In the wake of the tsunami and Japan’s nuclear disaster , the rest of the world has been amazed as the self-control , the scrupulous honesty, the self sacrifice and the discipline shown by the Japanese people . There was no looting and no hoarding as people pulled together in the face of their common tragedy.
Some of you may have read this story which appaered in New American Media . It was written by a Vietnamese immigrant , Ha Minh Thanh , who was working as a policeman in Fukushima , about 25 miles away from the crippled nuclear plant. This is part of the letter he wrote to his family “Last night, I was sent to a little grammar school to help a charity organization distribute food to the refugees. It was a long line that snaked this way and that and I saw a little boy around 9 years old. He was wearing a T-shirt and a pair of shorts.It was getting very cold and the boy was at the very end of the line. I was worried that by the time his turn came there wouldn’t be any food left. So I spoke to him. He said he was at school when the earthquake happened. His father worked nearby and was driving to the school. The boy was on the third floor balcony when he saw the tsunami sweep his father’s car away.
I asked him about his mother. He said his house is right by the beach and that his mother and little sister probably didn’t make it. He turned his head and wiped his tears when I asked about his relatives.
The boy was shivering so I took off my police jacket and put it on him. That’s when my bag of food rations fell out. I picked it up and gave it to him. “When it comes to your turn, they might run out of food. So here’s my portion. I already ate. Why don’t you eat it?”
The boy took my food and bowed. I thought he would eat it right away, but he didn’t. He took the bag of food, went up to where the line began and put it where all the food was waiting to be distributed.
I was shocked. I asked him why he didn’t eat it and instead added it to the food pile. He answered: “Because I see a lot more people hungrier than I am. If I put it there, then they will distribute the food equally.”
When I heard that I turned away so that people wouldn’t see me cry.
A society that can produce a 9-year-old who understands the concept of sacrifice for the greater good must be a great society, a great people.”
Yes , indeed. Is it any wonder that even people in China , where many have bitter memories of Japan’s role in WWII , have a new appreciation of Japan and the Japanese ?
But where do the Japanese get their sense of values ? How is it that these values are so deeply ingrained that even a nine -year old boy can behave so heroically ? A look at what happens at lunch time in a typical Japanese elementary school offers some clues.
The Shin Yoshida Kindergarten is located in suburban Yokohama , about 20 minutes from Central Tokyo. At lunchtime , all the children bring their bento boxes, lovingly prepared by their mothers ( or , in some cases , their fathers or grandfathers). The teachers bring their own bentos too and eat with the kids .Lunchtime at the Shin Yoshida is viewed as a teaching opportunity , no less than an arts and crafts period. First , the children learn about and practice proper hygiene, quietly lining up at the sinks to wash their hands. Then they gather in groups , sit down on the floor and recite with their teacher words of gratitude for being able to have lunch together. . They give thanks to their parents , farmers and others who have made the lunches possible and sing a little song (” Obento , Obento , I’m so Happy ) and close with a boisterous Itadakamisu , a phrase that translates roughly as “ I’m honored to begin eating this meal “.
The food in the bento boxes is usually plain but nutritious . It has been quickly put together by the childrens’ moms by combining leftovers from dinner ,by premaking some foods in advance and storing them in the refrigerator or by making quick dishes like a rolled omelet. It is noteworthy that almost none of the bento boxes are store – bought at the ubiquitous konbini ( convenience store).
After the kids have cleaned out their bento boxes, they show them proudly to the teacher. When everyone is finished there is an enthusiastic shout of Goshisosamadeshita ! ( Thank you for that feast !) and the children run off to brush their teeth. Then they put away the toothbrushes , cups and empty bento boxes and run off to play
. The whole process is in line with the Shokuiku Kihon Hou, the Basic Law on Nutritional Education ( 2005).Shokuiku means ” educating yourself through what you eat — from learning about nutrition and where ingredients come from to understanding the cultural history of food and more. Sumie Kato , formerly the principal at Shin Yoshida , feels that shokuiku is a critical part of a child’s education.
Ms. Kato says “ It really isn’t just about eating a nutritional lunch … The children learn about appreciating their parents for providing and preparing the food they are given. They learn basic etiquette , such as saying itadakimasu and goshisosama properly … and , most of all , they get to experience how much fun mealtimes can be . “
She goes on to say that a few of the kids do not come from particularly happy homes but even they can experience a cheerful, happy lunchtime with their friends and teachers . She firmly believes that these little life lessons will serve the children well all their lives. And who can argue with that ?
About fifteen years ago , Robert Fulghum wrote a bestseller named ” All I really needed to know I learned in Kindergarten ” . Looking at the Japanese today , one sees the truth of that statement .
(Most of the information in this post was taken from a Japan Post article by Makiko Itoh.)