by Bill Gordon

Friendship Visits
Senmaya Elementary School
July 4, 2005

Two American Friendship Dolls
in Principal's Office

When my wife Noriko and I first saw eight people to greet us at Ichinoseki Station upon our arrival late Sunday afternoon, we knew that our visit to Senmaya Town in Iwate Prefecture would be a special one. They greeted Noriko like an old friend since she had accompanied them for four days in January 2005 when they came to visit South River Elementary School in Marshfield, Massachusetts. At that time they established a sister school relationship between Senmaya Elementary School and South River Elementary School to promote cultural and educational exchanges between the two schools.

Before we left early on Tuesday morning, we participated in many fun activities carefully planned in advance. We visited Senmaya Elementary School on Monday, and all of the teachers and students enthusiastically greeted us in the gymnasium. After introducing ourselves, we were treated with a traditional dance by the fifth graders and by a couple of beautiful songs by the third graders. Two cute first graders then came up to the front as representatives of their class, and they presented us with a huge handmade calendar with each month showing a typical Japanese scene made with origami paper. During the assembly, we found out why many people in Senmaya gave the principal Mr. Kikuike the nickname of "Mr. Magic." After loud bangs like firecrackers, two red paper flowers came out of small tubes. He then presented Noriko and me with the "exploding flowers."

Traditional Dance by Fifth Graders
at School Assembly
After the first period school assembly, I spent the second and third periods giving presentations to a second-grade class and fourth-grade class, respectively. During the fourth period, Noriko talked with a sixth-grade class about such things as American school life, difficulties for Japanese people in pronouncing English words, and how to put a name and address with the correct order and location on an envelope mailed in the U.S. For lunch we ate some tasty curry rice with a first-grade class and tried to answer questions from the children at the same time we were eating. After eating, the first graders imitated the teacher in how to brush their teeth, so I pulled a toothbrush out of my bag and joined in with them.

When we finished lunch, we were mobbed in the hall with students asking for a signature in their notebooks. I finally made it to the playground near the end of the lunch break, and I joined in a lively game of "frisbee dodge ball." Next, Noriko and I had the honor to visit the Senmaya Town Hall and visit for a short time with the mayor and other town officials. Then we were accompanied to a small art museum in town, and we also had the chance to view a shrine dedicated to married couples. The huge statue can best be described on this G-rated web site as male and female sexual organs connected together. Across the street there was a small exhibition about the shrine, and we made a large commemorative stamp on a piece of paper with a two-foot high wooden representation of a male sexual organ.

Excited Fourth Graders
We then returned to Senmaya Elementary School to talk to all of the teachers after school. They served three delicious cakes made by the teachers. Noriko and I talked about the Friendship Doll history and some of our related activities. Many of the newer teachers were not familiar with the story of the Friendship Dolls exchanged between the U.S. and Japan in 1927. Shuji Hagisho, former principal at Senmaya Elementary School from 1988 to 1990, had been involved with the revival of interest in the Friendship Dolls in Senmaya in the late 1980s. He explained their historical and current significance and something about the history of Betty, the American doll who arrived in Senmaya 78 years ago. Betty and Elizabeth, a new doll given by South River Elementary School in 2002, are prominently displayed between Japanese and American flags in the principal's office.

In the evening we had a dinner with about twenty townspeople. The mayor and the principal gave us kind words of welcome, and the principal surprised us again with a couple of "exploding flowers." After the dinner about half of us went to a small place to sing karaoke. The place had a machine that scored each person's singing, but I think maybe it was just for encouragement, since I could hardly believe it when my horrendous singing earned a somewhat decent score for one song I sang. The other song got the terrible score it deserved.

Group to Say Goodbye to Us
at Senmaya Station
We spent two enjoyable nights at the home of Mr. Sato, a town official who graciously hosted us. We enjoyed talking with his wife, their high school girl named Sayaka, junior high girl named Misa, and preschool boy named Kohei. Sayaka expressed interest in becoming an English teacher. Kohei soon became our friend, and Noriko and I were surprised that he slept on the tatami mat both nights between us. It is common in Japan for preschool children to sleep with their parents.

Our visit to Senmaya was made possible through the energy and dedication of Barbara Roth to renew the friendship dating back to 1927 between Senmaya Town and Marshfield, Massachusetts. Barbara is a third-grade teacher at South River Elementary School in Marshfield. Barbara first visited Senmaya in 2002, and she was planning her third visit to Senmaya during the week after our visit. She has been active in trying to coordinate activities between the two schools, such as a study of how each country does recycling in order to protect the environment. She arranged for a web site to be established so the two schools could exchange photos and information. She also coordinated the four-day visit to Massachusetts in January 2005 by eight representatives from Senmaya, who presented to her school a new Japanese doll named Fuji as a symbol of friendship.

My wife Noriko also wrote a few words about our fun visit to Senmaya:

The welcome ceremony at Senmaya Elementary School brought back fond memories of the January 2005 welcome ceremony that the representatives from Senmaya Town attended at South River Elementary School in Massachusetts. I started to cry when I heard the third graders sing the song "We Are the People." The fifth-graders' traditional dance deeply touched my heart. My only words for the children are "Thank you very much!" and "You are great!"

The people from Senmaya were just visitors to the U.S. when I first met them in Boston in January 2005. However, I realized they are my good friends when I first saw them at Ichinoseki Station during this visit. They are very sincere and honest people, and now I understand why Barbara Roth loved Senmaya so much during her visits. I feel very lucky to get to know the wonderful people, teachers, and elementary school in Senmaya.

The students at Senmaya were very "genki" and energetic, and the teachers were very enthusiastic toward education. I was happy to meet the female assistant principal Ms. Kikuchi, a person full of life who I hope will soon become a principal at some school. I hope that I will have the opportunity to visit Senmaya again just like Barbara Roth. I hope to see how the Senmaya students are growing into internationally minded adults of the future.

When we went to Senmaya Station early on Tuesday to leave, we were amazed to see the same large group of people who had greeted us two days earlier when we arrived. We surely felt the warmth of their friendship, and we were encouraged to see a town and elementary school with such pride in their history, traditions, and Friendship Doll. 

Friendship Visits

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