Yesterday, Zachary’s 2nd grade class had an “imo party”. When I told Michael about it 2 weeks ago, he felt it was much too young for the kids to turn “imo”, and wouldn’t these kids reject a party that celebrates being “imo”? Zachary explained that an “imo” is a potato, much to Michael’s relief.
Earlier this month, the students dug potatoes out of the school garden. The students planted various potatoes in their individual planters last spring and once those sprouted, they were transferred to the school garden. The 41 kids unearthed about 4 buckets worth of potatoes–not too shabby. It reminds me of when Zachary’s class planted strawberries in the garden at Spiritridge Elementary and then harvested them before school got out. I love that both his former and current schools have this curriculum, but his current school takes that concept many steps further.
I let Zachary’s teacher know I’d like to attend the party with Jack in tow. My experience with school parties up until now has been: bring food or a game, set up, play for an hour and then clean up. We were not prepared for this imo party at all.
First, we arrived at the designated time of 9:25, but no one was in sight. There were signs telling us where to go, but since I didn’t see or hear anyone, I began to fear I had the wrong date or time. We reached the 2nd floor homemaking classroom to find 8 volunteers already there and the coordinator giving instructions. Oh right, arriving at the designated time is actually considered late in Japan. I’ve got to remind myself to set all the clocks ahead. All the volunteers have aprons, hairnets and masks (not the scary Halloween ones, but the cloth ones that go over your mouth). Jack and I walk in quietly to which the coordinator stops her instructions and says, “You must be Zachary’s mom. Did you bring an apron?” “Um, no. Sorry…” I reply feeling a little out of place. “No worries, I have an extra set. Here, let me help you put it on.” “I can manage,” I stammer, sensing all eyes on me. But I’m glad she helped because it was the most complicated apron, I’ve ever come across. The head kerchief was not the easiest thing either.
A few minutes later, the kids start filing in, bowing and saying, “お願い致します”. This is one of those hard to translate phrases: “Please take good care of me,” “Please teach me,” “Please assist me”. It’s a common greeting basically letting one know they are putting their lives in your hands. 👀
The room in set up with 8 tables. Each table has 2 leaves at either end. One reveals a sink when removed and the other reveals a stove. The coordinator requests that the kids do everything, except handle knives. The kids peeled the sweet potatoes, while we cut the potatoes into 2 cm slices. I asked the other assistant at my table if my slice was 2 cm. She chucked and said smilingly, “Please, we can try harder.” Apparently she doesn’t know my inability to judge measurement and how I was looking for direct instruction. Oh well..
The kids poured water in the pot, added the potatoes, turned on the stove, washed and dried the utensils and cutting boards.
They waited for the potatoes to boil and then the volunteers scooped the hot potatoes into mixing bowls. They took turns mashing and pouring the ingredients. It was very impressive to see.
Jack, of course couldn’t wait for his turn to wield the masher and unleash his skills on the sweet potatoes.
They then poured the ingredients, mixed it and then put it back in the pot. The 4 kids under my watch were so skilled at using the utensils that I had to ask the “real” volunteer at our station how often they cook at school. About once every other month for 2nd graders is the response I got. I noticed the room also housed sewing machines and a washer and dryer. The frequency of homemaking class increases, with every year, which are incredible life skills that American schools lack. Education here prepares the students for not only future academics and prospective jobs, but for life.
As I sat pondering ways that Zachary can help in the kitchen at home, a ding! from the toaster brought me back to the party. Jack saw the sweet potato balls fresh out of the toaster and immediately wanted to gobble it. I didn’t realize that 1.5 hours had already passed. The coordinator then requested the students go back to their classrooms, put away their cooking aprons and hats, wash hands and then meet in the 4th floor multi-purpose room. She asked the volunteers to wait for the student from each group to return and carry the sweet potato treats. It was torture for Jack to see all those yummy treats, but not be able to taste one.
When it was finally time to assemble in the multi-purpose room just before noon, Jack thought his time had come, but as with most events in Japan, there is a bit of ceremony to attend to first. 3 kids stood on the stage to announce the start of the party. Jack looked at me with the “can I eat one now?” look, to which I shook my head. Then the stage kids took turns talking about potatoes. Jack looked at me again. Then they had a trivia session about potatoes. Here’s what Jack thinks about the wait time.
Sorry, no photos of the kids enjoying the potato treats–they disappeared in an instant! I’m so glad the boys will gain homemaking skills at school. They have also gained extensive knowledge in all things potato.