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Teachers visit Japan as ‘Ambassadors for Education’

By Staff | Sep 23, 2010

From left, Jocelyn “Pinky” Buchalter, Joyce Wada, Marsha Nakamura, Heidi Jenkins and Lindsay Ball take a break on the wooden covered walkway on the grounds of the Golden Pavilion.

LAHAINA — In early June, a team of educators was selected to represent Hawaii as “Ambassadors for Education” to Japan. 

Jocelyn “Pinky” Buchalter, an English teacher from Molokai High School; Heidi Jenkins, a fourth grade teacher from Kaunakakai Elementary School; Joyce Wada, English teacher and literacy coach from Lahaina Intermediate School; Marsha Nakamura, principal of Lahaina Intermediate; and Lindsay Ball, the Canoe District complex area superintendent, made up the team. 

They traveled to Tokyo and Kyoto during their week-long stay and visited elementary, middle and a high school in the areas. They experienced city and rural area schools. 

“It was like stepping back in time to when we were going to school. Although Japan is well-known for their electronic expertise, the classrooms we visited didn’t have technology within them,” Nakamura explained.

“Teachers still use chalkboards. Individual desks were lined up in rows facing the front of the classroom. It was interesting to see that English language is studied as early as at the elementary level.” 

Lunches were served in individual classrooms, served either by the teacher or by lunch monitors. The students had their own fabric place mats and chopsticks. 

In one elementary school in Tokyo, the students cleaned the school by sweeping the exterior sidewalks. Others dusted shelves inside the classrooms and wiped down the hallways, including the bannisters in the stairwells. Students and staff showed ownership toward their school.

The team observed a Special Education class as the students were led through different exercises in the gym.  English language classes practiced the correct pronunciation of English words and practiced reciting whole sentences in the English language. 

A fire drill was observed in one of the Tokyo middle schools. Math teachers used timed competitions for students to practice solving math equations. When called upon, students stood at their seats to give the answer of the equation, answering questions posed by the teacher and explaining the steps they took to solve the problem. 

Calligraphy was taught at one elementary school they visited. “The students were very well-behaved and appeared to be obedient and conscientious,” Nakamura commented.

“Acknowledging one’s presence was done by bowing. We did a lot of bowing. It became second nature by the time we had to leave. After awhile, the feeling of being acknowledged became one of respect for one another — more formal than our local flick of our heads toward one another. It had a nice feel to it. Deliberate and precise movement toward an individual, or toward a crowd, bowing is a cultural practice showing commitment toward one another.”

Along with the visits to the six schools on their itinerary, the group was able to take short excursions to cultural areas. They visited many shrines and witnessed many couples on their way to be married on temple grounds. 

“We even visited the street where ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ actually took place. The traditional Japanese meals were displayed like a piece of art. Many of us took pictures of everything we ate, so we could share with our friends and family the beauty of each presentation,” Nakamura said.

“The entire team was treated like VIPs. The accommodations were first-class with a personal guide and translator, including private transportation. We were all treated so well. We soaked up the culture as much as possible, hoping to bring back new ideas to our schools. All of us returned home feeling as though our experience in Japan was a dream.”

This trip was sponsored by the JTB Goodwill Foundation, a nonprofit Hawaii corporation formed by Japan Travel Bureau (JTB) International Inc. The foundation’s purpose is to promote cultural and athletic exchanges among Pacific nations, to make contributions to other charitable organizations and to engage in other charitable activities. 

With full cooperation from the Honolulu Japanese Consulate, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, the JTB Goodwill Foundation has sent over 100 educators to Japan. 

This year marks the 20th year of the Hawaii Educators’ Mission to Japan.

“We would like to especially thank Mr. David Asanuma, director of community relations of JTB Hawaii Inc. and administrator of JTB Goodwill Foundation. We would also like to thank Ms. Hisae Ishii, our guide and translator during our trip. She was so knowledgeable of Japan’s history and of the locations we visited. We thank the Hawaii Department of Education for allowing us to experience such a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We are so grateful,” Nakamura concluded.