by Teiko Kaneko (translation by Rio Imamura)
I learned about Minato Gakuen when Japanese classes were still held at Miramar College so it must have been in the early phase of development for Minato. My husband and I relocated to San Diego from Kentucky in 1977. When we settled down in Mira Mesa, we found a Japanese neighbor five doors away – Takendo Arii, a landscape architect. We quickly became friends. Arii-san's children were enrolled at Minato Gakuen. One Saturday, Arii-san was unable to take his children to school, and I volunteered to take them to Minato.
In 1983, I first stood at Minato school platform as a substitute teacher. I later became a full-fledged teacher in 1985 and taught until 1990. After a five year interval, I returned to school in 1996 and served until 2001, the year I retired. I served at Minato a total of 12 years.
Every day at Minato Gakuen opens with the morning meeting, where the principal addresses the teaching faculty and all of the students lined up outside on the school grounds. The morning meeting is followed by radio calisthenics, the physical exercise nationally popular for years throughout Japan, set to music and rhythm nostalgic to adults raised in Japan.
There was one exception to this morning routine in January 1989. Principal Satomi, clad in a black suit and black tie, reported that Emperor Showa had passed away. There would be no radio calisthenics that day. Lead by somber looking teachers, the students returned to their classrooms.
I was the event convener almost every year. I would call out the names of students per the program, line them up in order of the program, and give the start signals. For relay racing in the red and white color competition, I divided racers into two groups by grade and color. There were restless children who were unable to wait and disappeared when they were needed. In retrospect, it was a responsibility that I fully enjoyed.
Minato Gakuen Office used to be on Miramar Road. Mrs. Kusano was always working diligently therein. There was a conference room that could contain 20 people if we packed ourselves in like sardines. Teachers treasured and shared one copying machine in that office. We teachers had to take turns making copies of teaching materials and were often accompanied by our children.
Eugene, my son, entered Minato Gakuen Elementary in 1985 and finished Junior High in 1994. He went to a local senior high school, graduated from a university, and got a job at an IT-related company headquartered in Texas. He was sent to the Tokyo branch office, where he found the Japanese language skills developed at Minato immediately helpful. He came back to the U.S. after two years and opened his own business in San Diego. His experience in Japan deepened his appreciation for Minato, and relationships with Minato classmates increased their chances of a reunion.
Aya, my daughter, entered Minato Elementary in 1986, and studied until she finished her second year of junior high. She graduated from a local senior high school, as well as a university. While studying at the university, she had a chance to study at Tokyo International Christian University for one year. After graduating from the university, she traveled to China for a year and a half as an English teacher. She returned to the U.S. and got married in Florida. Her husband is a pastor. The two of them are among both the Chinese and Japanese communities.
Minato graduates share a special feeling of fellowship as in "misery loves company." As they advance to higher grades, many students experience conflicts of interest. Since they commit to studies at Minato on Saturdays, students are unable to participate in weekend sports events or activities with their peers, which can lead to frustration. However, the shared frustration of Minato graduates builds a strong feeling of camaraderie between classmates.
The primary mission of Minato Gakuen is to help students preserve Japanese cultural values while they attend American schools, and to keep them on track with the Japanese studies, should they return to Japan. Even children who do not return to Japan benefit from Minato. Of the classrooms I was in charge of, two-thirds of the students were returnee students, children of corporate expatriates and of university faculty or researchers. The remaining third were children such as my own and children of international marriage between Japanese and Americans. In addition, Minato's mission has expanded beyond its primary objective by sharing Japanese cultural values with local Japanese-sympathizing Americans.
My grandson, my son's son, turned 3 years old this year. He started to learn Japanese equivalent of ABCs. I hope that my son will enter him into Minato in due time. I heard Minato Gakuen, a small school that started with 39 students 38 years ago, now ranks within the top 10 Hoshuko in the U.S. The efforts of the pioneers who founded Minato came to fruition, as Minato has become a valuable and intangible asset to the San Diego Japanese community.
I hope that the next generation continues to maintain and further develop the Minato tradition, while honoring its founders, their spirit, and their effort to create this special place.