I went to Lake Yamanaka - one of several small lakes at the foot of Mt. Fuji - in October for my work’s Fall Camp at a YMCA campground there. The weather was comfortable, much cooler there than the weather in Tokyo, partly because of the elevation, and partly just because it is out of the city. Mt. Fujiis only a few kilometers away and is perfectly visible just on the other side of the trees and across the lake.
The campground is in a small holiday town called Yamanaka, in Yamanashi Prefecture - sort of like Wasaga Beach on Georgian Bay, I guess. But it is heavily wooded, like the Guelph Bible Conference Grounds where my brothers and I were sent to “Bible Camp” as children. “Bible Camp” felt like it was out in the country even though the campground was at the end of a city street. It took several years for my brothers and I to realize where we were, that we were not far from home and out in the country somewhere. Our parents confused us by deliberately driving us out of town and around some country roads on the day we went to camp, rather than driving the direct route - about 3 kilometers - a three-minute drive from our house. When we reached a more independent and courageous age we began sneaking out of the camp’s dormitories after lights out each night, discovered where we were, and walked to a local convenience store for late-night snacks.
Similarly, the children under my charge probably don’t realize that there were private homes just on the other side of the woods that border the campground in Yamanaka. And I’m sure that they did not know that there is a convenience store about 100-meters down the road. I snuck out there in the evenings to pick up some Diet Cola for myself.
Last year I discovered a used junk shop called Mountain Mama’s, run by an expatriate American lady who looked like a Mountain Mama from the John Denver song - a heavy-ish, peroxide blond woman in her 50s still dressing like she was in her 20s. Her shop is a repository for stuff that American soldiers at nearby CampFuji want to get rid of when they are reassigned. So it features old books and clothes, old-fashioned LP records as well as videotapes, DVDs and music CDs, old skis, boots, hats, children’s teddy bears, dolls and toys, rindstone murals of Elvis from their basement wall, etc. Outside the shop she keeps her vehicle - a Jeep with the words “Mountain Mama’s” painted on the side.
Yamanashi Prefecture is well known for grapes and local wine, which are featured in souvenir shops in the towns and along the highways. This highlights another Japanese peculiarity. They believe that every place in the world is special for some unique thing - a site, or a fruit or food, etc. Yamanashi is famous for grapes and wine. Chiba Prefecture, where I go with my wife and children for swimming in the hot summer time, is known for peanuts. NiigataPrefecture, the mountainous area where I go skiing in February, is known for apples. The city of Kobe is known for Kobe Beef, etc.
Hawaii is famous for the Blue Hawaiian drink. So even though Japanese can get Blue Hawaiians at bars in Japan, when they travel to Hawaii they just have to have Blue Hawaiians, because that is part of the Hawaiiexperience to them. It’s like a fetish, and it illustrates their aptitude for forming into orderly groups when they cluster to the same spot to do/eat/drink/take pictures of the same thing. If they go to Germany, they just have to eat sausage. In France they must eat croissants. In Canada they have to see the Rockiesand Niagara Falls. In Alaska, it has to be the Northern Lights. In the States they have to see the Statue of Liberty and Las Vegas.
The first day of camp, Wednesday 11th, was rainy. Thursday was sunny, with clear skies, chilly in the shade but warm in the sunlight. Friday was overcast but dry, still chilly in the shade and warm in the sunlight. I could see Mt. Fujiclearly only on Thursday 12th. I did not see the Mountain Mama this year, although I walked by her store and saw her jeep, just like I described. On Thursday I entertained my children with a Frisbee-throwing activity that I called “Frisbee Golf.”
I strategically placed ten laminated numbers around the campground and in pairs the students had to throw a Frisbee around in numerical order and hit the signs - or, the things that the signs were attached to, like trees, fence posts, picnic tables. I gave each pair of players a pencil and pad of paper on which to mark their throws with tallies. As in golf, the lowest number is the winner.
It was interesting to see what the children were capable of. First, many children did not understand how to count using tally marks - counting by fives - which I had to demonstrate (repeatedly). Next, many students did not understand the idea of moving around in numerical progression, from 1-to-10. My idea was to throw the Frisbee fromone sign, or station to the next in numerical order and then to count and keep a record of the total number of throws. But the first problem was that many students did not throw from one marker to the next. Realizing that one marker was too far away to throw to, they just carried the Frisbee and walked to a spot directly in front of a marker, and then stood there a short distance from the number marker throwing the disc until they hit the sign. Next, they bent down, picked up the Frisbee off the ground and again walked to the next marker. I repeatedly shouted to kids that I saw walking across the field, “Stop! Stop! You are making a mistake. Do not walk the Frisbee! Throw it! Throw the Frisbee!!”
Next, many children did not/could not move from one numbered marker to another in numerical progression. Instead, they moved in progression of proximity, meaning to the nearest marker that they could see. I placed the markers randomly around the camp, so that sometimes it was a long route to the next marker along a route that ran directly past other markers closer by that were not the next in sequence. It was a deliberate strategy to try to slow the children down, and it meant that pairs of players were crisscrossing the field and crisscrossing each others’paths as they went about the task at different speeds. But what the kids did was to move to the nearest marker to the one they thought they had just finished, oblivious to the actual number written on the sign.
Finally, instead of using tally marks to keep track of their total number of throws, most students used an inscrutable hieroglyphic script combining numbers, letters, and chicken scratches to record the number of throws from one station to the next in their own peculiar sequence (meaning, the next nearest station). If I stopped them and asked their score/how many throws they had made so far most could not answer. They stared down at their papers and commenced adding their total of throws between stations - a sequence of their own invention - inevitably stalling after getting lost in the math.
I think all this is yet another reflection of how children see the adult world. At camp, the children were not reinventing my game. They were trying to play it the way they think/imagine adults would do it. For children, the adults’ world is a world of fabricated rules that are incomprehensible to them. So when I ask students to perform a task they fall into behavior that they imagine mimics adult behavior/rule making/rule following. To them, being an adult consists of having the authority to make rules.
Any task we give children they automatically start complicating beyond reason and efficacy. In part it is because they do not understand the task and try to make do by inventing their own procedures. You see it all the time in children’s play. The simplest games - dodge ball, soccer, marbles - they will complicate beyond function.
I have written before about their abuse of the game of Dodge Ball. It is a simple game as far as I am concerned. You stand as a target in the middle of a circle. Surrounding children throw the ball at you. If you get hit, you leave the circle and are replaced by the child who hit you. Easy. But if I say to students, “Let’s play dodge ball,” right away they imagine a different game than the one I am thinking of. More often than not they think of line dodge ball - a more competitive game between two opposing teams lined up facing each other. They invent boundaries and myriad rules about boundary violations. They invent rules allowing for loose players roaming outside the boundaries and attacking by stealth from behind. And on, and on. It is ridiculously complex. So, if I say, “Let’s play Dodge Ball,” the students invariably spend/waste half their play time negotiating/arguing over rules, procedures, strategies, “fairness,” etc. They are not trying to be difficult. I think they are trying to be like how they think adults are.
And that’s what I think of Mt. Fuji.