Thursday, May 19, 2016

My Minato Gakuen, 1985 to 2001

by Teiko Kaneko (translation by Rio Imamura)

We are excited to ride the train whenever a new route is opened, but often don't consider the history of the railways and the effort that went into building them.

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.

One of the school events the Minato students impatiently awaited was Field Day. The Wangenheim School field, which was nothing but a wild plain field, became enlivened with a congregation of students, teachers, parents and families, all surrounding a circular track of playground carefully drawn by lime powder. When races started, fathers competed to occupy the best locations for filming the event, equipped with movie cameras on their shoulders (all much heavier than those available today).

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.

Picnic outing sponsored by the PTA were also delightful events. One year we took an apple picking trip to Julian, the gate of Cuyamaca Mountains. Another year we had a very organized Dixon Lake Park picnic in Escondido. I have very fond memories of the picnics.

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.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Minato Gakuen Now

The Class of 2016 graduating from Minato Gakuen was congratulated once in San Diego in mid-March and again in Kyoto in early April. Here’s chapter and verse of the life spanning story and the fruits of the concerted service and dedication of all those parties involved.

Minato Gakuen was established in 1978 as a Nihongo Hoshuko (Saturday Japanese Supplementary Language School) in San Diego primarily for the Japanese expatriate children. Most expatriate’s term of assignment range from 3 - 4 years and during that time, the parent’s biggest headache was that their children could face hardship upon their return. The mission of Hoshuko is to help students preserve Japanese cultural values while attending American schools and to keep from falling behind in their Japanese studies. Before Minato Gakuen, some expats had enrolled their children at Asahi Gakuen in Los Angeles, despite their 4-hour round-trip drive. Arthur Jonishi, first President of Minato Gakuen, one of the founders, felt the dire need for a Hoshuko from his boyhood experience in Canada.

Under his leadership, with advice from volunteer lawyer Richard Miyao, a preparation committee was formed, composed of expats and their wives, and they petitioned the office of the LA Consulate General of Japan for obtaining assurances of Monbusho support. I myself served as the committee representative and collected signatures of San Diego Japanese Americans to cope with the rally of the pre-existing private Japanese school. Compared to Los Angeles, there were just a handful of beneficiary Japanese companies with limited financial resources. We had to initially ask expat spouses to serve as teachers without pay. PTA members served as sergeants at arms for annual events such as field day and picnics, and act as consultants to manage the school, again all without pay. Mr. Kouichi Kuwahara, representing Tanabe Pharmaceuticals San Diego, preferred to have Mrs. Kuwahara serve as the first Principal of Minato without pay.

I contacted the San Diego Economic Development Corp (EDC) to secure free school rooms. My contention was that this school, once launched, would add impetus and incentives for more Japanese investment in San Diego. The wave of Maquiladora trade expansion was just beginning across the US-Mexican border. This trend was unmistakable as second year enrollment at Minato jumped from 39 to almost 100 students. With more beneficiary companies arriving, the school was able to pay for teachers and offices combined with tuition income.

Miramar College (EDC) mediated for Minato, which has been providing facilities for the police academy and its field firing ranges, in addition to pursuit drive training on the college ground. The classrooms were scattered and the desk and chairs were too tall for Minato children. We knew Miramar College was not a perfect fit, but we were happy to endure the inconveniences. In 1981, Minato moved to Wangenheim Middle School in Mira Mesa. It is a quonset hut, but the classrooms were in one location all together. Mrs. Yasuko Okai served as acting Principal when Mrs. Kuwahara returned to Japan. In 1982, Minato welcomed Mr. Shoichi Nagase, the first Principal sent by the Japanese Ministry of Education. In the first changing of the guards, Masayoshi Morimoto replaced Arthur Jonishi. The spirit of service was maintained, even ramped up, by faculty members, the PTA and the mother body, San Diego Nihongo Kyoiku Shinkokai (San Diego Association of Japanese Language Promotion).

In 1988, Minato Gakuen celebrated its 10th Anniversary, the year I happened to serve as the 5th President for the mother body. I worked closely with the 3rd Principal, Satomi, from the Ministry of Education. It was Satomi-Sensei who composed the Minato School Song based on the lyrics by Takahashi Sensei. Kazuo Takada (deceased), Satomi, and I endeavored to develop Minato-based community relations, inviting local school teachers (for the Japanese children) once a year, printing the English magazine “Bridge”. The efforts did not last long as all three left San Diego for individual reasons. My reason was my retirement, in 1995.

In 2003, Minato invited me back to their 25th Anniversary and concurrent graduation ceremony. Minato Gakuen was then moving to Sweetwater High School in Chula Vista as the majority of parents were in southern San Diego. It was the year a brush fires hit north San Diego, Scripps Ranch in particular. I visited a couple of friends, including Mas Nakano, then Minato President, who was affected by the fire. I had the pleasure of meeting with Minato legal adviser Richard Forsyth, an old friend, and the then Honorary Japanese Consul General Dr. Randolph Philip.

About two years ago, I was contacted by Akiko Vogel from Minato trying to open its kindergarten. Her question was about the original school bylaws. Since then, we have been keeping tabs on Minato’s progress and I reported it to the annual San Diego OB Reunion in Kansai area. Last year (2015), I reported that Minato moved back to Clairemont, renting Madison High School’s facilities. Our house was close to Madison High and my two children graduated from Madison. The news pleased the Reunion members. This year I reported the total graduates from Minato was over two thousand (see the breakdown table by elementary, junior and senior high schools), and Minato ranks among the 10 largest Hoshuko in the entire U.S.

Kyoto Reunion members included Haruo Nishimura and Mikio Ando, who served as Minato President before and after I served. Special participant this year was Arthur Jonishi, the founding President, and Masako Kuwahara, the first Principal, and Mr. & Mrs. Hosoe, Tijuana resident, who enrolled their two children in Minato right from the start. I learned that their two sons went to Marian Catholic High School in Chula Vista. Their eldest son graduated from Jochi University, worked at an IT related company and then established his own company before merging with a larger company. The younger son graduated from Keio University then worked at Accenture Tokyo and Singapore. In a few months, he was to be relocated to Accenture San Diego.

We all toasted the 53 graduates of 2016 and the endless future success of Minato Gakuen. We are sure Minato can overcome any obstacles as we remembered our journey beginning from square one.

1 Chronological Minato Gakuen School History in Japanese (e-mail me if you are interested)
2 Yearly Numbers of graduates since 1979 (e-mail me if you are interested)
3 Mrs. Kuwahara published her book "Minato Gakuen in Orbit" in 2001 under her pen name Shisa Yoshida.