by Bill Gordon

Friendship Visits
Ohdono Elementary School
June 28, 2004

Oversized American Money
My visit to Ohdono Elementary School in Yamaguchi City in late June turned out to be extremely hot and humid. I visited each of the three third-grade classes during the day, but the afternoon class from 2 to 2:45 was sweltering since the school classrooms have no air conditioning. Even the normally energetic children seemed drained, but we still had fun playing a game together with a music CD.

I met many teachers and students who I had met during my previous three visits in 2001, 2002, and 2003. The biggest surprise came just after finishing lunch in the classroom with one of the third-grade classes. Four seventh-grade girls, who I had met during my first visit to the school, came over from the nearby junior high school to say hello. Miki Fujiyama, one of these students, had exchanged e-mails with me for over a year, although now we correspond only occasionally. The school has about 700 students in total, so several faces seemed familiar although I had long ago forgotten their names. In the morning in the teachers' room, I had the opportunity to see again Mrs. Ishima, who encouraged her fourth-grade students to correspond with me by e-mail or by regular mail when I visited Ohdono the first time in 2001.

Koharu Sasahara (left) and
Yumi Ito (right)
Sidney Gulick, 3d, and his wife Frances visited Ohdono Elementary School in late May 2004 and gave a short talk about the Friendship Dolls to an all-school assembly. In October 2002, they had given a new American friendship doll named Tina to Ohdono. Tina became the sister of the friendship doll named Rosemary, who arrived in Yamaguchi City in 1927 as part of the doll exchange between America and Japan. A bulletin board by the teachers' room had several photos and articles about this visit of the Gulicks to Ohdono Elementary School.

On Sunday, the day before my visit to the school, I went with a couple of fifth-grade girls, Yumi Ito and Koharu Sasahara, and their mothers to Xavier Memorial Church. The two girls have sent me cute cards and letters every once in a while for a couple of years since my visit in 2002. Francis Xavier, a 16th-century Spanish Jesuit missionary, lived for a time in Yamaguchi. The previous church dedicated to Francis Xavier had burned in the early 1990s, but a new church was built near Ohdono Elementary School in 1998. All of us wanted to see inside the church, but we arrived after closing time so we could only peak through a crack in the door. The bells in the two towers of the church play a melody every 30 minutes and can be heard over a wide area of Yamaguchi City. Around the church is a nice park with a great view of the city where we spent a short time.

Origami Present
At the end of my visit I was presented with a wonderful present from the three third-grade classes. Each class gave me a large sheet of paper with each student making a drawing of his or her head wearing an origami kabuto (a helmet worn by samurai in battle). The students' names were written on the helmets.

That evening two teachers, Mr. Furuya and Ms. Shiragane, invited me to dinner at a beer garden restaurant on the roof of one of the city hotels. Mr. Furuya coordinates international exchanges at Ohdono, and he also keeps up the web site for the school. Ms. Shiragane told us about her interesting and fun experiences when she took off one year (April 2003 to March 2004) from indoor teaching to participate as an instructor in a program designed to give elementary school children a chance to visit a wilderness area in order to learn about nature.

Friendship Visits

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