by Ellen Biro

Friendship Visit to Honcho Elementary School
March 19, 2003

Hugs from 1st graders
after reading story
As I planned my two-week trip to Japan this year, I wanted to visit a school there since teaching has been so much a part of my life. My parents and grandparents were also teachers, so I think I was destined to enjoy the profession. I am a former reading specialist and elementary school teacher from Hampton, Virginia, so I was excited and honored to have the opportunity to teach a lesson to the children at Honcho Elementary School in Yokohama.

I had always heard fantastic stories about Japan and wanted to learn something about my cultural heritage during my first visit. My adventurous grandfather was a university graduate and teacher. Minosuke Noguchi longed to farm in the fabled Great Plains of Colorado and therefore migrated in 1898 across the Pacific from Japan to Tacoma, Washington, and reached San Francisco by boat and train. My grandfather was 37 before his prearranged marriage to Tomi Ogawa, who was attending Women's University in Mejiro, Japan. By 1928 the loving family had expanded to five girls who faced strict standards for social skills, the arts, calligraphy, and academic achievement.

Children listening intently to story of
Love You Forever
School Tour

I was really impressed with the teachers and staff of Honcho Elementary for allowing us to visit on the last day of the school year. I know from experience that things can become rather hectic and emotional when saying goodbye to my students to whom I become so attached during the year. We were warmly welcomed into the school building as we exchanged our shoes for slippers at the entrance. We met with the principal Mr. Oohira and enjoyed green tea and conversation before we saw the school.

We toured the school seeing students involved in many activities, including a cooking class which was making miso soup and a music class playing their recorders. The students had great pride in their school as evidenced by their beautiful artwork decorating the halls. Their positive attitudes while singing the school song and their cleaning up every spot in the school with aprons and little brooms reflected great team spirit. Although the noise I heard in the classrooms was plentiful, it was the sound of learning and working together.

The sixth-grade students have been working on world peace projects this year and will be on the history channel. The school was equipped with new software and a conference network television that allowed them to communicate with other schools in Japan. The staff seemed to be so calm and relaxed while attending our program even on the last day of school.

First graders show their
new Friendship Doll
Love You Forever

During my visit to Honcho Elementary, I wanted to share something with the students that would be meaningful across cultures. One of my favorite books is a story called Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, a Canadian author of children's books. I met him at a state reading conference, where he sang a lovely song from the book with the following lyrics:

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living,
My baby you'll be.

The story describes a mother teaching her values to her son as he grows up. Eventually, the son becomes a man, and he begins to teach his new daughter the values his mother taught to him.

My friend Yayoi Sprague who accompanied me on my visit to Japan assisted me with the translation into Japanese. She and I did not really have time to practice much, but I think the lesson turned out quite well. The attentive students were so precious and deeply moved me. Yayoi interpreted and read in Japanese while I read the English version of Love You Forever and acted out some things. I think the author Robert Munsch would have liked the lesson. The first-grade children came up for a hug after my story, and I just melted.

Friendship Dolls

Since Honcho Elementary has one of the original Friendship Dolls from 1927, I thought it would be appropriate to give dolls representing my area of Virginia. Honcho Elementary arranged a presentation ceremony for the two dolls I gave to the school. The first one was a Williamsburg Colonial doll, which received a warm welcome and even visited the principal. Since my area has about 50% African-American students and 50% white students, I decided the second gift would be a cute African-American girl doll. I hoped these two dolls will show that diversity has made our country strong as the salad bowl of many nations. The Hampton City Schools provided bookmarks to hand out to the students as a reminder of an international need of the theme of Love You Forever. I also left a Precious Moments coloring book with the principal that had different representations of cultures.


This spring my husband and I joined the Sister Cities Program and will be hosting a girl somewhere between the ages of 17 to 28 in August. We are taking mini classes in block printing, Japanese dining, floral arrangement, calligraphy, and Japanese language. I am also in the process of writing a log and scrapbooking pictures from my trip to offer Hampton City School workshops.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any comments or questions: Ellen Biro

Special thanks to:

Bill Gordon's Friendship Visit to Honcho Elementary School

Main Page | 1927 Doll Exchange | Japanese Friendship Dolls | American Blue-eyed Dolls
Mass Media / Books / Films | Letters
Other Friendship Doll Programs | Teachers' Corner
Links | Recent Changes | Acknowledgements
| Children's Page