by Bill Gordon

Friendship Visits
Hirobuchi Kindergarten
November 13, 2001

With Ms. Setsu Sato (left) and
Ms. Toshiko Sato (right)
After talking to the third-grade class at Hirobuchi Elementary School, I went by car for less than a mile to Hirobuchi Kindergarten. I met with Ms. Setsu Sato (83 years old), who had served as the kindergarten director for many years, and her daughter Ms. Toshiko Sato, the current director. Ms. Setsu Sato's father Mr. Shoji, the founder and first director of Hirobuchi Kindergarten, had protected the kindergarten's Blue-eyed Doll from being destroyed during World War II. The doll had been kept until 1979 in the Buddhist temple next to the kindergarten building.

The full name of the kindergarten's Blue-eyed Doll is Stella Lauranell, which combines the names of the two people who sent the doll, Miss Stella Dean and Miss Lauranell Welch. The doll's passport gives her place of birth as Kansas City, Missouri, which is also my birthplace. The doll arrived at the kindergarten in 1927 with the Kansas City addresses of the two senders, so I plan to see what I can find out about the senders when I return to Missouri to visit my parents this Christmas. Ms. Setsu Sato and her daughter were excited to see the Kansas City picture postcards that I gave to them, since they had never seen photos of the city.

Next we went to the welcome ceremony attended by all 60 children at the school. They sang some songs to welcome me, and then we took a group photo (see below).

As I started my presentation to the children, I told them I was hot and asked them whether it was OK to take off my shirt. The children quickly said it was fine to do so, but the teachers did not seem so sure. When I took off my regular shirt, they enjoyed seeing my beagle T-shirt that I was wearing underneath. I then talked to the children for about 20 minutes, covering mostly the same topics as my previous week's talks to children at Shintoku Kindergarten.

Children Eager to Shake Hands
I presented Hirobuchi Kindergarten with a photo of Miss Miyagi, one of the Japanese Friendship Dolls sent to America in 1927. The photo was provided by Ms. Margaret Corbet, the owner of the doll, and I read a letter that accompanied the photo. At the end of the ceremony, one small girl came up to put a string of origami cranes around my neck.

I left Hirobuchi Kindergarten before noon to visit Monou Elementary School in the early afternoon, but I returned to the kindergarten in the middle of the afternoon. The director gave me an appropriate kindergarten snack of crackers, potato chips, and milk. After the snack, I went to the playground to play with the children. In addition to the typical playground equipment, the kindergarten had an interesting "bullet train" with chairs inside and a slide from the top. 

With Mr. Okabe
at His Japanese Inn
As an sidelight, I had stayed the night before at the small town's only lodging, a nine-room ryokan (Japanese-style inn). The couple who ran the ryokan were very friendly, and they told me that I was their first visitor from the United States. Mr. Okabe surprised me with his English, and I found out that he had worked 30 years ago at a military base near Yokohama, so he had a chance to talk with many Americans there. They were concerned that I would not like the Japanese food (e.g., sea urchin, oysters, sashimi or sliced raw fish) they planned to serve for dinner, and they seemed relieved when they found out that I eat Japanese food every day since my wife is Japanese. The food at the ryokan was quite delicious! Later I found out that Mr. Okabe is the brother of the husband of Ms. Toshiko Sato, the current director of Hirobuchi Kindergarten. The ryokan is the house of the parents of Mr. Okabe and Ms. Toshiko Sato's husband. 

Ms. Setsu Sato with Stella, Photo of Miss Miyagi,
and New York Teddy Bear

Friendship Visits - November 2001

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