A ten-year-old girl handed me a post it and asked me for my autograph yesterday. No, I haven’t suddenly started writing children’s books or anything — I had just given a 40-minute talk on Japan to her class at Somersham Primary School in Cambridge, and she and a small group of mostly girls were crowding around me at home time, with lots of questions we’d run out of time for in class. I was a little embarrassed and laughed (although not unkindly!) and asked her why on earth she would want my autograph.
“Because you’re inspirational and you help people.”
I have been told I have the ability to inspire people before — most teachers have a certain natural ability to inspire that accompanies their desire to inspire, and even though I don’t teach as such these days, I am still a teacher at heart. But I haven’t been feeling especially inspirational recently. Ironically, given the topic of my last blog post, work seems to have been taking up lots of my time during the past month — I am finally finishing off the Japanese edition of the schools guidebook, and also working on an updated edition of the English version of the schools guidebook. The June issue of Japan School News also had to be produced. But it hasn’t all been work — there was a niece’s 18th birthday celebrations, a certain wedding dress to be made (getting married three months yesterday!), and in the middle of everything, an emergency six-day trip to Japan to collect my poorly dog Tommy, and get him to a vet in England.
It doesn’t feel like there’s been much time to inspire kids in England to help Japan, which I’ve been feeling rather guilty about. I think this is a common feeling among those of us that love Japan or have called it our home at one point or another — a certain kind of guilt at not being able to do more to help. Oshika is never far from my thoughts and is frequently in my dreams; I could spend every day doing something to help. While I am lucky enough to have a professional life that allows me to volunteer some of my time helping in one way or another, my “normal” work does require attention now and again, in order to enable me to continue helping in the ways I feel I can.
So it was great to visit the students at Somersham and focus on doing just a little bit to help, by encouraging the children to be interested in Japan, and to understand the long-term effects of the earthquake and tsunami on people’s lives.
I gave the same talk to three different classes of Year 5 and 6 students. I was really impressed with how well behaved and attentive the kids were, despite coping with the heat that has enveloped the UK during the past few days. As always, they had fantastic questions, and with each class we could easily have gone on for ages afterwards. They were interested in Japan as a country and its culture, and also about general life there — when asked about whether I spoke Japanese when I moved there in 1996, I always tell kids “no” and love the opportunity to talk about not allowing lack of language ability to stop you from having an adventure in a foreign country.
They also asked lots of questions about the earthquake and tsunami, but instead of focusing on how big the earthquake/tsunami was, as a lot of kids do, these students were especially interested in the people, what their lives were like now, and what could be done to help. I generally got the feeling that this was a very caring school, and that the students were keen to explore the idea of doing something themselves to support the people they had seen in the photos I showed them. I’m looking forward to hearing their ideas!
Somersham was the last talk I have booked in for a while — the details of the next one are being worked out at the moment, which should be in October. Now that I have the dogs in the UK with me, I’ll have to limit term-time talks to the Gloucestershire or Devon areas. In the meantime, there’s my trip to Tohoku next month to start planning, and about £4,000 of donations to take with me!