Visit to Ichikawa Higashi Elementary School

A couple of weeks ago, on 17 April to be exact, I had an unexpected and unplanned opportunity to chat with a group of kids at the Ichikawa Higashi Elementary School (市川三郷町立市川東小学校) in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan:

tony wu with school kids in yamanashi
Me among peers

I found myself there courtesy of my artist friends Kozy and Dan Kitchens

The school is in the area where Kozy grew up. She is also embarking on a major(!) project there to renovate an old Japanese house, with the objective of establishing a place for artists and other cool people to take time-outs from “civilization.”

The area in general is rural. The area specific to the school especially so.

With an aging population, and with a substantial proportion of the nation’s population having relocated to more developed/ urban areas over the past few decades, Japan’s education system outside of the major cities looks a lot like this these days, a small number of kids per school.

Ichikawa Elementary comprises 10 students at the moment, with as many teachers. Some of the kids are in a class all by themselves, meaning a student: teacher ratio of 1:1!

We were there because Kozy had volunteered to run a drawing/ illustration workshop for the kids. 

kozy kitchens kozyndan drawing in yamanashi
Kozy getting started

I thought that I would be one of several friends watching and perhaps lending a hand if we could be helpful. 

Much to my surprise, after a brief introduction, Kozy turned to me and said, “So Tony, can you show them some photos of whales?” 

In the day or two leading up to the visit, we had chatted about the possibility of my talking with the kids about the ocean. In my mind, I thought that meant spending a few minutes after Kozy did her thing, perhaps as a teaser for a future visit.

Sudden change of plans!

I grabbed my aging iPad mini (I so need to get a new one) and slid down to the floor. I’m not a big fan of standing and talking lecture-style to kids. What’s the point? Especially when there are only 10 students.

Cognizant of the fact that we had limited time and our purpose was to facilitate an illustration workshop by Kozy, I showed a few photos, ad-libbed some fun facts and jokes, then sealed the deal with serious discussion and analysis of poop. That never fails to impress the under-12 audience.

After warming up the crowd, I offered up my Bubble Baby image as a reference for Kozy to do her thing.

school kids drawing
Bubble Baby in ink, by Kozy

The medium of choice was paper and Japanese ink, the proper use of which requires substantial concentration:

concentrating on ink brush strokes
Drawing with Japanese brush and ink is not as easy as you might think

It was wonderful to see the kids having fun, giving it their all, and being so creative:

school kids at ichikawa higashi elementary school
Now that is total engagement!

When all was said and done, this was the final product, signed by everyone who contributed:

finished ink drawing
How many residents of the sea do you count?

Hmmm, maybe next time, we’ll have a chat with the kids about the concept of negative space.