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Japanese Exchange Teacher Learning Cultural Differences in America

Sachiko Miyashita explained the differences and similarities between teaching in the two countries while visiting the area.

Ask Sachiko Miyashita, an English teacher from Japan who is spending a month visiting different schools in the United States, how her trip has been so far and she gives a simple answer: busy. 

Indeed, the junior high school teacher from Nagano is on the go ever since she came to America as part of a teacher and student exchange program that Clearwater enjoys with its Japanese sister city. 

In the two weeks Miyashita has been here, she was introduced at the Pinellas County School Board; taught Japanese expressions and culture to students in a number of area schools; saw manatees while kayaking off Honeymoon Island; and visited Epcot Center at Disney World. Most recently, she talked about her time in the Tampa Bay area with the Clearwater City Council Thursday night.

Patch caught up with her, and she slowed down long enough to answer some questions regarding her trip recently:

What has it been like on this trip to American schools?

I have been to America before, but only as a sightseer, so this experience is very different. So far I have been to Chi Chi Rodriguez Academy and Blanton Elementary, and after this I will go to Countryside High School and others. 

On the first day I observe the class, then on the second and third days I started doing activities with the students. The students call me sensei, which means teacher in Japan. Most of the students were saying “konichiwa,” which means “hello” in Japanese. I was very happy to hear them try to learn another language. 

What are the major differences between schools in Japan and America?

In Japan we do not have cafeterias. All the students eat in the classrooms, with the teachers, and we get one hour for lunch. Then after lunch we all pray. 

Also, in Japan the students stay in the same classroom all day, while the teachers come in and out to teach. It is the opposite of here. And students must bow to the teacher at the end of every class as a way of showing thanks and respect. They don’t run out when the bell rings like they do here.

But every American student is surprised to hear about our cleaning time. All Japanese students clean the school at the end of the day — the classrooms, the bathrooms, the grounds. The kids don’t like cleaning time, but it’s a part of their schooling. 

What are some of the similarities between American and Japanese schools?

I think all children in the world are the same, I really do.

The attitude of children everywhere is mostly the same. They all want to express feelings and opinions, and they think the same even though they are from different places. 

What has been the best part of your trip so far?

I really liked playing golf at Chi Chi’s. I’m not any good at it, but it was fun!

And one of my host families took me to Chestnut Park to find alligators. I found a small alligator, so I was very happy, very lucky.

What lessons will you take back with you to Japan?

The kids at Safety Harbor Middle School taught me special handshakes, and they told me an expression they use here called ‘YOLO.’ It means ‘You only live once.’

They say if I take these things back to my students and teach them, they will share a common bond. So that's what I will do.

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