We are at Friends Girls School in Tokyo, founded in the same years as Friends School, Hobart. We are spending most of our time with the English teachers who are ex-pats: American and Irish. Grammatical English is mostly taught by Japanese-speaking teachers; with the ex-pats teaching conversational English.
The school has a lovely atmosphere. Everyone treats everyone with warm respect. Teachers and students are pleased to greet each other in the corridors with an obvious affection and trust.
The school day is 7 one-hour classes long. Many stay on for after school activities till nearly 6pm. It’s a very long day for students and staff, some of whom travel another hour and a half each way!
Japanese curricula are quite prescriptive. Some students go, after school, to “cram school” to prepare for the final exams which are what determine university entry. So, the students are very focused on what is assessable. Some go to cram school several days, perhaps in several subjects.
The English teachers do a wonderful job to make English fun and relevant. International Week is being held while we are at the school. All kinds of extra activities engage the students: quiz posters, pop music, and English conversation lunches being some. English teachers take every opportunity for spontaneous learning of English, especially in informal and colloquial situations. They also aim to increase awareness of the rest of the world.
The girls have good listening skills, but are shy about speaking in English—they thaw after a time of closer interaction. Most would like to have the sentence fully composed before they start to speak it.
We have been made wonderfully welcome. Teachers are pleased to meet us. We have been in at least one class with most of the girls. We have prepared several pictorial presentations talking about Canberra and Quakerism, and more.
The whole school attends morning worship for twenty minutes. This may be addressed by a teacher, a former student, or a present student. Addressing 800 students solo from a table on a stage is somewhat daunting. Nonetheless, there is a custom that the speaker often exercises considerable reflective self-disclosure. This contributes to the strong sense of trust that prevails in the school. The alumni of former students has an important place in the life of the school, which maintains an active knowledge of where its former students are in the world. We spent some time in an English class for parents, led by an Australian. Again, a great interest in both Australia and Quakerism.
Quaker teachers are almost non-existent now. Two active Quakers are part-time teachers, and probably no students. So, keeping the Quaker component of the school active is a challenge. We have taken opportunities to explain Quakerism, whenever possible. This has had a warm reception, from teachers and students.
Most years an excursion goes to George Fox Country, to visit early Quaker locations. Woodbrooke facilitate this. Students and staff clearly enjoy this greatly, and gain a strong sense of connection with early Quakerism. We hope to supplement this by presenting Quakerism in a current-day light. Quakerism has a resonance with traditional Shinto culture, which we’d like to explore more.
The whole school is aware of there being a Friends school in Hobart. We mention Hobart in every class we go to as we always introduce ourselves and say that we have one daughter in New Zealand and one daughter in Hobart. There is always an affectionate sigh from the girls. Developing more tangible links between the schools could be beneficial to both.
Ronis Chapman & Michael Searle
Canberra, Australia Yearly Meeting