By Vicky Carlton
Cornersville High School
We toured Koganei Kita High School where the question and answer forum allowed us insight into the students' everyday lives and future goals. They share the same interests and hobbies as American teens and were keenly interested in our teenagers' fashions, music, and social activities. Even though uniforms are required and dress codes abided by, I observed an unforeseen sense of individuality in the student population. It will be interesting to watch this generation unfold and find if they continue to honor individualism more than previous Japanese generations. Through the question and answer session, I was also pleasantly surprised to find a large, active PTA group that was very involved at the high school level.
Additionally, I discovered that Japanese educators share some of the same challenges as their American counterparts: bullying, nonattendance, and violence. I expected to find every class encased in a rigid environment, but found that many classes were quiet and controlled and students were studying hard for the upcoming exams, while other classes allowed for more social interaction. While touring the campus, we glanced into the gymnasium to observe some students taking advantage of some unsupervised time, and we quickly decided that students are students everywhere!
Toyota Teachers also visited Soka University where we participated in a round-table discussion with students from the globalization class. The group of globalization students represented a diverse cross-section of the student population. One of the students expressed his commitment to education in his one-hour bike ride to the university, and like many of the students, he chose Soka University because of its proximity to home and its lower fees.
Mr. Lary McDonald from Soka's World Language Center explained the Japanese education system and recent educational reforms mandated by the national government, which include an emphasis on creativity and community involvement. We found the relationship between Mr. McDonald and his students surprisingly warmhearted.
While in Tokyo, the participants also visited Meiji Shrine, the largest and most important Shinto shrine in Japan, which was constructed by over 100,000 volunteers to honor the Emperor Meiji and his wife. We also were afforded the opportunity to discuss trade policies and relations with Japan at the U.S. Embassy, and some teachers elected to attend the Kabuki theater and a baseball game.
The group then traveled by shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagoya, then on to the Toyota Commemorative Museum and Toyota Tsutsumi Plant in Toyota City to view the Camry and Prius production. At the museum we walked through the timeline of the Toyota company, from its initial invention of the first automated loom and how they evolved into an automotive manufacturing company. Russell Bankson of Toyota University demonstrated the world-renowned Toyota Production System and put us teachers to work by having us man various jobs in the TPS simulation kit. Teachers saw the significance of just-in-time production procedures and muda (no waste) that have made Toyota a success and serve as a model for companies around the world.
The next major stop in the tour was Kyoto, which served as the capital for thousands of years before it moved to Tokyo. Kyoto is the arts and cultural center of Japan, with 1600 shrines and 300 Buddhist temples and more traditional Japanese houses and buildings than those found in the rest of the country. A full day was spent with Alex Kerr, author of Lost Japan, and his staff at the Origin Arts Program, where participants "learned by doing" in each of the demonstrated art forms: calligraphy, tea ceremony, Waraku martial arts, and Noh Drama. Our time with the masters of the traditional arts afforded us the opportunity not only to "go and see" but also to "go and hear" the impressive chants of Noh Drama and the Waraku martial arts. I read many articles about the tea ceremony, but viewing the tea master prepare the tea and my assuming the role as a guest gave me a better understanding of the significance in each minor detail involved. Calligraphy was my favorite art and I was thrilled that it was referred to as "the portraits of our hearts."
For the final segment of the trip, teachers traveled to Kyushu where we split into different groups. One group was educated on traditional salt and tofu making, toured Neshiko Christian Museum, and had a BBQ dinner with local villagers. A second group gained many insights from a guided walking tour of Hirado City, where they visited shrines, a castle and museum, and participated in an open-air tea ceremony. Finally, my group cruised 99 Islands National Park and had visited home-stay families on Ojika Island, home to approximately 4,000 people. The second night of the split program, we stayed on Nozaki Island, which was home to approximately 600 people twenty years ago, but is now deserted. Before checking into the Nozaki School Hostel, we toured the abandoned town center and explored the Hidden Christians church, a beautiful Catholic church built by Christians escaping persecution in the sixteenth century.
Each of our groups visited an elementary school and ate lunch with the students. I thoroughly enjoyed being one of the few teachers to visit Madara Elementary School, but was sad to learn it would be closing due to a declining student population brought about by the nation's urbanization and aging population. Big smiles spread across our faces as we watched the students recite English greetings and phrases they had practiced. I appreciated the opportunity to work side-by-side with students as they guided us in our calligraphy lessons, and watching the students don scrubs to serve others at lunch time taught me volumes about their commitment to serving others.
The most inspiring component of the program for me was one that is interrelated in every part of Japan…through each of Toyota's four major themes…the very heartbeat of the country…her people. From the time we stepped onto the busy streets of Tokyo at night to the warmhearted farewell we received from home-stay families, we encountered the Japanese people in everyday life -- respect, generosity, humility, and graciousness.
"May your future be lit by the knowledge of the past," are distinguished words from Shakichi Toyoda. Most assuredly, my future teaching endeavors and personal reflections will be greatly impacted from these treasured experiences and knowledge gained from genchi genbutsu.
The Toyota International Teacher Program has attracted interest from more than 4,000 teachers who have submitted applications. This year, the teachers were selected from the states of Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and Tennessee. Since 1998, 400 teachers from all over the U.S. have participated in this journey that explores Japan's rich history, current trends, and global issues. This one-of-a-kind program is sponsored by an $825,000 grant from Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. and is administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in Washington, D.C.
The educators selected for the program represent a cross-section of curricula areas and school size and demographics. Vicky Carlton, one of the five teachers from Tennessee, has taught business technology courses at Cornersville High School for fifteen years. Participants were chosen based on their professional qualifications, as well as the integration of their experiences into the classroom.