Heidi has now been attending 4 year old kinder (Yochien) in Japan for about 2 months. She attends 5 days a week, catching the Yochien Red Bus at 9:30am and arriving home at 2:45. In a Kinder of about 300 (?) kids (3, 4 and 5 year old classes) there is only one other ‘westerner’ – a little boy whose parents study with us too. Since starting at the beginning of the Japanese school year, around the 10th of April, she has had a number of excursions, parent visit days, and a whole lot of Japanese language thrown her way. But it is the Undokai that is the most anticipated yearly event in the Japanese schooling system (ranging all the way from 3 year old kinder to high school).
I can’t understate the amount of information that we received from the Yochien in the lead up to the Undokai. Typically we would get around 10 documents each week from Heidi about various Yochien things – and probably half of these over the last month have been specifically about the Undokai. Yep, that is as fun as it sounds. Just what you want to do in your spare few minutes between the kids going to bed and hitting the books – trying to work out what just one more form is saying! Thankfully though we don’t have to do it on our own and have some people in place to help with the Yochien communication. Phew.
The Undokai notices included tips that ranged from “Don’t get drunk”, “There is a breastfeeding tent available”, “Each family has 1.8m x 1.8m reserved space for sitting” and “Please don’t arrive before 7:30am”. Such is the anticipation of the day that people often head down to the School where it’s being held in the very early hours of the morning. Thankfully Heidi’s Yochien hold a ballot and people are randomly assigned seating (well, space) within their child’s class ground space. Everyone brings tarps/mats along and sits on the ground. And the outdoor spaces at kinders and schools in Japan are 95% of the time (very official statistics right there) simply a combination of gravel and dirt. Or gravelly dirt. Sometimes even dirt gravel. So we all sit on the hard, stony ground, in the sun, while the kids run around (and frequently fall over) on the lovely, soft gra…vel. I’m not sure, but someone here doesn’t like grass. Does anyone know why??
Anyway! Back to today!
7:45 The four of us left to drive to the Yochien.
7:55 Parked car, and caught Yochien bus to the local school where the Undokai was being held
8:00 Set up mat in correct, allocated space.
8:30 Heidi went off to her class tent, hung up her drink bottle and collected her yellow, class-identifying hat
8:50-11:50 The Undokai! Heidi did some dancing, ran in a race, a Little Red Riding Hood game, a “Cat catching fish game” with Paul, cried a bit, and mostly had a good time. Pippa and Paul also did a little race, as we go to a Playgroup together at the Yochien. I mostly sat in the sun trying not to feel ridiculously hot, (it must have been over 20 degrees) and so proud of Heidi for joining in and doing her best.
At the start of the day, before many others were there, Heidi’s much loved teacher Aya-Sensei came over and told us how well Heidi’s Japanese is coming along, and that although she can’t understand everything, she is speaking in sentences to her friends etc. We were considerably (and very pleasantly) surprised to hear this! Later on I saw it first hand, with Heidi telling one of her friends that Pippa had gone to the toilet. It wasn’t 100% right, but her friend would definitely have understood what she meant. 2 months! Wow. We are amazed and very thankful to God for answering our prayers to help with her transition – though not perfect, it’s definitely been better than we expected. Thank you Lord.