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 2

After school care program

September 17, 2021 release

There are two elementary schools in Kamiyama – Hirono and Jinryo. The Gakudo (after-school childcare) centers are adjacent to each school building (both opened in April 2007).

For this interview, we invited the headmistress of Hirono Kids Club, Mika Sakamoto, and Yui Kawano, a childcare worker from Sudachi Kids Club to Nishibun House (a share house and the exchange base for people who have just moved into Kamiyama).

In Gakudo I get to look after many different children

Please tell us about yourself and what brought you to Kamiyama.

Mika I’m from Awa city (the north-east of Tokushima). I moved to Kamiyama when I got married. There is nothing much around our house and I saw no lights after dark so it took me a while to get used to this quiet rural village. Now I think it’s a lovely place.

Yui I’m also from Awa city. My mother was born in Kamiyama so I often visited here as a child. There was no one in our family to look after my grandparents’ house any longer so I casually suggested “Hey, I can do it!” and moved here when I left high school.

How did you spend your time after school and holidays as a child?

Yui It was about 2km between my house and my school. It was quite a long walk so I didn’t wait until I got home. I played on the way home with my friends doing things like kicking stones and finding pretty leaves. On holidays, I played video games and played with Lego a lot at home.

Mika My house was surrounded by rice paddies. I grew up watching tadpoles and listening to frogs. I used to meet up with my friends at a local shrine, explore the woods, pretend to be private inspector, climb trees, swim in the river and so on. We were never bored. Looking back, I had so much fun with my friends.

When I was a child, there was always someone at home so there was no need for after-school childcare. I don’t think I knew any other children who went home to an empty house.

What first led you to become involved in after-school childcare? 

Mika When the first Gakudo program was started in Kamiyama, there was an opening for a childcare worker.

When my daughter was in elementary school, there were a lot of families living in Takase public housing nearby our house. Almost all of them were nuclear families and many of the kids' parents were still at work even after school had finished.

I remember a time when there were about ten kids coming over to our place every day. My daughter would also visit their houses and she used to play in the parking lot all the time as well. They used to be out and about until the dinner was ready.

But I noticed that there were some kids who were not able to join in with the other kids. They’d just watch them playing from their window. I thought this after-school club could be a place for everyone to have fun including kids like these. If I became a childcare worker, I thought I could look after not only my daughter’s friends but those children staying at home as well.

Yui I’d worked for Japan Agricultural Cooperative since I graduated from high school. When I had my second child, parenting and working full-time became a little too much. Just when I was wondering about whether to leave my job, a worker from the Gakudo center approached me asking “Why don’t you come visit us and see what you think?”. So, this is how it all started.

At beginning, I had so much fun just being around the kids. Before, I was a full-time administrative worker so it was refreshing to move my body a lot and play with kids. I felt great.

But there was a time when I struggled because I gradually came to realize that just having fun with kids is not really good enough. The kids who come to Gakudo are from such different backgrounds.  Some of them really enjoy staying with us but some don’t and this is because they have no choice to be anywhere else.

When they arrive at the club from school, the children have mixed emotions. So, I’m still learning what’s best for each child.

I want to tell each and every child that I care deeply about them

How many children currently come to Gakudo?

Yui We have on average about 42 to 43 kids coming to the club every day. I make sure I interact with each one of them once a day at the very least. It could be something as simple as asking “Hey! What are you doing?” or “Give me a high-five! Yeah!”.

Mika In Hirono Kids Club, we have 24 students. This is just about the right number to be able to look out for everyone and communicate with them all. I try to engage with the children I'm particularly concerned about as much as possible.

Yui Some kids worry about displeasing adults and walk on eggshells around us, some kids are frustrated and say, “I’m annoyed” or “I’m irritated” out loud. But I want to tell them all that 'I care deeply about you'.

Mika The kids from Hirono and Jinryo are very different, aren’t they? Many of them are quite gentle and softhearted in Hirono. The kids from Jinryo are more mature.

Yui, your child goes to Hirono Kids Club and you work for Sudachi Kids club. Can you tell us if there is a difference?

Yui It is distinctly different. If my daughter were in Sudachi Kids Club, she wouldn’t be able to come out of her shell. There is a notable dynamic formed within the club.

I think it’s amazing that children are not afraid to say who they like or don't like. Of course, adults also have likes and dislikes but we wouldn’t say it out aloud.

And they can speak their mind and talk things through. Kids always surprise me. After expressing their true feelings, they cool off and start thinking rationally.  Soon they are ready to say “I’m sorry” or “I shouldn’t have said that” then they are friends again.

In my opinion, although children from Hirono are gentle they still pick a quarrel but it's never very intense. On the contrary, the children from the Sudachi Kids Club have the social skills to take action and then to make amends after a quarrel.

They probably learn all this from the older kids in the club.

Mika It sounds great that kids can question themselves and have a moment of self-reflection.

Yui Not everyone can move on like that, but they can all express their joy, anger, sorrow, and pleasure wholeheartedly. On the other hand, for the kids from Hirono, their main feeling is more about joy.

Mika Yeah, they are like family. They pick a quarrel but make up right away. It’s like a siblings rivalry, you see them arguing but then the next minute they are playing together. I have no worries about the kids who come to the club at the moment.

I was born to do this job

Was there anything particularly memorable?

Mika This kid who wasn’t particularly gentle with the younger ones before learned to be kind to them this year.  I noticed that a lot of older boys are caring for little ones. Children grow up so fast and it's hard for adults to comprehend. It makes me very happy.

On these occasions, I just give them a huge hug and tell them how wonderful they are. They usually push me away and say, “Please keep a social distance”. (laughs) But I just want to praise them more than anything. Older or younger, it doesn't matter. It’s always nice to receive a compliment even for adults, right?

Yui It is such a delightful moment to see older kids taking care of the little ones and making sure that they are safe. I am impressed with the children every day. When I see these special moments, I share them with the other staff members.

And it always makes me so happy when new graduates come to see me to say goodbye and thank you.

Mika Every day is so much fun but when I meet former students all grown-up on the street waving and calling my name, it gives me tremendous joy.

Yui You feel rewarded, don’t you?

Mika I feel like I was born to do this job. I put Hirono Kids Club first before family or anything else. And it’s not only because I’m the headmistress here

Yui You come to school events, too.

Mika I go to the sports festival and the study presentations with a video camera with my husband every single year, I won’t miss them. (laughs) However, since the outbreak of coronavirus, I haven’t been able to see it for more than two years. It’s very painful.

Yui She also helps parents who have concerns.

Mika Kids between 1st grade to 6th grade, they are full of potential and you get to see them grow every single day. It’s an immensely rich period in their lives. I always make sure to tell parents what happened with their kids every day.

Yui She actually sends a personal message to tell us about our kids because we won’t know otherwise. It’s not only about their time in the club but also their time in school, too,

Mika It’s been difficult in the current situation but picking-up time in the early evening used to be a communication place for parents. They would usually stay around and chat for at least half an hour. Some would sit down for over an hour.

There was a time when just the fathers came to pick the children up. They all stayed together and helped with the kids' homework.

Yui It was the children, rather than the parents, who were waiting. (laughs) We talked about school, PTA and handouts and then figured things out together.

At Sudachi Kids Club, we meet parents at the entrance hall. We share news from the day and any thoughts between staff members and then the headmistress tells the parents.

Mika Some might think what I do is over the top but I believe this is the character of Hirono. I think it’s right for each club to be different and have a different philosophy.

Anyhow, I want to make sure this club is full of enjoyment for kids until they go home. I want them to be happy to be here and I hope to keep this place comfortable.

Interview: June 26, 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