—— I heard that when you were young you had a strong interest in agriculture.
Well, I was the first son, between my two sisters, and I was born on a small farm in poor farming community in Niigata. We didn’t have much, our family grew just enough rice and vegetables for us to survive, but it wasn’t just us...everybody in that community had it rough. Growing up in a situation like that, even though I was young, I felt something. When I was growing up my dream was to learn more about agriculture and someday use that knowledge to save my hometown from poverty. That’s what inspired me to attend Tamagwa University Faculty of Agriculture in Tokyo.
—— So how did it go, saving your hometown?
I was majoring in horticulture science and I knew there was a group called the Japan Overseas Cooperative Association that gave you real-world training and guidance in agriculture and I was interested. I also had a chance to hear an elder classmate from high school speak, he had a newspaper company in Argentina, and from then I started becoming interested in foreign countries. From the work of JOCA, I learned their purpose was not just to help those poor countries, but to help them help themselves and stand on there own. I realized that there was a lot more to saving my hometown from poverty than agricultural technology. Before I went overseas I realized that it wasn’t that easy.
—— So after you graduated, what was the reason you moved into the field of education?
To escape poverty, education is the key. It’s true everywhere throughout the world, education is the way. So when I was searching for a job I registered in an employment office looking for work in education, later receiving a job offer from a pre-school in Yokohama. Back then there were no qualifications needed and I really like children. It was unusual for a man to take care of kids in a pre-school before they entered elementary school, but I spent two years doing that. During my college years, I earned my teaching credential for Jr. high school and high school, but I still didn’t have the qualifications to teach in elementary schools, so I started taking correspondence classes from Tamagawa University. In my second year teaching at the pre-school, I had stomach surgery and ulcers, so I quit for a year to concentrate on my studies. Then after I got my credentials, I started my elementary-school teaching career in the Kanagawa area.
—— So after that you were sent to the Japanese School in New York?
By around my ninth year of teaching elementary school, I was hoping teaching abroad would be a big plus in my career as an educator. That’s why I applied to the Ministry of Education’s program which sends teachers abroad to Japanese Schools to assist children abroad with their Japanese academic and cultural education. Through that program, I had the opportunity to go and teach in the Japanese School in New York. That school was comprised of students from the 5th grade to the 9th grade and the students included local children and children that had moved from Japan, many of whom had experiences living abroad in countries besides the US. So the students there had diverse backgrounds. Because the make-up of the students was so diverse being there greatly expanded my perspective and experience as an educator. It was a great learning experience for me!
—— So after three years teaching in New York you returned to Japan and were in-charge of teaching “challenged” students.
I returned to the school at which I was previously teaching in Japan and after a year I took over a teaching a class of “challenged” students. It was an opportunity to continue growing as an instructor. When teaching children with a wide range of physical and mental learning disabilities, as I did, it is impossible to use a standard approach that you might use if it were a typical class. These children all have special educational needs and need more individual attention. It’s necessary to work with both the parents and the kids to understand each child’s situation so we can find the best approach for each child and instill in them a sense of confidence. I had to try everything possible. I was reading everything I could find, taking part in various training groups, and was asking the advice of other experienced educators. It was really hard work. The basic goal idea of education is to guide children to be able to grow in their special area and give them confidence and skills to function in society. I truly believe this after teaching the challenged.
—— So tell us how you ended up at Minato Gakuen.
It was February 1992, and I was teaching the special class in Japan, when I received a call from the Principal’s office and they told me that from next year I’d be working for the Yamato City Board of Education. It must have been because of my experience in New York. They put me in-charge of taking care of a growing number of children who had come back from overseas, those who were going overseas, and foreign children from abroad. After that, I worked six years for the Kanagawa Educational Consulting Office and so for eight years, I was handling kids with diverse and varying levels of culture shock. From all of this I started to gain confidence that I could provide children overseas better guidance. That’s why I choose to come to San Diego and become the Principal of Minato Gakuen in Spring of 2001. The last time I went to New York and so now I’ve been able to experience both the east and west of the United States.
—— So while teaching at Minato Gakuen, how do you encourage these children and what kind of hope do you have for them?
Basically, they’re going to local schools and receiving an American education, which is becoming more demanding than before, which is opposite of the direction the Japanese education system is taking (public schools in Japan are narrowing the curriculum and putting fewer demands on students and giving students two days a week off). So these kids that are coming to our school are not only receiving their strict lessons from regular schools, they’re also studying Japanese language and math, among other things. They have to finish text-books that take Japanese children a year in Japan, in only 40 to 50 lesson days here. Each of them feels the stress of these high expectation, but I always encourage them and let them know this hard work now is the foundation that will give them the power to succeed in Japan or wherever they choose to go in the future...and I really believe they will succeed! So I’m sending ale to the children who are the future of the planet and when I see them grow-up the right way, I’ll know my guidance for them wasn’t wrong. I’m waiting for that day to come.
—— Do you have any proverbs or mottos regarding the basics of education that you could share with us?
Well, the founder and past president of my old school Tamagawa Gakuen Mr. Kuniyoshi Obara said, “If you can take the most painful, hateful, difficult, disadvantageous situation in life and put a smile on it, then you can take control of it.” At the entrance of the school there is a stone wall and Mr. Obara’s saying is engraved there so each time I walked by I’d see it and it would burn deeper and deeper into my mind. He was one of the proponents leading the discussion on a new style of education called Rosaku which promoted the philosophy of realizing the spirit of joy in all areas of your life, in whatever you do. There was one time I’ll never forget when I was taking his class. You see, through all of my years of elementary school, Jr. high school and high school, I was never late. However, when I entered University I became a little lackadaisical and I was late for Mr. Obara’s class. When I entered he asked me why I was late, but he didn’t accuse or blame me at all. Actually, he was very concerned about my family and asked, “Is someone in your family sick?” Actually, I didn’t have a reason, I was just late. I was very embarrassed, but deeply moved by his concern. It was because of his belief in his students that he asked. At that moment I realized that he was the ideal educator.
Now that I only have a little more than a year left at Minato Gakuen, I can see that throughout my life and career so many people have helped me. Thanks to them I have been able to be involved in the field of education, like this here in San Diego and I’m always grateful.