School Days

The bi-lingual sign marking Tsurugaoka Elementary as an Evacuation Center. The sturdy school suffered little to no damage in the quake.

With Ian and Yasue having spent so much time in Sendai every summer, they have numerous connections to the quake and its aftermath. One such connection is the school Ian attended for a few weeks each year. Tsurugaoka Elementary School in Sendai is now an Evacuation Center for the victims of the quake and tsunami. Just two weeks ago, it was a school filled with children laughing and learning. Now, its gymnasium and classrooms are home to hundreds of cold, hungry concerned families.

Nearly a decade ago, for a few short weeks each summer, Ian ruled its hallways. At first, I was hesitant about Ian attending yet one more school. He had just completed his school year at Island Pacific Academy, his rigorous independent school in Kapolei. Additionally, he attended Rainbow Gakuin, a Japanese immersion school in Kaimuki every Saturday from 9 to 3.

In the school gymnasium in 2003, a teacher introduces Ian to his fellow schoolmates. 

He needed a break and losing some of his summer to more schooling might not give him the break he needed. Sure, it would force him to improve his language skills and give him a chance to interact with kids his own age from a different culture. But, wasn’t 10 months of school Monday thru Saturday enough?

Thank goodness that was one more argument I would lose. Ian’s time at Tsurugaoka was not only developmental, it was a blast. In Japan’s homogeneous society, Ian was a novelty. He was a mixed-race, Hapa Haole kid from Hawaii. He was tall. He wore cool clothes. He spoke English. He spiked his hair.

He was living the rock star life while at Tsurugaoka. He was the Dos Equis “world’s most interesting man” and the Old Spice guy rolled into one. He would come home to Hawaii with his suitcase filled with presents he received from teachers and classmates. Stuffed animals, Yu-Gi-Oh cards. Candy. Toys. He would tell me stories about “girls at his school who were his friends but they were not his girlfriends.” He would talk excitedly about the classroom’s pet beetles.

In 2004, as a precocious 2nd Grader, Ian walked to school with his classmates.

I suppose it is fitting that a place that brought Ian such joy is now a place of refuge. But, it is also quite sad. Schools should be filled with laughter. Not victims. We need to do all we can to help get people back in their homes and children back in their schools.