t do things by halves. Right now the nen-chos are getting ready for their happyokai or ‘performance festival’: an all-day affair that will see each class perform a 30-minute play – in English. These kids are five and six years old. Some might say it’s a lot of pressure, and I guess it is – but moreso on all the teachers who have to get them able to do it. I have to take my hat off to my Japanese gumi teachers. They work their asses off, they really do. But their hard work pays off, and I have no doubt that the kids I teach have a bright future ahead of them.
Unlike most other kindergartens, there is no real playtime at my school apart from outside after lunch. There are no messy toys or blocks everywhere. The kids are there to learn, not fart about. Saying that, once a month the students are treated to a full-on day of play where they can roam the school and do whatever they want. Each classroom is transformed into a different activity station. It varies month to month, but November’s schedule featured a sumo-wrestling room, a flower-pressing room and a room for J-pop dancing. There was also a bouncy castle in the hall. The day itself is called ‘Happy Day’, and I agree with the concept. The playtime is well thought out, and offers so much more visual and mental stimuli than simply playing with the same tired old blocks day in, day out.
So while the kids do work hard, they are royally rewarded. And no more so is this evident than in the field trips that my school provides. Seriously, these things are epic. On this particular occasion the school chartered six coaches to take us to the airport museum, then on to Narita Airport itself to watch the planes landing and taking off. The buses themselves were decked out with DVD players showing Anpanman cartoons, and there were even those microphoned bus guides in fancy uniforms sitting at the front. We ate our lunch amongst planes and helicopters, and at the airport watched as bemused holidaymakers tried to comprehend 200 kids waddling through the Departures lobby. Tourists came up to us and took our photos, smiling at the cuteness of the situation. Logistically, for us, it was a bit of a nightmare (200 kids going up an escalator, you try it) but it was worth it. The kids had a great day, and I was happy to be part of their first introduction to travel.