Rebuilding Japan
2:41 pm
Fri March 9, 2012

For Kids In Japan, Adjusting To A Changed World

Originally published on Fri March 9, 2012 9:22 pm

Teacher Dave Rowlands is talking to his students in a kindergarten class at Imagine Japan, an English-language school in the Miyagi Prefecture of Sendai City. The school is just a short walk from pre-fabricated homes built for families who lost more than just property in the earthquake and tsunami last year.

"What came after the earthquake, was what?" Rowlands asks. "A tidal wave. In Japanese, what do we say? Or in English, actually, tsunami is now used around the world in many languages. Tsunami. We kind of leave the 't' off of there."

The earthquake and tsunami that killed almost 20,000 people in northeast Japan last year struck as school was just getting out on a Friday afternoon. The school kids who survived are still talking about the "big" quake, as it's known locally, one year later.

Six-year-olds Ruiji Seito and Rowland's daughter, Koyuki, describe that frightful day.

"We were not sleeping, we were playing something, and the earthquake just came, and we hid under the table, and the food fell down from the table," Koyuki remembers. "Everybody stepped on my hair because my hair was long," Ruiji laughs. "Somebody stepped on me!"

All school kids in Japan practice earthquake drills regularly, but teacher Akiko Kobayashi says the big earthquake on March 11, 2011, had an impact on the way her kids draw.

"Before, they are not like that, but suddenly they start color the face black, and clothes black, everything black. Not all the kids, but some kids," Kobayashi says. "But it's getting better now."

Student Attitudes Have Changed

Kobayashi says the attitude of her students is different too. There are often "fighting with people, really aggressive, yelling, really loud voice. I thought maybe they got stress inside, so I feel really sorry," she says, starting to cry. "When I think about the kids and their future, this maybe affects them a lot."

She says the children role play as if the tsunami is returning. "They are sitting and playing with dolls or something, and somebody says, 'Tsunami coming, we have to go!' And they move to another place and start playing again," Kobayashi says.

On a hilltop not far from Sendai City, teens are throwing snowballs on the grounds of Tohoku Chosen, a school for North Korean students. The main school building was destroyed in the earthquake, so 13-year-old Che Yun-su has to take classes in a small dormitory.

His school's computers were destroyed, too. The teacher now uses a white board for lessons. But Che says he doesn't mind the changes, because he was so moved by all the volunteers, including the Japanese, who helped clean up the school grounds after the earthquake.

"I realized what a nice community I am in now, in Japan, and I came to know their love, because we are not alone," Che says in Japanese.

Kim Ryong-fa, 15, is not exactly thrilled that she has to take her favorite dance class in the school cafeteria, but she makes the most of it. The most troubling thing for her is the possibility of another disaster.

"When I hear television reports of another earthquake, and when I see even a little bit of shaking, I get scared," Kim says in Korean.

She and Che are hoping the Japanese government will help with the cost of rebuilding their school, but the waiting list is long and not all will qualify for funds. In the meantime, these students, like many others in northeast Japan, must continue to find some sense of normalcy while adjusting to big changes in their lives.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Nearly 20,000 people were killed last year in Japan's earthquake and tsunami. It struck on a Friday afternoon, just as school was getting out. Now, among school children, it's simply called the Big Quake.

Reporter Doualy Xaykaothao talked with some of those children in Sendai City.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN SINGING, " HEY LET'S GO, HEY LET'S GO, I'M AS HAPPY AS CAN BE")

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO, BYLINE: This is kindergarten class at Imagine Japan, an English language school, just a short walk from pre-fabricated homes built for disaster victims.

Teacher Dave Rowlands is talking to his students.

DAVE ROWLANDS: What came after the earthquake was what?

RUIJI SEITO: Tidal wave.

ROWLANDS: Thank you, Ruiji. Everyone listen up to Ruiji. Go ahead, Ruiji.

SEITO: Tidal wave.

ROWLANDS: A tidal wave. In Japanese what do we say?

SEITO: Tsunami.

ROWLANDS: Or in English, actually tsunami is now, OK, used around the world in many languages. OK? Tsunami. We kind of leave the T off of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

XAYKAOTHAO: Six-year-olds Ruiji Seito and Rowland's daughter, Koyuki, describe that frightful day.

SEITO: We was not sleeping yet. We was playing something and just come the earthquake. And we hide under the table and the food fall down from the table.

KOYUKI ROWLANDS: Everybody stepped on my hair because my hair was long.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SEITO: Somebody stepped on me. I was, ow.

XAYKAOTHAO: All school kids in Japan practice earthquake drills regularly, but teacher Akiko Kobayashi says the Big Earthquake last March 11th had an impact on the way her kids draw.

AKIKO KOBAYASHI: Before, they are not like that. But suddenly, like, they start color the face black, the clothes black, everything black. Not all the kids, but some kids. But getting better now.

XAYKAOTHAO: Kobayashi says the attitude of her students is different too.

KOBAYASHI: Fighting with the people, aggressive - really aggressive and yelling in loud voice. Thought maybe they got stress inside. So I feel really sorry...

(SOUNDBITE OF WEEPING)

KOBAYASHI: ...when I think about the kids and their future, maybe it affects a lot.

XAYKAOTHAO: She says the children role plays as if the tsunami is returning.

KOBAYASHI: They look really happy and interesting, but they are sitting and doing, like, playing with doll or something, and somebody says, tsunami coming, tsunami - we have to go. And they moving another place and they start crying again.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN PLAYING)

XAYKAOTHAO: On a hilltop, not far from Sendai City, these teens are throwing snowballs on the grounds of Tohoku Chosen, a school for North Korean students. The main school building was destroyed in the earthquake, so 13-year-old Che Yun-su has to take classes in a small dormitory. His school's computers were destroyed too. The teacher now uses a white board for lessons. But Che says he doesn't mind the changes because he was so moved by all the volunteers, including the Japanese, who helped clean up the school grounds after the earthquake.

CHE YUN-SU: (Through Translator) I realized what a nice community I am in now, in Japan. And I came to know their love because we are not alone, everyone.

XAYKAOTHAO: Fifteen-year-old Kim Ryong-fa is not exactly thrilled that she has to take her favorite dance class in the school cafeteria, but she makes the most of it. The most troubling thing for her is the possibility of another disaster.

KIM RYONG-FA: (Through Translator) When I hear television reports of another earthquake, and when I see even a little bit of shaking, I get scared.

XAYKAOTHAO: Kim and Che are hoping the Japanese government will help with the cost of rebuilding their school, but the waiting list is long, and not all will qualify for funds. In the meantime, these students, like many others in Northeast Japan, must continue to find some sense of normalcy while adjusting to big changes in their lives.

For NPR News, I'm Doualy Xaykaothao in Sendai, Northeast Japan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.