Holly Thompson, author of The Wakame Gatherers
, reports on a wonderful event she hosted in Japan last month. I'll let her explain:
Recently in Koshigoe, Kamakura
, elementary school teachers from the U.S.
state of Colorado
joined community volunteers for a day to learn about wakame and to visit sites illustrated by Kazumi Wilds in my picture book The Wakame Gatherers.
Late last year I was contacted by the Program for Teaching East Asia (TEA www.colorado.edu/CAS/TEA/
) and learned that The Wakame Gatherers
would be featured in the three-week 2008 TEA study tour--Japan through Children's Literature. A day was scheduled for the selected teachers to join me in Kamakura
, and I was to show them around locations featured in the book where wakame is cultivated and dried. Plans for the day formed and reformed and soon came to involve many members of the Koshigoe community. Finally, after months of planning and anticipation, on a Saturday last month I met the fourteen teachers and their three leaders at the tiny Koshigoe Station on the Enoden Line.
We walked down the main Enoden street past the fish shop featured prominently in one illustration and past the old house that illustrator Kazumi Wilds selected as a model house for main character Nanami. We made our way to the port area just east of the Koyurugi headland where in winter and early spring wakame is hung to dry. There we watched the local fishing families preparing shirasu (tiny sardines) for drying and heard a brief talk by a fisherman; teachers had the opportunity to ask him questions about both naturally growing and cultivated wakame and the seasonal work of harvesting. Farther down the beach we gathered around the woman who served as the model for the character Baachan in the book. She was busy raking shirasu over drying screens, but took time out to talk with teachers and generously gave the group heaping platefuls of just-harvested and boiled shirasu. Teachers took photos of the shirasu work, the beach setting featured in the book, and especially the warm and smiling Baachan model. Teachers even took pictures of other teachers holding up The Wakame Gatherers, pointing to illustrated pages that featured the landscape just behind them.
From the beach we walked through back lanes to the Koshigoe Middle School where, following months of planning, over a dozen community volunteers had meticulously prepared for the teachers to join them in cooking various wakame dishes. Teachers donned aprons, the menu was explained and they eagerly gathered around cooking tables to work with the volunteers to prepare miso wakame soup, wakame and seafood sunomono, wakame and tsukune nimono, wakame salad and wakame rice. During the cooking there was ample time for questions, talk and exchange of ideas between the teachers and community members.
The meal was served in an adjacent room where photos of the wakame harvesting process were hung. While eating, we heard talks by a representative of a local fishing family about the history and physical work of wakame cultivation in Koshigoe; by an elementary school teacher about the school's wakame program in which students fix wakame sporelings onto the ropes, set the ropes in the bay and later harvest the wakame; and by a community elder and lifelong Koshigoe resident who spoke of early days in Kamakura and the difficult years during the war--how unthinkable it would have been then, she said, yet how wonderful now for her to be sharing a meal cooked together with a group of American teachers in peace.
On the way back to Koshigoe Station at the end of the day, comments from the teachers included, "That was the best day we've had on the tour!" "Amazing!" "So great to be able to cook together," and "This, today, was the true meaning of exchange."
What more could an author ask for?!