Meet the World in Naoshima

There is an island in the Seto Inland Sea called Naoshima which is internationally famous as being an “art island”. There are several famous art galleries there, and the island itself is dotted with beautiful and obscure pieces of art.

It is also home to Naoshima Elementary School which hosts an event every year called “Meet the World in Naoshima”. My friend Richard is the ALT there and he did a great job of organising it this year.

One of my favourite parts of my job is the ‘cultural exchange’ part because it includes events like this.

A group of about 25 of us took the ferry to Naoshima bright and early on Saturday morning, and on arrival were bussed to the school. They gave us tea in the tatami room before showing us to the stage of the gym to thunderous applause from the assembled elementary school students.

We had each been assigned a small group of students from a particular year level, and they had been given descriptions of us which allowed them to come up to each of us and ask “are you ~?” SO cute!

I had first graders, which I was pretty happy about, and they all wanted to hold my hand and tell me their favourite colours and lead me around. We spent a bit of time in the gym getting to know our group, and introducing ourselves briefly to other groups, before being lead to the classrooms to start our activities.

My group was running ‘animal basket’ which involved wearing a headband with an animal picture on it and running to get a seat when your animal was called. My extra challenge was a three year old who fell in love with me and managed to get her arms around me everytime I made it to a seat. Adorable.

It was pretty fun but after 45 minutes (I’m not sure why my group did two sessions of it) I was very happy to move onto the fishing game.

This one was great; the kids had drawn, laminated and cut out a ton of fish and attached paper clips to them so we could ‘catch’ them with our rods (sticks with magnets tied to string). I impressed my group by catching ten fish in the first round (yes, that’s right, I beat five year olds).

They let us choose one of our fish to take home, so I picked one with rainbow polka dots and big eyelashes. Awwww.

The third game was the store game; they gave us a handful of fake money and a paper parfait cup or crepe, and told us to go to the fruit store, the snack store and the ice cream store to fill our cups/ crepes (with fruit/ snacks/ ice cream pictures they’d drawn). Good in theory but my little guide was so eager for me to get to all the stores I ended up with only some green ice cream in my cup. Oh well.

When all the games were over, we headed back to our classrooms for lunch which was a massive bento box provided for us. It was delicious, but it’s quite hard to eat with a five year old attached to each side like glue.

After lunch we went back to the gym for the final game. We all had masks made for us of animals from our country and it was a game like statues–the children move around pretending to be the animals on the slideshow until the Kagawa animal (a dog/bear thing?) came up then they froze. Armed with our masks we had to go and freak them out until they moved.

Then we sang a song about saying hello, then farewelled our children with a giant ALT arch out the door of the gym.

We played some fun icebreaker/ party games with the teachers then, which was a lot of fun and really tested our communication/ acting/ drawing skills.

After the school section was over, we were treated to a free tour of one of the galleries on the island. I went to Benesse House and really enjoyed the architecture and the interesting way it was built into the landscape.

My favourite piece was a painting of a yellow boat and a black boat on a shore which was mirrored by having a yellow boat and a black boat on the floor in front of the painting. It was my favourite because, looking out across the coast later, we saw the same yellow and black boats in the same position lying on the sand in the distance.

Then it was time to say goodbye to Naoshima and get the ferry home. Exhausted and windswept, I napped on the boat, but managed to keep it together long enough for Jamaican food, and a beer at Shamrock.

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