by Bill Gordon

Friendship Visits
Honcho Elementary School
October 22, 2002

Two Friendship Dolls at
Entrance of School

Honcho Elementary School, located near the busy subway station of Sakuragi-cho next to the Port of Yokohama, has a long history related to the Friendship Dolls. Kazuo Deguchi, a sixth-grade teacher at Honcho who transferred to another school in Yokohama in April of last year, created the Blue-eyed Dolls Home Page several years ago. He worked together with his students to gather information and photos from schools all over Japan that have Blue-eyed Dolls sent by American children in 1927. The Blue-eyed Dolls Home Page includes this information in addition to small photos and links to web pages published by schools with Blue-eyed Dolls. Mr. Deguchi's web site in Japanese gave me the idea in late 2000 to create something similar in English about the stories behind the individual Blue-eyed Dolls located at schools throughout Japan.

Sixth-grade Student Presents
Results of Research on Free Market
I know about Honcho Elementary School for a couple of other reasons. Two years ago my wife Noriko coordinated an exchange of videos and other items between the second grade at Honcho Elementary School and the second-grade class at Braeburn Elementary School in West Hartford, Connecticut, where she was working at the time as a teacher's assistant. This spring I received an e-mail from Denice Minakuchi, who works as a teacher in Yokohama's International Understanding Education (IUE) program and visits each class at Honcho Elementary about four or five times a year. Her lessons are based on non-political and non-religious topics about the U.S., her home country. Her past lessons have covered a wide variety of topics, including the following: 
Sixth-grade Girl Presents
Topic on World Peace
  • comparison of schools in U.S. and Japan
  • farm animal sounds (with lower grades)
  • variety of peoples and cultures in U.S. (with upper grades)
  • games like 4-square and tetherball
  • culture of Hawaii (where she went to college)
  • comparison of animals in U.S. and Japan
  • Halloween, Christmas, and other American holidays

She writes that the challenging and exciting part of these lessons is that each class is conducted using only English with no translation. Ms. Minakuchi's first e-mail to me this spring was a real coincidence since she had not heard of Mr. Deguchi being a former sixth-grade teacher at Honcho nor of my wife's coordinating the exchange between Honcho and the school in Connecticut.

Open Space at Honcho Elementary
Upon entering Honcho Elementary School's building, I observed how different the building's design is in comparison to all of the other schools I have visited in Japan. The school uses the concept of open classrooms, the first school in Yokohama to employ this design when Honcho built a new school building about 20 years ago. In addition to the lack of permanent walls between the classrooms, there was a large open space about three stories high in the center of the building with the library on one side and with many PCs on the other side. Although the building is quite different than other Japanese schools that have Blue-eyed Dolls from America, like many of the other schools Honcho Elementary proudly displays their two dolls in a case at the entrance of the school. The original Blue-eyed Doll named Blossom, which the school received in 1927, is displayed now at the nearby Yokohama Doll Museum, but the doll at the school entrance is a replica that looks just like the original. Next to Blossom is displayed a New Blue-eyed Doll named Amanda given by Sidney Gulick, 3d, the grandson of the originator of the project to send over 12,000 American dolls to Japanese children in 1927.
Chatting with Second Graders
I met first with 75 energetic second graders, who had many questions about the foods and sports in the U.S. Since the school has so many PCs, I gave the second graders a Frankenstein mouse pad to remember Halloween, which I talked about with them during our time together. Next the sixth-grade students gave presentations on the results of their studies on world peace. Representatives from different teams covered their research on developing nations, the United Nations, Friendship Dolls, free markets, and volunteer activities. The presentations were supplemented by information and photos the students had assembled on a large poster board displayed in front. In the last part of the session, I gave a presentation about multicultural America and answered questions about the Friendship Dolls and other topics covered by the students in their presentations. After this interesting class on world peace, I enjoyed eating a quick lunch with the sixth graders before leaving the school. 

Friendship Visits - October 2002

Page on Honcho Elementary School's Blue-eyed Dolls
Special thanks to Denice Minakuchi, Yokohama's International Understanding
    Education (IUE) Program, for the information provided for this web page.
Ellen Biro's Friendship Visit to Honcho Elementary School in March 2003

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