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Roland Martin - Issue #67

こんにちは konnichiwa, ありがとうございます arigatou gozaimasu and さようなら。sayōnara

Roland Martin

January 31 · Issue #67 · View online
Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London; Chair - Society of Heads - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin

こんにちは konnichiwa, ありがとうございます arigatou gozaimasu and さようなら。sayōnara

With Principal Shoji-san at Miyagi First Senior High School
It is the second time that we have been fortunate to visit Japan on school business – in my last headship we had a longstanding partnership with a high school in Tokyo which my family and I were invited to visit, to open a new school site, in 2013 – but my first as Headmaster at Freemen’s. The impact of the country and its people has not dulled in the time since our first visit.
The context of this trip, is that Miyagi First Senior High School’s Head of English had personal contact with two key people: one, a parent of a Freemen’s alumnus who works for the Bank of Japan in the city; two, a shared contact through the Anglo Schools International Services. Hence we were approached to see if the idea of a cultural exchange between our schools was something that potentially had legs. I was very happy to engage and explore this relationship. We have since hosted separate visits from both the Vice-Principal and Principal over the past two years - duly written about at the time - and have been preparing for a visit from nine of their 17 to 18 year old students, first slated for July 2017, but postponed until March 2018 because of their perception of the state of security in London last summer.
At the time of the inception of our agreement with Miyagi First, UK schools were still being allowed to exchange in the traditional sense, with students experiencing home stays in their host countries; safeguarding regulations have changed since then, so this is no longer an avenue to pursue. What we are intending going forward is to welcome each other’s students into our respective schools for a couple of days, but also to arrange cultural immersion in each country through trips and visits. Throughout this trip we were alert to the differences as our students might perceive them in any future visits.
Tokyo train
The rooftops of Sendai
Sendai – city of trees (Mori no Miyako), the largest city in the Tohoku region of northern Japan (the island of Honshu) - is not a part of the country into where you can fly direct from London, so our flights were in and out of Tokyo. Our hosts met us at the airport and took us by Narita Express into the city in order that we were up and ready the next morning for a shinkansen (bullet train) trip up to Sendai. 
Immediately that evening we were immersed into Japanese cuisine with a tempura and sashimi meal (complete with octopus and sea urchin) accompanied by Sencha tea. Sashimi was very much the theme of future meals too; we became quite aware that any students from the UK hoping to visit Japan would need to be open minded to trying out different food. 
Toy shinkansen engines for sale at the platform
Ekiben on offer at a Shinkansen station
We were able to choose katsu pork (perhaps the most western of Japanese dishes, and the food I reassure chary tourists to aim for if they’re feeling wary of sashimi) for the ekiben lunch (a bewildering array of bento boxes bought at train stations ) travelling up country. Travelling on the hayabusa shinkansen – the fastest of the several models in operation - was a fascinating experience. From the sleek lines of this feat of engineering, to the rotating seats to save turning the carriages, to the 320km/h speeds, this was no ordinary train. We would certainly hope to incorporate a trip on a shinkansen into any future trips made by our Freemen’s students, trainspotters or not.
Our hosts took us from Sendai out to Matsushima – one of the ‘Three views of Japan’ to marvel at the 260 islands of Matsushima Bay from a pleasure boat and take in the famed and beautifully serene Zuiganji temple with its opulent gold painted peacock room, belonging to the family of feudal lord Date Masamune, the celebrated local hero, or ‘one-eyed dragon’ warrior, whose own dates (1567-1636) parallel those of Shakespeare very closely. 
It is fascinating to think that while Elizabethan/Jacobean England was in full ‘golden age’ glory - a time of renaissance that inspired national pride through classical ideals, international naval expansion and a surge in the cultivation of the arts, Japan was entrenched in the Edo period of Shoguns and Samurai; a period of great significance in Japan’s history - the country was finally unified after years of civil unrest, under feudal, military government, while also seeing an increase in artistic, cultural and social development. 
Although we did not have time to visit the Date Masamune waxwork museum  - it looks like a fun possible cultural experience for our students, including as it does the opportunity to try on Edo armour and paint a traditional kokeshi doll.
Zuiganji temple - trees roped off to protect from snowfall
Our hosts next transported us 35km inland from Sendai, still within the Miyagi prefecture, to their chosen hotel in the Akiu Springs. The hotel was owned by former parents from the school, and we were hosted with real omotenashi, i.e. with a full heart, in a ryokan style room with futons and sliding bamboo and paper doors. 
A ryokan style room
We experienced a traditional Japanese meal with senior representatives from the school, kneeling at small individual tables, speaking speeches to each other at designated times, and working our way through a variety of perfectly exquisite morsels of food from the mountains, the seas and the fields of Sendai. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was the expectation that I return their song (all rose to sing the Miyagi school song) with one of my own. I had thought that the perpetual talk about this moment for several hours had been our hosts deciding to tease, the word karaoke was bandied about at one point, but no, they really wanted a song. I chose Jerusalem and explained some of the irony that Blake intended.
Lobster and salmon rolls
Off to school
The Welcome drawings from the students at Miyagi First
In typical Japanese fashion, we were given a clockwork schedule for the next couple of days starting with ‘Breakfast at 6.50; car to school at 7.15’. And so we were finally able to visit Miyagi First Senior High School, of which we had heard so much over the last three years.
After taking tea with the Principal, Shoji-san, we were toured around the school going in and out of many lessons and being invited to teach, on the spot! Both Kerri and I fell back on our combined years of lesson plans and turned our hands to teaching English language. We were even invited to interrupt a history lesson as the students were learning about Tudor and Stuart Queens and Kings and the Union of the Crowns as part of their study of History of the World. I think that we possibly caused some havoc, not least by referencing Horrible Histories! In most lessons, students in their large class sizes of 38 were sat in single desks facing the front, listening to ex cathedra teachers, unwilling to volunteer answers in case they were perceived as being wrong. Most remarkable was a basketball lesson where one single teacher taught 85 girls in the vast sports’ hall. Everyone looked to be extraordinarily on task! 
Table tennis in one of the school's sports' halls
A further highlight of our visit was an appointment with the Superintendent of Schools, Hitoshi Takanashi, in the municipal town building, against a back drop of Sendai city (modern, clean, less fraught than Tokyo can feel) and the surrounding mountains. We were scheduled only to spend twenty minutes with Takanashi-san, but we were in fact with him for more like forty – our hosts were thrilled that he had paid us such a high compliment of spending so much of his time with us.
With Hitoshi Takahashi, Superintendent of Education, Miyagi Prefectural Board of Education
There were the obligatory photo opportunities throughout our visit; something that we had to be aware of also, as we tend to keep our phones firmly in our pockets out of a western idea of politeness. An interesting difference when noted within this most polite of nations.
We finally found the chicken katsu we’d been looking forward to revisiting in our lunch with select students and staff; we met with most of the girls who will be visiting us in March (although the school is now mixed, it was once a girls’ school, so has fewer boys attending as yet). Each was expected to stand and make a short introduction to us. We were presented with a very special photo album by the school council full of images and words to show us what they wanted us to see of their school, of which they are rightfully very proud.
The drive through snow
It seemed timely that we arrived back at Heathrow and back into school on the day that Deputy Catherine McGuinness was launching the Asia: Next Decade campaign in the City: ‘celebrating the City of London Corporation’s ten years of having a direct presence in Asia – with our offices in Beijing, Mumbai and Shanghai … looking forward to the next decade of growth and our ambitions for an even greater partnership between the City of London and our counterparts in Asia.’ As a city school, we are strengthening our own bonds between London and Asia by educating our young people in both directions about what they have to gain and learn from experience of each other’s cultures.
Miyagi students will be visiting us towards the end of the term; they will likely spend a couple of days in school in lessons and enrichment sessions, teaching some basic Japanese greetings and shodo (traditional calligraphy) to younger students; hopefully they will manage to spend a day with families over a weekend and join boarders on an outing.
After hosting the visiting students at the end of March, we look forward to planning a small school trip to Japan with the help of our Japanese counterparts. The school has invited Kerri and me to bring over a group of students, but I think we might well delegate this to allow for other members of staff to attend and experience the culture and differences too! 
GCSE Art coursework inspired by our previous visit
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