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 6

CoderDojo and Akuigawa Common

October 27, 2021 release

“CoderDojo” is a worldwide movement of programming clubs first started in Ireland in 2011.

Akuigawa Common, is a place dedicated to improving childcare support by providing a safe place for children after school and on holidays, as well as a better reading environment for them too.
For this episode, I spoke to three people who work at Akuigawa Common: Daisuke Motohashi, the organizer of the monthly “CoderDojo Kamiyama” and two staff members at Common, Ayano Miyoshi and Megumi Futo.

To become acquainted with computers and the Internet

Please tell us about yourself.

Daisuke I’m from Fukaya, Saitama. After graduating from University, I came to Tokushima for my job. A former colleague asked me to join the team to start up a satellite office in Kamiyama in 2012. I was going back and forth between Tokushima city and Kamiyama to support the project. Eventually I moved to Kamiyama in 2013.

What are your childhood memories?

Daisuke I did lots of things like Abacus, Karate, Piano and Baseball… Other than that I played computer games a lot.

Tell us about “CoderDojo” and how it began in Kamiyama.

Daisuke “CoderDojo” * is a non-profit programming school that originated in Ireland. Since the first school opened in 2011, there are now 2,200 schools in 112 places all over the world with more than 230 schools in Japan alone.

There was a clear reason why we wanted to start it in Kamiyama but there were also several other factors involved.

When I visited the local elementary school to teach a drone flying lesson, the headmaster told me he was concerned that children growing up in a rural environment have fewer chances to come into contact with technology.

Their main role models can only be either their family or teachers which means their answers for future plans naturally narrow down to little options; to become public servant, teacher or TV personality.

He also said that there are plenty of job options in the world and growing up without knowing the infinite possibilities to learn and become anything you want to be is such a pity. So, he wanted to provide children with an opportunity to interact with artists and adults who work for the various satellite offices in Kamiyama. It inspired me to create a place for children to experience anything interesting.

Around the same time, we had just had our first son. I thought if I start developing an educational environment for coding now, by the time my son is in elementary school all the senior students would understand programming languages which would then help all the other kids to expand their experience and increase their knowledge. This was also my original intention.

“CoderDojo Kamiyama” is actually the third school started in December 2018 in Tokushima prefecture following one in Tokushima city and one in Miyoshi city. The hosts of each dojo are called “Champions” and their job is to provide an actual space for the dojo. The students are “Ninjas” and supporters are called “Mentors”.

Chatting with Champions from other the schools, I realize that the rental fee for the space can be a heavy weight on them. We are at an advantages being in a rural area to be able to use a facility like Akuigawa Common free of charge.

CoderDojo is a free, volunteer-led computer programming club. We run it for children with support from around the world. We have a chance to receive free computers and also books on coding and web services for example.

What exactly do Mentors do for children?

Daisuke You can learn programming skills online so actually Mentors don’t need to teach them anything. Their role is more to watch over and support children logging into PC and helping them with basic problems so that children can comfortably start messing around with a computer.

I believe that our aim is not only about learning coding skills but also about deepening our understanding of the internet while discovering what is possible with a computer.

The most important thing is self-directed learning

What is your future plan for “CoderDojo Kamiyama”?

Daisuke At the moment we mainly have boys from the elementary school come over to the dojo so I’d like middle school and high school students to join us too.

Also, I’d really like more grown-ups to participate as Mentors.

Right now, because I’m the only Mentor of “CoderDojo Kamiyama”, I can’t organize any other dojos. If we have more mentors, it means we can set up another club in other areas of Kamiyama. I can rent equipment, too.

You don’t need to know coding. In fact, it’s better if you don’t know anything because you can research and learn together with the children. If you already know the answers to their questions then it's too easy to give them what they want. The most important thing is self-directed learning. First you come up with a question then you have to struggle for a while to find out how to solve problem and then finally you arrive at the right answer by yourself. Watching over children without interfering is actually quite a hard thing to do.

If anybody is even slightly interested in helping, I’d appreciate it if they could join us. There are various way to get involved. I know it’s a while off yet but I’m hoping that the current Ninja’s grow up and come back to this dojo as Mentors.

Next, let’s speak to Ayano and Megumi from Akuigawa Common.

It’s about caring for the children of future generations

First off, please tell us about yourself and your connection to Kamiyama.

Ayano I’m from Tokyo. I never lived anywhere else so I thought you only live once, why not move to somewhere new? My husband was born in Kagawa and worked in forestry so we looked for a suitable place on Shikoku Island. I also wanted to raise our child in the countryside so we decided to move to Kamiyama.

Megumi I was born and grew up in Orono, Kamiyama. I have two big brothers and most of my friends in the neighborhood were boys so I played outside a lot. I always liked going to the river in summer to dive in very deep. Do you know the current gets quite slow at the bottom of the river? I used to swim like a dolphin going up and down in a circle.

How did you become involved in Akuigawa Common?

Megumi I wanted to go back to work when my child was old enough to go to the nursery. Just as I was hoping to find a job in Kamiyama, I saw a job listing for Akuigawa Common on the community bulletin board. I thought “This is it!”.

Ayano I had previously worked as a teacher at school teaching home economics. I have always been interested in the lives of children and the environments they grow up in. Then I saw a job offer for Akuigawa Common on the “In Kamiyama” website and I thought I’d love to be a part of the project. So, I got in touch with them.  

What do you consider to be very important in your job?

Megumi We are working on making this place a comfortable communal lounge for everyone. We also organize events to attract people who we haven’t been able to reach yet.

Ayano The concept of Akuigawa Common is “Caring for the children of future generations” and we believe it’s important that we don’t stop learning in order to realize it. We take part in external training courses about children’s growth and development; we want to grow together with the children.

Megumi We also care about sustainability as much as possible. When preparing for a craft making workshop for example, we keep off cuts of origami papers and cardboard to reuse for another day to reduce any waste of materials.

Personally, I’d like to be there to support mothers with small children especially. I know that nothing makes you happier than being with your children, but it can get tough sometimes. I’d like them to visit us and just talk about what’s on their mind or anything and share their feelings. I believe chatting with other parents would help to ease your heart. I myself often find it very helpful to share my thoughts with other mums. I’m grateful to be able to work in such an amazing place.

Ayano It’s interesting that all the staff who work here are from such different backgrounds with diverse perspectives. I’m hoping that Akuigawa Common becomes somewhere special for kids to spend their time freely and for all future generations to learn and grow together.

It’d be really nice if people make use of their experience here and it helps them to lead a better life in the future. I want to feel motivated to keep having fun while learning passionately.

Rhinoceros beetles; new member of Akuigawa Common

How are the children doing so far?

Megumi Regular members seem like they feel at home. As soon as they get here, some of them finish their homework first, some go straight to the computer, some like to do craft making or drawings. I love watching them doing what they want. Over a particular period of time, I see different-generations spending their time here; High school students studying for an exam, grown-ups working on their computer. It has a great atmosphere.

You can visit here for no particular reason. It’s nice to just meet up with your friends and chat.

Ayano Mostly we have elementary students after school time. Middle and high school students mainly visit here to study for their exams. They like to sit at the counter at the back of the room and work quietly. I saw a group of high school students studying together for a license exam. Slowly there are more and more older children visiting us.

Has anything particularly memorable happened?

Megumi The other day, I noticed that the room was busy and full of people from different generations. I saw older kids studying for exam at the back, smaller kids full of energy playing on the near side and adults getting on with work or chatting with each other. That was the exact scenario that Akuigawa Common was created for. I’d like it if this kind of moment becomes an everyday scene in the future.

Ayano This person from Kamiyama saw our website and got in touch with us asking if we wanted him to give us rhinoceros beetles as a present and if we wanted to keep them in Akuigawa Common for everyone to look after. We thought it would be wonderful for children to meet him so we asked him a favor to visit us after school time.

The children were thrilled to bits. Some saw rhino beetle pupas for the first time and even mothers gathered around amazed and excited. After that some kids visited us every day to check on the pupa.

He gave us a chance to interact with local people. I treasure that. I hope to continue to be in touch with different people from Kamiyama and build relationships with them.

Don’t judge yourself according to school expectations

What do you imagine Akuigawa Common to be in the future?

Megumi I spoke to this mother the other day and she told me she feels relived when less people are around here because she worries that her kid might cause harm to other children.

We’d like to increase the number of visitors but I feel that it’s important to pay close attention to each visitor and be mindful about them for now.

Ayano I’d like to let people not only from Kamiyama but from other areas know about what we do here. We opened an SNS account as Akuigawa Common and through that sometimes we get messages from people who were born in Kamiyama and now live outside the town saying they still reminisce about the place. I will keep posting news and event information from us to the world especially in difficult times like these.

What is your message to children?

Megumi Looking back now, I lived in the small world of my school system when I was a student. I imagine it could be the case for children now.

We all struggle throughout our lives feeling anxious and worried. I want to tell children that schools aren’t the only place for them, that the world outside is so much bigger than you think. It’s important for kids to interact with adults. They can find out different ways of seeing and points of view to help solve problems. This will give them a chance to develop the ability to think ahead and also to broaden their horizons. I don’t want children to judge themselves according to school expectations.

Ayano Even when you grow up, sometimes there’s a lot to worry about and certain things need to be done every day. I want to make this place like a park for people to take a break. You come here and you can do nothing. You never know, you might find an interesting book from our shelves. Anybody is just welcome to drop in.

Invite your friends and family, or don’t invite them at all and be by yourself. It is totally up to you how to spend your time here. If there is anyone who hasn’t had a chance to visit us yet, please drop by and experience the atmosphere in Akuigawa Common.

Interview: June 25, 2021

* CoderDojo https://coderdojo.jp/

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