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Taking the Train to Japanese School

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My daughter started Kindergarten at two years and nine months! We-ell, really it’s pre-school, but in Japan they call it Kindergarten. We were going to wait until January or April (when the Japanese school year begins) but once we learned our orders were shortened from three years to two, we felt we were more pressed for time. Our decision was pretty easy when deciding which Yochien (private preschool) to pick. Very few accept children under the age of three and Seika just happens to be a 10 minute drive outside of the base, so it was the obvious choice.

We visited Seika in August and were prepared to enroll her that day, but were unaware of the enrollment process. We didn’t know that we would be expected to complete all the paperwork along with the enrollment fees and more in cold hard cash. They are a private Christian school with bus service, so the fees, supplies, tuition and uniforms really start to add up; it can be compared to an American Catholic/private school.

The most interesting part of the preparation process was the supplies. I LOVE school shopping — honestly I love supply shopping. We were required to purchase items that I’m pretty sure aren’t required in American pre-schools: a thermos with a cup, towels with a loop for hanging, toothbrush, cup, bag, inside shoes, “gym clothes” bag, crayons, permanent markers, sketch book, clay, paste, scissors — all in addition to the adorable uniform.

The uniform includes a blouse, a skirt made to grow with your child for a couple years, a blazer for winter, bow tie, shoe bag to carry inside and outside shoes, a school bag that looks like a handbag/purse, hat, and a summer and winter gym uniform! I spent some time at the ¥100 store (it’s like the dollar store but with more variety and better quality stuff – I’ll save the low down on that store for another post) as well as some of the other local department stores.

Can you imagine labeling all your crayons?

The amount of supplies isn’t even the craziest part of this process. Our interview took place the Friday before the school term started. We were given our supplies and uniform items and were asked to label everything – by that I mean EVERYTHING….Thalia’s name had to go on each crayon, each marker, each marker cap and it has to be written in Japanese characters! At home I was able to leisurely label most items, but man, it was a daunting process!r

As a parent, the scariest part was the bus ide to and from school. However, it looked like a train and is the cutest darn thing I’ve ever seen! It’s supposed to pull up right to our front door but we live in a cul-de-sac; the bus can’t get in and out easily, so we had to walk a whopping four townhouses down.

Thalia was so excited to finally get to ride the choo-choo bus that we’ve seen around base. She bowed and said, “Sensei, ohayoh gozaimasu” (okay, she tried to say it – which means, good morning teacher) and hopped right on with excitement. It helped me get through the drop off without falling apart, knowing that she was happy.

The second day was rough compared to the first, but her face lit up as the “train” pulled in (plus I told her that after school she’d have a snack and then we’d be able to pick up her papa from the ship!) The third day we set ourselves up for failure…miserable, horrible failure. Brad just got home after being away for a month and had the day off — being that it was only her third day, we decided not to keep her home. There were tears, kicks and screams – we hugged, kissed, and bribed our way to the bus stop and fought back our own tears. Thursday and Friday were significantly easier and of course we always get big smiles as she hops off the bus, bows to the teacher and attempts her farewell greeting of “Sensei, gokigenyo sayonara” (which is the polite way of saying, goodbye teacher).

Thalia is our oldest child, so this preschool business is all new to me. From what I’ve been told, the biggest difference from American preschools is that parents can’t just stop in to see their kids or the classroom here in Japan. Unless you’re invited, you’re really not supposed to pop in. Children are also required to change their shoes upon entering the building, as do the adults. I’m really jealous of the lunches. The kids are served hot lunches which are traditional Japanese meals (I took a picture of the menu so you can be jealous too). I ask Thalia on our short walks home what she had for lunch. I usually just get “rice” as an answer. Then I ask if she drank water, milk or tea and she tells me tea, very enthusiastically. She’s never starving for her afternoon snack so she must eat well, thank goodness she’s an adventurous eater like her mama!

The Seika is a Japanese school, so of course they speak Japanese exclusively. I discovered that they brought an English teacher in for the older students, which is nice for the new American kids to have something familiar in their day. I was worried about Thalia being confused because of the language but she seems to be fine. She doesn’t say much about her school day except that she colored with crayons.

We had the choice to send her three, four or five days a week and decided five days would be best to keep her on a routine. I doubt my decision every day, but then I’ll read or talk to someone that encourages me and tells me I’m doing the right thing for her. She’s making new friends, learning a language, customs and traditions that I could never teach her — she’s eating better on most days than I do and despite herself temporary outbursts, I think she’s enjoying it in the end. Four out of the five days, she walks on the bus herself and smiles getting off…my brave girl.

Now, I hope I’m brave… wish me luck for the next week !

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