I wonder if my every-other-week visiting school is a cool place all the time, or if I just happen to visit on days when interesting things are going on. In October or November, there was a special daily schedule waiting on my desk but I couldn’t read the kanji. Later that day, the principal invited me to come with her to whatever the event was (I didn’t understand it out loud either), so we headed with the rest of the school to the chilly gym for what turned out to be a visiting theater troupe. They put on an adorable play with lots of acrobatics, silly costumes, singing, musical instruments, and all kinds of kid-friendly themes from the importance of self-confidence to the precious bonds of friendship. Because the play was geared towards kids as young as 6, I could basically understand it. 😀
This last week there was another special schedule on my desk, and this time I knew all but one of the kanji so I had a general idea of disaster/crime/prevention/preparedness. And when the principal tried to explain it to me, I caught that the kids would learn about what to do “if a strange person comes to the school.”
Naturally, as with anything in Japan, it was all done with a lot of formality. I was sitting at my desk waiting for the principal to summon me, when people started making all kinds of announcements over the loudspeaker and coming to deliver to the principal reports of the simulated threat. There was a lot of “Anzen deshou ka?” [Is it safe?] delivered in this dramatic tone; I could not help but think of bad black-and-white samurai movies.
So then I was whisked away to the gym, which, in mid-January, was FREEZING. (The disaster drill couldn’t be held in May, or September, or pretty much any other month?) The kids all filed in by class and lined up in perfect columns while their teachers approached the principal and all gave the exact same speech confirming the safety of their classes.
It was time for the crime prevention assembly. A school crossing guard, the local mall security guard, and two people with the police (in full uniform with bullet-proof vests, juxtaposed with the dainty visitors’ slippers they had put on upon entering the school) spoke to the kids about how to deal with strangers. They pretended to be creepy strangers and preyed upon volunteer students. One of the policemen produced a decibel meter and had some students yell “Tasukete!” [Help!] as loud as they could into it.
Finally, the policeman asked the entire school to measure their yelling volume. This moment was the entire reason I’ve written this post. I don’t think I will ever forget the sound of 173 high child-voices screaming “TASUKETEEEEE!!!” in that freezing gym. The whole thing was steeped in that classically Japanese mix of the serious and the completely absurd.