First day at Yochien – Euan and the Grasshoppers

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First day at Yochien – Euan and the Grasshoppers

Yochien begins

Euan and I walk down the hill and towards the bus stop. Although it is still August, there is a slight chill in the air. The intensity of summer heat is beginning to wane. Daytime temperatures are still up in the mid-30s and humidity 215% (give or take;-p). But at 8:30 am the signs that the season is changing are in the air. We aren’t usually out of the house this early but today is the first day of yochien.

We pass the crossing guard outside our local supermarket, as always he says hello. Euan races to grab a seat on the small bench at the bus stop. He is carrying the small, green mushikago (bug box) around his neck. As we were leaving the house, he insisted on taking it, as it was empty I didn’t try to dissuade him.

The number 39 bus arrives. It is almost empty. We are heading away from the city, so few people are going our way. It is about a 10-minute ride to Euan’s new yochien.

Once we get off the bus, there is a short walk to the school grounds. It’s a lot greener and quieter than the neighbourhood in which we live. The air feels fresher; it’s easier to breathe.

It’s only a few minutes walk, but Euan dawdles. An old man walks up along side him. I can’t tell what he is saying, but I guess he is telling Euan to hurry up and catch up to his mummy. We turn the final corner, and the school comes into view.

I love it!

“This is yochien. I love it,” declares Euan. A good sign. Last term we attended the “Rocket Club” once a week for the kids who are due to join in the next year. So he knows the place and how much fun he can have there.

The school year in Japan runs from April to April, most kids his age will join next April. The school he is joining is more flexible than most so he could join anytime after turning three. He is one of five little ones joining today.

We arrive at the main entrance at the same time as another mum and new joiner. She looks annoyed; perhaps her child was less excited to be there today. But her son has all the bags and school cap which we should also have. We are not well prepared.

It’s not entirely my fault though. It was a last minute decision for us to enrol Euan now. They told me they’d take care of all that stuff and preparations on the first day, which is today.

As we go into the building, one of the teachers is about to go out into the yard with some kids. She stops to help Euan feed the two turtles who live next to the entrance. Euan tries to run off to play outside too.

But we need to go inside, so we can figure out which is his classroom. I need to take care of paperwork and pay the entrance fee (about 600 GBP), which I have on me in cash. Japan is still very much a cash based culture and carrying a chunk of money on your person is safe to do!

We locate his classroom. The teachers from the Rocket club are on hand to welcome him, and he meets his new teacher. They scramble to find his Rocket Club renrakucho, which gets a sticker for every day he attends. It will also serve as a way for the teacher to communicate with me.

A mountain of paperwork

I am then taken to the office to sort out money and paperwork. I have no idea where Euan goes. Which I take to be a good thing, it shows he is comfortable here.

The first hour or so of the morning is free-play. The kids have free run of the small indoor spaces and the yard outside. There is a climbing frame, sand pit, sports ground and on the far side a field, which is big by Japan standards. There are swings, and a hill with a tunnel through it and veggie patches along one fence. I discover later that the grass is overgrown after summer. The perfect place to find grasshoppers.

I get taken to the office, and we plough through a huge pile of paper. The teacher I speak to seems disorganised (which makes me like her) and runs off to find things that are missing from time to time.

She gives me a list of bags and other things we’ll need to go and buy. She shows me an example of everything and assures me they don’t need to be homemade, which is often the case.

I also get a bag full of crayons, markers, nendo, etc. all of which will need labelling before Wednesday. There’s an insurance form and direct deposit payment form for the monthly fee. The money will be withdrawn each month from the Post Office (has to be PO account, not bank account). This requires filling out a form which I then have to take to the PO myself. Because who would want to do this stuff online? It’s only 2017 after all.

If it is not already clear, everything is in Japanese. I can follow what she says and respond appropriately but most of the paperwork I cannot read. It took about an hour to get through everything. I apologised lots for all the things I am going to do wrong and fail to understand. She apologised for there being so much and the fact it was all so last minute.

First day assembly

I went off to find Euan who had lost his indoor shoes and the outdoor cap he was wearing when I last saw him. He didn’t have the green mushikago any longer either. But it was time to go into the hall for a welcome assembly.

Assembly halls are pretty much the same the world over. A piano on a small stage, all the kids lined up on chairs. We sang a song. And the kids all sang at full volume. They were told off for singing too loud! The head teacher gave a little message.

Then we went back to the classroom for snack time. By the time that was over, it was time to end the morning. Everyone had to get their things together then sit in a circle with their caps on their heads and backpacks on their backs.

The teacher allowed them quite a lot of freedom to run before insisting everyone sit down. Not sure how she pulled that off! She then read a story before saying goodbye to everyone.

Story Time

Euan insisted on sitting at the front, right next to sensei. He reclaimed the bug box which had been at the side of the classroom for the last hour or so. I stood at the back, taking some photos. Wanting to encourage him to join in as much as possible, I was trying to keep out of the way.

As I was taking photos, I noticed he had a small, green grasshopper in Euan’s hand. Strange, I thought, where did that come from? Then the teacher, who was almost at the end of the story, started to laugh.

A couple of seconds later the story was over. Then all the kids started to squeal and run in different directions. The teacher was still laughing. Grasshoppers of all different sizes began jumping all over the classroom in a bid for freedom.

Everyone sprang into action. Teachers and children alike scrambled to get the grasshoppers caught and back inside the box. I mostly just stood there wondering how Euan gets himself into these situations.

Order was restored. Goodbyes were said. No grasshoppers escaped or were harmed in the making of this story.

Before we left, I made Euan take the grasshoppers back to the field (do you remember how it was overgrown) and let them go. One of the teachers helped him. There were maybe a dozen in total!

We go again on Wednesday. He starts full time without me on Friday. The mushikago will be staying at home in future though.

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