by Bill Gordon

Friendship Visits
Jinpu Gakuen Children's Home
June 19, 2004

Anna Mae (left)
and Pauli (right)
My visit to Jinpu Gakuen Children's Home, located in Yoshida Town next to Kagoshima City, was a unique one for me. This was my first visit to a home for abused and abandoned children. Jinpu Gakuen had 67 children living there when I visited, but some were missing when I talked at the home on a Saturday afternoon since many of them had gone to visit parents or other relatives for the weekend.

I found out about Jinpu Gakuen when they received two friendship dolls from Lucille Supple, a member of J.A.D.E. (Japanese Asian Doll Enthusiasts). The children showed their appreciation for the dolls in thank-you letters, such as one below from a girl at the school:

Dear Lucille Supple,

Hello. My name is Azusa Shirahama, and I live in Kagoshima Prefecture. On March 17, the dolls named Anna Mae and Pauli arrived. Both Anna Mae and Pauli are very cute, and they are now on display.

I also have a sister two years younger than I. I was very surprised that you made both of my very close friends Anna Mae and Pauli by hand.

You wrote that you really like to make children happy. I also love children. Especially, I think than Anna is really cute with her well-matched clothes and hat filled with much tender love from you.

In the future I want the dolls to be displayed as our treasures. I think there are many things ahead for us. Please take good care of yourself. I also want to try to do my best.

Azusa Shirahama

Showing My Home
Connecticut on a Map
The administrators and teachers at the children's home were quite open in describing their goals and the types of children who lived there. If possible, they try to have the children return to their families, even if just on the weekends, since this situation in most cases is the most preferable. Although the children's home employs teachers and other educational professionals, the children there attend regular local schools during the week.

The 67 total children at Jinpu Gakuen include 19 preschool or younger children, 18 in elementary school, 19 in junior high, 9 in high school, and 2 in a school for handicapped children. The major reasons for children living at the children's home are the following: parental abuse (12 children), bankruptcy or other financial difficulties of parents (11), parents' whereabouts unknown (8), parents' work situations (8), and parents' imprisonment (5). About half of the children have lived at Jinpu Gakuen for 5 years or more.

I gave a short talk to the children, but it was a real challenge to cover topics interesting to everyone since the audience of about 30 children ranged from early elementary school to high school students. However, even when considering the age range, I quickly found that the children in the school did not respond emotionally in the same way as most children at regular schools. Maybe they were just surprised to meet a foreigner visiting the children's home, but I sensed a real reluctance to get involved during the presentation. The head of the children's home explained afterward that many children had difficulties in social situations due to their backgrounds.

After my talk with the children, we went on a tour of the children's home and saw the children's rooms where they lived two to four together. The toddlers were taking a nap during our tour (see photo below). Even though they looked so cute sleeping on the tatami mats next to the window, I also thought how unfortunate they were to not be living with their own family. In a display case near the main entrance, the children's home proudly displays the two American friendship dolls given by Lucille Supple in 2003.

A former kamikaze pilot, now 78 years old, kindly accompanied me on my trip to Jinpu Gakuen Children's Home. He grew up in Kagoshima City and remembers in late 1941 when Japanese Navy planes destined for Pearl Harbor practiced dives and bombing over Kagoshima Bay because of the physical similarity of the two locations. He was a former Zero pilot who flew a kamikaze mission to Okinawa, but he managed to return when his plane was damaged after a skirmish with American planes. I was surprised to find out that, even before I arrived in Kagoshima, he had driven to Jinpu Gakuen and had met with the administrators there about my visit. He explained to me that part of being a good pilot is preparing beforehand and knowing the route.

I hope in the future to have the opportunity to visit another children's home in Japan. During this visit I learned a lot about the Japanese system to handle abused and abandoned children, so I think I will be better prepared on my next visit.

Young Children Taking Afternoon Nap
on Tatami Mats

Friendship Visits

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