by Bill Gordon

Friendship Exchange Between Japanese and American Children
Arrowhead Elementary School and
Azuma Elementary School

Gift to Azuma Elementary

Mischelle Keller, 2nd-grade teacher at Arrowhead Elementary School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, was interested in communicating with another 2nd-grade class from Japan. She explains, "My class was very interested in doing an exchange. This project was interesting  to me as well because I used too live in Atsugi, Japan. Two of my children were born in Yokosuka, Japan. I love their culture and thought the students would greatly benefit from the exchange."

At the end of 2002, the combined 2nd- and 3rd-grade classes at Azuma Elementary School in Gunma Prefecture agreed to participate in a cultural exchange with the students in Mrs. Keller's class. Azuma has only 21 students in these two grades, so the number was close to the 18 students in Mrs. Keller's class. 

The exchange between Azuma and Arrowhead had three steps:

  • exchange of questions
  • answers to questions and exchange of gifts (including Friendship Doll)
  • thank-you letters

The Japanese letters first went to my wife Noriko so she could translate them to English before forwarding them to Arrowhead. I translated the letters from Arrowhead before sending them to Azuma.

Azuma Elementary's students sent the following letter to Arrowhead: 

To Everyone at Arrowhead Elementary School,

Hello to all the 2nd-grade students at Arrowhead. We are the 2nd- and 3rd-grade students at Azuma Elementary School. We who live in Japan are really looking forward to having a friendship exchange with you who live in faraway America.

There is a doll named Mary at our school, Azuma Elementary. This doll was sent by American elementary school students 76 years ago so we could be friends. Now the doll has become really old, but we take good care of her as our school's treasure.

Let's also be friends!

Since no one here has ever been to America, there are many things we would like to know about what type of country is America. Please tell us many things.

Also, if there are things you want to know about Japan, please ask us many questions.

American Toys from
Arrowhead Elementary Students
The 2nd- and 3rd-graders at Azuma also included many questions for the children at Arrowhead, such as the following:
  • Is Pokemon (Pocket Monsters) popular in the United States?
  • What types of games are popular at your school?
  • What types of subjects do you study at your school?
  • What Pokemon characters do you like?
  • Do you know about the Blue-eyed Dolls?
  • Are there any Japanese people you know?
  • What are the popular items on the lunch menu?

The 2nd-graders in Mrs. Keller's class had many questions for their friends in Japan, such as the following letter:

Dear Friend,

Hello! My name is Heather. I am 7 years old. I am in the 2nd grade. My favorite instrument is the piano. What is your money like? I have a dog. His name is Peppy. Do you have a pet? Do you have snow there? What is your favorite animal? What is your school like? What kind of games do you play? What do you eat? How do you write? What's your favorite TV show? I like sports. Do you? What's your favorite sport? What is your favorite doll? What do you like better, snow or sun?


Heather received a couple of letters in response to her many questions:

Dear Heather,

Hello, my name is Kazuna Takahashi. I am 8 years old and in the 2nd grade. My favorite instrument is the xylophone. Japanese money includes coins and bills of 1 yen, 5 yen, 50 yen, 100 yen, 1,000 yen, and 10,000 yen. I have pet dogs named Kevin and Devin. I also have a cat named Tito. There is snow here. Cats are my favorite animals. This school is fun. My favorite game is dodge ball. In Japan we eat natto (fermented soybeans) and rice.

My favorite TV show is "Pochitama." I like sports, especially ballet. I like dolls and stuffed animals. Between snow and sun, I prefer sun.

Kazuna Takahashi

Dear Heather,

Hello. My name is Chika Nakayama. I am 8 years old and in the 2nd grade. My favorite musical instrument is the xylophone. For Japanese money we have 1,000-yen bills, and there are also coins like for 10 yen and 100 yen. I have a cat and dog as pets. The cat's name is Tama, and dog's name is Jackie. We have snow. My favorite animals are dogs and cats. We have a new school building that is 3 stories high. My favorite game is dodge ball. In Japan we eat things like miso (soybean paste) soup, rice, and natto (fermented soybeans). I like sports. I like stuffed animals. Between snow and sun, I prefer sun.

Chika Nakayama

Valentine's Day Cards from America
Mrs. Keller's class responded to the many questions from the students at Azuma Elementary School:

Dear Azuma School,

Hello! We received your letter and your many questions. We will try to answer as many as we can. First, our school -- Arrowhead -- is 40 years old. We will begin rebuilding our school this summer. It is a one story building except for one room. Our guidance counselor has a room above the gym. It is the only room that is upstairs. Our students have a choice of whether to bring a lunch from home or eat a hot lunch. They all eat in the cafeteria at long tables. The hot meal is prepared by the cafeteria workers each day and served by the cafeteria workers. It costs $1.40. Students can also buy breakfast in the morning for $1.00. Teachers eat separately in the teacher's lounge. They can buy the student lunch, something from the teacher's menu, or bring something from home.

We have approximately 520 students who attend our school ranging in age from 5-12 (kindergarten to fifth grade). Second grade students seem to prefer science over any other subject, though quite a few love reading and language arts. Their favorite specialist class is music, but probably because we have a very pretty, young new music teacher who is a lot of fun! At school we do not have organized sports for students. We do have a teacher's volleyball team, which I play on. However, we are not very good. Students learn to play a variety of sports in PE classes -- baseball, basketball, football, volleyball, track and field, etc. Students who want to can join organized sports teams in the local community through their local recreation center. Right now second grade students love both soccer and basketball. Both girls and boys play on the teams. At our school all students must either ride the bus or be dropped off by parents. No students are allowed to walk to or from school. How do students arrive at your school? We do not wear uniforms to school, though students must follow a dress code. Do your students wear uniforms?

In Virginia Beach, there are many things for children to do. When the weather is nice most people like to go to the beach. At the beach you can rent kayaks and canoes. Many people use surf boards and boogie boards. There are many museums within driving distance. I am enclosing some pamphlets so that all of you can see some of the things Virginia Beach has to offer.

We are having a wonderful time exchanging letters with you. We hope to hear from you soon.

Mrs. Keller's second grade class

Shoko Tanaka, coordinator of international exchanges at Azuma Elementary, added to the student letters in order to give Mrs. Keller's class a better idea of life at Azuma: 

Dear Mischelle Keller,

Hello, my name is Shoko Tanaka. I am the person responsible for international exchanges at our school. I am very thankful that we are able to have an exchange with Arrowhead Elementary School. Thank you very much for your two letters. Excuse me for being late in my response.

I am not sure whether we were able to give sufficient answers to the questions we received, but we are writing also to introduce Azuma Elementary School.

There are 69 children studying at Azuma Elementary School from grades 1 to 6 (ages 7 to 12). There are 15 people who work at the school. The subjects are slightly different based on the grade. The 1st- and 2nd-grade students study Japanese, arithmetic, living (subject like social studies and science together), music, art, physical education, citizenship, and class activities. The teachers for these two grades teach nearly all the subjects. The 3rd- to 6th-grade students study Japanese, arithmetic, social studies, science, music, art, home economics, physical education, citizenship, class activities, and general studies (we are studying this new subject area that started just this year and decide ourselves on the topics to study). At Azuma Elementary, there is a separate music teacher, and the teachers for the highest four grades teach nearly all of the other subjects.

Our school building is 3 stories. There are separate classrooms for each grade, and there are special rooms for the music room, science room, art room, home economics room, computer room, and library. We also have a gymnasium and swimming pool.

For lunch everyone eats together. Food made at a nearby catering center is delivered by car. The teachers eat in the same room with the students. There are cafeterias in many of the new schools built recently, but Azuma Elementary has no cafeteria since it was built 37 years ago. The lunch fee for adults is 4,200 yen (about $35) per month. Each person sets his or her own place and then eats.

The children walk by themselves to and from school. There is a school bus only for an area where there used to be a separate school. Now, 3 of 69 students go to and from school by bus. The child who lives furthest away walks about 45 minutes.

Children are usually free to choose their clothing. However, only for physical education they wear exercise clothing designated by the school.

Many of the school employees arrive about 8 and work until about 6. When classes end, many children play on their own on the playground and in the classrooms until the school closes at 4:30. We hardly have any break time since the children are there. We are exhausted at the end of each day. When work can't be completed, we take it home and continue there. Since there is hardly any free time to prepare class plans, there are many times I do my thinking at home.

Shoko Tanaka
Azuma Elementary School

Plaque for Teachers
at Azuma
The children in Mrs. Keller's class sent a culture box to the 2nd and 3rd graders at Azuma Elementary, who were very happy to receive the following items:
  • doll named Christina (see photo at top of page)
  • Valentine's Day artwork by students
  • American Pokemon cards
  • Play-Doh
  • cracker jacks
  • coins
  • photos of children and school activities
  • other typical American items

Azuma's 2nd and 3rd graders mailed the following items to Arrowhead Elementary School:

  • five small "festival cocoon" dolls
  • calligraphy by students
  • 3-D cards
  • coins and stamps
  • other typical Japanese items

The students next exchanged thank-you notes, such as the ones below:

To Everyone at Arrowhead Elementary School,

Thanks for the presents! Thanks for the chocolate and the candy like gum! Now I am crazy about the game called Maiden Warrior. What are you crazy about now? Please tell me. Also, what are you studying? We are now studying about the clock in arithmetic class. In language class we are learning how to write invitations. There are many other things we are studying, but there are other things I want to ask you about, so I'll end my comments here about studying.

Are you doing some type of sports? I am doing ballet. Please tell me what sports you are doing.

I'm changing the subject a little, but I thought your Japanese kanji (Chinese characters) were very good! What television programs do you watch now? I am watching a program called "Hotman." Do you have cartoons in America? In Japan we have many cartoons! I really like cartoons also. What cartoons do you like?

Please write more letters. In the future I'll really try to do letters and to study. Are you interested in studying? Now I am. Those cards were really cute. They were really well done! They had heart shapes. I like stars and hearts. Also your lettering looked great.

Megumi Kaneko
3rd grade, Azuma Elementary School

To Everyone at Arrowhead Elementary School,

Hello. Thank you for the candy and the doll. The candy tasted good. Thanks also for all the mail you sent with the doll. Please come here in the future if you can. What is it now that you really like? Thanks for the presents.

Takahiro Kobayashi
3rd grade, Azuma Elementary School

With the thank-you notes, the Azuma students also included photos taken by the students. These included rice planting, Azuma's animals (e.g., rooster, rabbit), the school's Blue-eyed Dolls, and the mountains surrounding the school.

Both the American and Japanese children want to continue the exchange during the next school year. Mrs. Tanaka writes, "The children, who were anxiously waiting for the culture box, were very happy when it arrived. They quickly hugged Christina and played with the toys. We distributed the candy to everyone at the school. The children are looking forward to continuing the exchange in the future."

Mrs. Keller says, "I would love to continue an exchange. My students had so much fun with it. Next year I will be teaching 3rd grade and looping with the same exact students. I would love to set up a pen pal exchange."

American Blue-eyed Dolls - New Dolls

Classroom Experiences

Friendship Visit to Azuma Elementary School

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