by Bill Gordon

Friendship Visits
Aikawa Elementary School
May 26, 2003

1st Graders Singing

When Mr. Sakurai began work as Vice Principal at Aikawa Elementary School in April 2002, he soon learned that the school has two special Friendship Dolls from America. His wife Kyoko has served for many years as Director of Shintoku Kindergarten, which also proudly displays its American Friendship Dolls. Aikawa and Shintoku are the only two schools in Kofu City, Yamanashi Prefecture, that still have dolls sent by American children in 1927. Shintoku Kindergarten was my first visit to a Japanese school with a Friendship Doll (web page on November 2001 visit). In the summer of 2002 Mrs. Sakurai sent me an e-mail that her husband now worked at an elementary school with a Friendship Doll. Last fall I translated Aikawa's Blue-eyed Doll web page created by students. This spring Mr. Sakurai invited me to visit Aikawa Elementary School to speak on the Friendship Dolls so the students could learn about the dolls' history prior to the school's Blue-eyed Doll Assembly in June.

The 460 students at Aikawa Elementary started the day with a 20-miinute assembly in the gymnasium. The students enthusiastically greeted about 15 student teachers starting a three-week assignment at Aikawa. The school's Education Director then pointed to the two American Blue-eyed Dolls on the stage, and he briefly explained their significance. After the assembly, I spoke in the gymnasium during the next three class periods to separate groups of 1st, 3rd, and 5th graders.

During each session I told the history of the Friendship Dolls and then explained typical customs for the most popular American holidays. Afterward, the students asked many questions, including several from 3rd graders interested in boy Friendship Dolls and why there were not more of them. Several children also wanted to know more about Faye, the doll given about 20 years ago by the mayor of Des Moines, Iowa, with which Kofu City has a sister city relationship. Questions like why Faye has a white dress and why she has a flower on her dress were challenging, but the children seemed satisfied with my explanations made up on the spot.

Talking With Students
The 1st and 5th graders sang "Please give me wings" (Tsubasa o kudasai) during the sessions. My wife and I enjoyed playing a game called "Friends Together" (Nakama Atsume) with the 5th graders. Three students on stage gave instructions, and people sat down after forming groups according to certain instructions such as:
  • same shirt color
  • same birthday month
  • specific number of people (as indicated by number of whistles by one of the students)
Asking Question to Student
In the principal's office after the presentations, I was delighted when three 5th-grade students came to give me about 80 handwritten thank-you letters (see web page with five translated letters). They also presented me a "book" with several pages of the students' beautiful calligraphy and origami in various shapes.

That evening about two minutes before the start of the local TV station's news segment about the visit to Aikawa Elementary, my 9th-floor hotel room started shaking and continued for about a minute. I soon learned that there was a major earthquake felt over about half of Japan with its epicenter in Miyagi Prefecture, where I had been just three days before. The magnitude of the earthquake was only 2 in Kofu City, but it was 7 at its epicenter.

Later that evening, my wife and I went with the Principal, Vice Principal, Education Director, and one of the 6th-grade teachers to a restaurant with many local specialties. We all had a bowl of hoto, a typical dish in Yamanashi Prefecture served with udon noodles and various plants from the mountains. Always searching for strange foods, I was glad to taste horse intestines for the first time and raw horsemeat for the second time.

Friendship Visits - May and June 2003

Page on Aikawa Elementary School's Blue-eyed Doll

Photo of "Asking Question to Student" from article
   in Yamanashi Nichinichi Shimbun dated May 27, 2003

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