For Kids In Japan, Adjusting To A Changed World

Students draw during art class at Imagine Japan, an English-language school in Sendai City, Japan. Immediately following last year's earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan, a teacher observed some of the kids drawing faces and bodies with black markers. i i

Students draw during art class at Imagine Japan, an English-language school in Sendai City, Japan. Immediately following last year's earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan, a teacher observed some of the kids drawing faces and bodies with black markers. Doualy Xaykaothao/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Doualy Xaykaothao/NPR
Students draw during art class at Imagine Japan, an English-language school in Sendai City, Japan. Immediately following last year's earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan, a teacher observed some of the kids drawing faces and bodies with black markers.

Students draw during art class at Imagine Japan, an English-language school in Sendai City, Japan. Immediately following last year's earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan, a teacher observed some of the kids drawing faces and bodies with black markers.

Doualy Xaykaothao/NPR

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.

Students at Tohoku Chosen, an elementary and junior high school for North Koreans in Sendai City, now take dance classes in the school's cafeteria because their main building was destroyed when the earthquake struck northeast Japan last March. i i

Students at Tohoku Chosen, an elementary and junior high school for North Koreans in Sendai City, now take dance classes in the school's cafeteria because their main building was destroyed when the earthquake struck northeast Japan last March. Doualy Xaykaothao/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Doualy Xaykaothao/NPR
Students at Tohoku Chosen, an elementary and junior high school for North Koreans in Sendai City, now take dance classes in the school's cafeteria because their main building was destroyed when the earthquake struck northeast Japan last March.

Students at Tohoku Chosen, an elementary and junior high school for North Koreans in Sendai City, now take dance classes in the school's cafeteria because their main building was destroyed when the earthquake struck northeast Japan last March.

Doualy Xaykaothao/NPR

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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