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Japanese Culture in Chinatown

Updated: Nov 19, 2018

In October we twice visited the Alfred E. Smith Recreation Center in Chinatown to bring some Japanese culture to the children of their after school program. This was the recreation center where we first conducted our Japanese culture program ten years ago and their staff Durice, who is now in the main office, Ruth and Wanda have always been welcoming of our work. All the centers we visit have all been welcoming of our efforts and we look forward to visiting as many as possible.

At Alfred E. Smith there were many children that we saw from last year and we were happy to see that they remembered how to say hello and count to ten in Japanese. They also remembered that Japanese students unfortunately have to clean toilets and floors at school and that Japanese don't eat sushi everyday.

We redesigned our curriculum to give the children a better sense of Japan and connection to Japanese children by using more visuals including photos and videos and messages between local and Japanese children. We always start off with the basics about Japan as most who have not experienced our program don't know much about Japan, where it's located, Japanese brands, and its culture, other than sushi. They are always surprised that many things they are familiar with are actually from Japan, such as cars, video games, animation and athletes. They also learn that many things are the same in Japan as in the US, such as certain fast food, snacks, games and sports.

In our first session, the children learned about Japanese homes and wrote down questions about Japan for Japanese children to answer. They liked the fact that Japanese toilets are separate from the bath and that some Japanese sleep on the floor on futons. We also taught them how to count in Japanese and played number games such as karuta to reinforce what they learned. We also had each children write questions for Japanese children to answer, which really showed their interest in how people in other countries live. In the second session we read the replies to their questions from the Japanese children.

We then taught them about Japanese schools in the next session. They learned fun facts about Japanese students including the fact that they serve lunch to each other. They were most surprised that students even as young as 1st graders commute to school by themselves. The children are always in disbelief when they learn that Japanese students clean their own schools and that there are no substitute teachers. Despite the different rules at school, they also saw that Japanese kids just like them like to have fun and play around.

We followed up with teaching them the basics of Japanese letters, including hiragana, katakana and kanji as we ended with having them do calligraphy. They practiced writing their names in katakana and writing the kanji for "tomo" friend to symbolize the cross cultural friendships and connections we were building. After practicing, they were able to use a real calligraphy brush to write "tomo" and their name on calligraphy paper. The kids and volunteer all left with a smile as they learned and experience something new while having fun.

We will be going back in a couple of weeks to have our third and final session with the children with some more fun activities that teach them about Japanese culture and to build a stronger connection between the Japanese and children in the local community.

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