Holidays, weekends
and after school for children

How do children spend their after school, weekend
and holiday time in this town?
Do children spend their spare time with the adults in Kamiyama?

Episode 0

Prologue: Parents’ talk

September 10, 2021 release

There are currently two nursery schools, two elementary schools and one middle school in Kamiyama*.

As the population declined in Kamiyama, the seven former elementary schools (Kamibun, Shimobun, Souchi, Jinryo, Agawa, Orono and Hirono) have been reduced to just two (Jinryo and Hirono), and the two middle schools (Kamiyama and Kamiyama-higashi) have been merged into one (Kamiyama).

*There is also a public high school, (Josei Kamiyama) as well as a private college (Kamiyama Marugoto Kosen College) that is scheduled to open in 2023. (Kosen colleges are higher education institutions that offer five-years of intensive training for middle school graduates)

Kamiyama is a large town, and the different villages are very spread out so the majority of children commute to school by school bus on weekdays.  On weekends and holidays, their guardians help them to travel from one place to another and for this reason, the options for places to play are quite limited.  There are various sport clubs that have been going on for decades as well as cultural/learning activities that have emerged in the last few months (however, these activities are not yet widely known within the town).

In this series, we would like to look at the various activities available for children as well as the places where children can make their own decisions about how to spend their free time after school, on weekends and on holidays.

To begin with, we spoke with some parents of nursery school children, elementary school students and middle school students to hear about how their children spend their after school hours at the moment.

Played every day until dark

Please tell us about yourself and your connection with Kamiyama.

Chika Oda I was born in Tokushima city. We moved to Kamiyama seven years ago for my job as a local vitalization cooperator. Our task was to build a bridge to connect big cities and the rural landscape through promoting Kamiyama’s special plums and sudachi. I’m now independent and run a business called “Kamiyama Ruby”. I deal in pickled plums and publicize local dietary culture.

Emi Matsumoto I was born in Nara prefecture. It is our fourth year since we moved from Osaka to Kamiyama. Just when my husband’s enthusiasm for farming and becoming a farmer had grown stronger, we found an opportunity for an apprenticeship in farming by the Foodhub Project in Kamiyama. We’ll be starting our own farm in the Orono area from next year.

Atsushi Nakaminami I’m from Okubo village, Kamiyama. I left Tokushima to go to high school and university. Somehow, I always thought in the future I would build a life in the Kanto region (a densely populated eastern part of Honshu, which consists of Tokyo and six other prefectures).  

Now, I’m teaching at Kamiyama middle school. I also worked overseas for a couple of years in the past. Through these experiences, I think I rediscovered the virtue of Kamiyama.

Before we talk about your children, tell us how you spent your childhood.

Chika There were a lot of rice paddies around my family home. I played something like tag or kick-the-can with my sister and her friends, sometimes we made a secret den. There was nowhere we were not allowed to go, or nothing we shouldn’t do. We played every day until dark.

Emi I grew up in a new residential area and there were a lot of kids in the same generation. We used to hang out in a local park or visit each other’s place. My parents were busy working so I was a latchkey kid since I was in kindergarten. I used to come home alone and unlock the front door. Then I would stay at home and wait for my big brother and big sister to return. I remember there was a lot of time alone with just us kids.

Atsushi I used to play together with older boys in the neighborhood. We would find something around us and we would just be creative and play with it. Throwing stones, catching insects, fishing, and playing Poohsticks with popsicle sticks in a water channel. We were quite into marbles, menko (Japanese style pogs) and rajikon (radio controlled models), too.

It’s actually quite nice to spend time in Kamiyama

How do your children spend their time outside of school, or in the holidays?

Atsushi My eldest son is in the 1st grade of Kamiyama middle school, and my second son is in the 4th grade of Jinryo elementary school. We made a house rule for our children to get on with their homework as soon as they are back from school so that I can have time to play with them when I finish work.

Emi My eldest daughter is in the 2nd grade of Jinryo elementary school, and my second daughter goes to Shimobun nursery. The eldest one walks back to Kamaya where we work after school. She would stay around or go to a friend’s place, or she visits the Akuigawa Common (community center and library in the Onoji area). I pick up my second daughter after work.

We often used to go away on weekends and holidays. But since the outbreak of coronavirus, we’ve spent more time in Kamiyama. We visit the former Orono elementary school to ride in the yard and play catch. It helped us to realize that it’s actually quite nice to spend time in Kamiyama.

Chika My daughter is in the 2nd grade of Hirono elementary school, and my son goes to Hirono nursery. My eldest daughter walks straight home. She sometimes stays at home alone if I’m not around. I take my son out of nursery once a week to play outside in nature with a group of parents and children.

Right now, the plum is in season so last week we went out for plum picking at Mori san’s Cotton field.
After we moved to Kamiyama, I was most surprised about how dangerous rivers could be. And even though our surroundings are rich in nature, there are not many mountains we can enjoy safely. I realized that playing in nature is not that easy.

Do your children participate in any local activities, or take any lessons?

Emi Recently my eldest daughter joined the local baseball team. She is trying her best to practice with her girl friends of the same age. And she goes to a trail club once a week.

Chika My eldest daughter also goes to the same trail club. And their dad takes them to a parent-child dance class in the Agawa area. They are learning piano, too.

Atsushi My eldest son plays in the middle school baseball club. I think he is having a fulfilling time striving to play baseball together with his buddies. My second son also joined the local baseball club this spring.

Enriching after school time for children alone

Do you have any issues? Is there anything that could be changed for better?

Chika As for the trail running club, there is no one from her elementary school who goes there so she feels a little left out. She’s usually all stiff but by the time she comes home, she tells me how much she enjoyed the day.

There is one thing though: if both parents work full-time then picking up and dropping off kids won’t be possible. I hope there will be more activities nearby that kids can walk or cycle to.

Emi Often we have to change the plan depending on what our children want to do. So, every day we need to find out what’s happening, and we have to be flexible about picking them up and dropping them off. This isn’t easy.

Atsushi This may sound like an impossible wish, but it would be wonderful for children to have an enriching time after school by themselves. It would mean so much to them. These days it’s difficult to leave kids to play alone, don’t you agree?

In my generation, actually we never played anywhere with adults. Older boys in the neighborhood always looked after the little ones and those who were looked after then became the ones to take care of the younger ones.

It may be a little bit risky, but you just try your best to avoid fatal accidents. I got some bruises and fell out with my friends. I got scolded for breaking things. After all I survived and had a lot of fun without any serious injury all because there were older boys who took care of me to make sure nothing bad happens.

What can we do for our children to help them play by themselves?

Atsushi That kind of skill to be able to play by themselves safely is something you learn from older friends. There was this cycle of play and learning where little ones picked up knowledge from the older ones and then they passed this down to the next generation, which doesn’t exist anymore.

First, we have to start by teaching the skills to older children. This probably takes years of training, and it requires a certain kind of environment where this idea is accepted and supported. The more I think about it, the more difficult it is to realize it.

Looking at the children playing at the Akuigawa Common, I can see, little by little, there are children growing up as “older friends”.

Atsushi I visited Akuigawa Common earlier today. I saw a lot of children there and the older ones were taking care of the little ones. I sense potential there, right?

Emi Just as you said, I think it’s ideal for children to spend time on their own. You don’t need much, just play with your friends. To be playful and creative when there is nothing around you is something you can only experience as child. This experience will help them when they grow up.

Is there anything that you would like to continue doing or anything you would like to see grow and develop?

Chika I think it’s great to be able to meet wide variety of grown-ups with different jobs and their specialties through the trail running club and dance class.

Also, people in Kamiyama really care about children. My eldest daughter commutes to school on foot. When she walks along the local shopping street, past the petrol station, post office and so many other places, people always talk to her. It’s reassuring to know that they always watch over our children.

Atsushi In Okubo village, every summer we organize a woods and river activity. Our role is to show participating parents and children how to have fun in the woods and river, safely.

Later on, a parent and child who came to the earlier event visited Okubo again just with his family. I thought the father was a little reserved when he was here for the first time but this time, he seemed more comfortable teaching his children all the fun stuff we taught him. He was like “This is how you do it!” with confidence.

I think we were able to give them a little taste of the plentiful moments in nature that we grew up with. I was thrilled for them to have a quality time together.

Chika We go to this event every year as a family, and I can tell the people from Okubo are enjoying it. We do things like hand-fishing Amego (or Amago, red-spotted masu salmon) then cleaning them, cooking some rice in bamboo tubes, starting a fire with flint, playing a game of watermelon splitting (splitting a watermelon with a stick while blindfolded). They even put on an original show. It is very touching.

I hope it will keep going for many years to come. This kind of event is only possible because there are people here who have had an intimate relationship with nature since they were little. 

Emi This is probably because my daughters are friendly to everyone, they sometimes tell me “I didn’t know what to do but somebody helped me out.”, without my knowing people kindly take care of my children.

Kamaya for example, everybody welcomes my daughter when she’s back from school. They would feed her if she’s hungry. They are happy to have her around.

I feel that my children have been interacting with many adults other than just us, their parents, since we came to Kamiyama.

The next step is to trust our children a little bit more. Be proactive and give them an opportunity to be themselves and to engage with each other.

Listening to the parents' childhood memories and their thoughts about their children gave us some ideas for a more enriching time after school, on weekends and in the holidays.

As the environment and times changes for children, how should adults build a balanced relationship with them?

From the next episode, we will visit places and see activities where children can spend time after school, on weekends and during holidays.  

Interview: June 23, 2021

Interviewer: Chigusa Akiyama,
Text: Itsumodoori
Photography: Nao Kondo, Masataka Namazu, Masahiko Kanemura
Production cooperation: Eri Itoi, Yoshiaki Nishimura
Planning and production: Kamiyama Tsunagu Corporation