"Let people live in your heart"
July 25, 2009 5:21 PM   Subscribe

Children Full of Life - grade 4 students in Kanazawa, Japan learn deep life lessons from their incredible teacher and from each other. I strongly recommend this as awesome, but one caveat: keep tissues handy. (5 parts, 40 minutes total, English)
posted by madamjujujive (48 comments total) 177 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you.
posted by Karmadillo at 6:06 PM on July 25, 2009

This guy might be the best teacher I've seen. Makes me want to go get my DipEd.
posted by festivemanb at 6:28 PM on July 25, 2009

Thanks very much.
posted by Knicke at 6:35 PM on July 25, 2009

I often say I'd never want to go through childhood and adolescence again, but I'd do it in a heartbeat if it meant I could be in Mr. Kanamori's 4th grade class.

This is very, very awesome. Thank you.
posted by stefanie at 6:35 PM on July 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is the most touching thing I've seen in a long time. Thank you.
posted by neewom at 6:44 PM on July 25, 2009

posted by yeoz at 6:53 PM on July 25, 2009

This was extraordinary. I really loved the way the class went to bat for Yuto when he needed them, and the way they supported Tsubasa and Mifuyu, of course.

That kind of esprit de corps is incredible, and obviously can only be built by a teacher who has profound respect for his young students. Kanamori Sensei reminded me of Sosaku Kobayashi, headmaster of Tomoe Gakuen. If only we could all spend a little time with teachers like these.
posted by chihiro at 7:04 PM on July 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is totally opposite to (at least how I understand it) the stereotypical emotionally-suppressed, hard-working Japanese culture. I wonder if this is not some sort of backlash against that? Or is my impression false?
posted by jimmythefish at 7:28 PM on July 25, 2009

I didn't cry during this but I did laugh a lot, but you know those deep belly laughs that you only get when things are so pretty you don't want to cry.
posted by mmmleaf at 7:39 PM on July 25, 2009

you need to let go mmmleaf.
posted by de at 8:04 PM on July 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Still watching - this is amazing.
posted by contessa at 8:11 PM on July 25, 2009

Part 1 - prickling of the eyes.
Part 2 - tearing of the eyes.
Part 3 - welling of the eyes.
Part 4 - dabbing of the eyes.
Part 5 - tissues.

I was going to say that I liked how Mr. Kanamori treated his students like adults, but that would have been false. He didn't treat them like adults, he treated them like children, recognizing that it's not just adults who are capable of great empathy, cruelty, and compassion.
posted by Rora at 8:14 PM on July 25, 2009 [6 favorites]

This is really remarkable. When you see something like this, you have to hope that the intensity and the difference of the experience that these kids had is something that will stay with them and fortify them against all the life experiences that have a way of hardening people and making it more difficult to connect with others, like an inoculation of sorts.

One of the things I find most frustrating about, well, the human experience, is how difficult it is to make connections that are more than superficial. People regularly debate what should be part of educational curricula... more of this, less of that, etc. But in my experience cultivating emotional intelligence never really seems to enter the priority list; it's not even thought of as something that falls under the purview of education, if it's thought of at all. I think that, at least in the US, from an early age we're programmed to interact with each other in a certain way that discourages openness and connections, and that programming just calcifies as you get older. The development of the capacity for things like empathy and the ability to "let people live in your heart," as Mr. Kanamori says, is basically left to chance. Some people are natural empaths, and others may have a set of experiences that just happens to cultivate that quality in them. But what about everyone else? That's not to say that everyone has to suddenly start talking about their deepest feelings with other people if they don't want to, but I do think the capacity for reflection and for articulating one's own experiences, and seeing how those experiences relate to those of others (and also how they don't relate, that is, understanding how someone else's life is different), are critical human skills.

Emotional intelligence (or whatever you want to call it, what Mr. Kanamori cultivated in these kids) is what allows us to form connections, and when you reflect on it, isn't it the connections we make that frame and provide the structure of our lives, more than anything else we do? I know it is for me.
posted by Kosh at 8:17 PM on July 25, 2009 [16 favorites]

I have my first graders write in a journal and read it to the class if they want to, but I wonder how he gets them to write about things like this... my kids write about Transformers and play dates...
posted by Huck500 at 8:20 PM on July 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is totally opposite to (at least how I understand it) the stereotypical emotionally-suppressed, hard-working Japanese culture. I wonder if this is not some sort of backlash against that? Or is my impression false?

Based on a single New York Times magazine article I read on the subject about 11 years ago, Japanese elementary schools are really warm and affirming, and it's the high schools that are soul-crushingly horrible.
posted by grobstein at 8:30 PM on July 25, 2009

This is totally opposite to (at least how I understand it) the stereotypical emotionally-suppressed, hard-working Japanese culture. I wonder if this is not some sort of backlash against that? Or is my impression false?

Based on a single New York Times magazine article I read on the subject about 11 years ago, Japanese elementary schools are really warm and affirming, and it's the high schools that are soul-crushingly horrible.

Found it! I'm a little proud of myself for remembering this (and of course glory be to the Internet Age). Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (husband and wife, IIRC) actually had a bunch of articles about Japanese elementary schools around that time, since they were living in Japan and their kid was in elementary school. Here are some of the others: one, two, three.
posted by grobstein at 8:37 PM on July 25, 2009 [10 favorites]

Seeing these makes me regret not trying for the JET Programme when I was coming out of school. There's been some great on-the-ground blogging from participants over the years.
posted by @troy at 8:55 PM on July 25, 2009

grobstein, those are some really interesting articles. Thanks for sharing (and remembering!) them. The prevailing image in the West of Japanese education can probably be summed up as "cram school," so to hear that the kinds of activities that went on in this class aren't all that abnormal compared to what usually goes in in the elementary schools is pretty illuminating. Anyone with experience in Japan know more about this? It makes me wonder how often the differences between primary and secondary education in Japan come up in Japanese society, if the divide is as stark as it seems, and what it's like as a person to go from the primary school environment to the test-focused secondary school environment.

Also, admittedly this is a de-railish comment, but I find it kind of funny in light of the discussion over the David Simon piece linked to on MeFi recently advocating for newspapers to charge for content--if the NYT were following that model now, we wouldn't have even been able to read those articles...
posted by Kosh at 9:21 PM on July 25, 2009

Based on a single New York Times magazine article I read on the subject about 11 years ago, Japanese elementary schools are really warm and affirming, and it's the high schools that are soul-crushingly horrible.

My spouse and I taught in Japanese public high schools, and I was ready to type up a strong response to this, but I've given it some more thought. Soul-crushingly horrible, no. But there is a definite transformation that takes place from 1st-3rd year (grades 10-12). You can draw a definite line between the outgoing, fun-loving grade schoolers (who many of our friends taught) and our first year students. That changes dramatically by third year. I don't think it's the classes themselves, so much as the additional expectations -- sports practice, up to four hours a night, private tutors (cram school), and homework. We'd often go to dinner, then do some grocery shopping, and pass students trudging home in uniform at 10 at night. (As a result, falling asleep in class did not usually earn much of a rebuke) They were tired. All the time. And no doubt feeling the pressure -- exams were a huge concern (and many had to pass stiff exams just to get into our high schools). At the same time, however, "high school days" are a big, big deal. The coming of age mythology is perhaps an even bigger deal in Japan than it is in North America. But somehow, across those three years, the joy, the wit -- it's all there, but it gets internalized. This is capped by the only event I'd call soul-crushing or stultifying -- graduation -- my god, what a joyless event. And then out into the world.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:33 PM on July 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

Also, this: What impresses me the most about the Japanese schools is not their academic merits; rather it is the same thing I find unnerving about them: their earnestness.

I wasn't unnerved by it at all. I was deeply impressed. It's quite the thing to physically labour alongside your students (and fellow teachers, and administrative staff including vice principals and principal) to clean your school. Every day.

I loved it.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:36 PM on July 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'd hasten to add, that's just my $.02. I know there are many Japan living/working MeFites who may see it differently.

Excellent video. I'm going to be thinking about it for awhile.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:57 PM on July 25, 2009

thank you
posted by humannaire at 9:58 PM on July 25, 2009

Two things: 1) you owe me a box of tissues 2) you need to add 'bonding' to the tags. That was the most outstanding part of it for me. As I was watching, I kept thinking that he is creating ties by encouraging the kids to support each other. When, in the last episode, I heard that bonding is his favourite word it confirmed all the things I saw happening in the previous episodes. Outstanding - thanks for sharing, madamjujujive.
posted by tellurian at 10:37 PM on July 25, 2009

I wish that when we talk about difficult topics here at Metafilter (race and gender, etc.) that Mr. Kanamori could be here with us. I feel that compassion and bonding would add to all the great qualities that already exist in this community -- the wit, the intelligence, the desire to say something different, and the desire to experience something new.

I don't know how to start bringing that about other than for me to believe the best of everyone else here, rather than the worst.
posted by ferdydurke at 10:38 PM on July 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

That was really great. I was struck by the way Mr. Kanamori wouldn't allow the kids to avoid taking responsibility for making others feel bad. I wonder what kind of effect having more teachers like that would have on things like bullying and the related school shootings and suicides.
posted by dhalgren at 10:50 PM on July 25, 2009

Wow, I'm so glad to have seen this. Thanks, madamjujujive.

When I was around that age, a classmate of mine lost his father. The reason for his prolonged absence was never directly addressed, but eventually the news circulated the playground. It remained untalked-about even after he returned to school. Two decades later, I can still remember glancing over at him on his first day back and seeing how sad and lost he looked and wanting to reach out, but because I wasn't really friends with him, and because the silence had so enforced the sense that this wasn't our business and wasn't to be acknowledged, I didn't. I still think about that when I go back to my hometown and pass what used to be the place of business his father owned and feel a little pang of regret.

Having watched this, my regret expands to include the lost potential for an entire class's learning and bonding. How wonderful to think that Mr. Kanamori and teachers like him are doing what we didn't.
posted by keever at 11:21 PM on July 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

Part 3 made me weep like a girl. Watching those kids stand up for their friend was one of the most moving and heartwarming things I've ever seen.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:35 PM on July 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Absolutely fantastic documentary, that. The only thing I would have changed is the narrator, and maybe some of the window dressing (it felt too much like it was going to be some sort of fund-a-missionary-feeding-starving-children thing at times).

Definitely worth the nearly-an-hour to watch, and definitely meshes with my experience working with young kids in Japan.
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:17 AM on July 26, 2009

I strongly recommend this as awesome

Coming from you, that's really saying something.

*settles back, grabs popcorn & tissues*
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:18 AM on July 26, 2009

There's a lot to be said about how forward-thinking Mr. Kanamori is. Coming from a culture that can sometimes seem so notorious for its repression, there's a genuine relief in seeing there are people like him who encourage children to act like adults: to be responsible, to stand up for one's beliefs, to acknowledge one's own emotions, and to live life not just for one's self, but for others as well. He is preparing the children to stand up to the harsh realities of life, and essentially telling them that despite these harsh realities, we can, and should be happy.

You normally don't get that kind of learning at age 10.
posted by FarOutFreak at 12:57 AM on July 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

kinda reminds me of to be and to have :P i hope mr. kanamori doesn't sue! [cf. the class; i hope mr. kanamori doesn't become a movie critic for playboy ;]
posted by kliuless at 5:55 AM on July 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

My god, why can't there be more people like Mr. Kanamori in the world? I wish I had learned that kind of emotional intelligence in school. It's a lot harder to figure out alone, as an adult.
posted by sunshinesky at 6:39 AM on July 26, 2009 [5 favorites]

I've watched it three times now, and I am so taken the emotion on all those sweet little faces. It's also more meaningful to see the opening segment showing how happy the kids are when they are reunited with Mr. Kanamori at the start of the school year after you have been fully exposed to why.

keever, I had a similar experience so many years ago - I flashed back to a sad little boy in grammar school who had lost his Dad and think how we all just awkwardly and inadvertently denied his loss. It was a Catholic school so maybe we said a prayer, but nobody embraced him in any literal or figurative way. It was so healing, the way all the pain points were allowed to be shared and aired - you can see that Mifuyu had a weight lifted from her in the first segment. Mr. Kanamori did not sugar coat things. There is no certainty, he says, and that is why we must enjoy life.

It was healing to me, too! I liked how Mr. Kanamori would touch the children - I was almost longing to feel his comforting hands on my shoulders. This piece brought me back to my childhood in a visceral way - reopening some of the scary, dark corners, some of the childhood pain. And it also made me weep thinking of my four nieces and nephews who lost their dad when they were just young kids, I wish all us adults had the wisdom of Mr. Kanamori ... they are all young adults now, I am going to try to watch this with them.

I've enjoyed what everybody has shared about their reactions. This story touched a deep place for me so I am glad to hear that it has for others too.
posted by madamjujujive at 6:52 AM on July 26, 2009 [7 favorites]

"keep tissues handy."

Oh my god you weren't kidding. I cried like a 10-year-old school kid for 48 of those 40 minutes. I'm not joking.

Heartbreakinglywarmingly beautiful. One of the best things I've experienced this year. Thank you so much for posting this. That ending, the giant letter they write to Tsubasa's and Mifuyu's dead fathers...51 of those 40 minutes.
posted by Glee at 7:14 AM on July 26, 2009

I liked how Mr. Kanamori would touch the children

This struck me as well. He is very physical with them in a way I don't think would be allowed in American schools. Tragic isn't it? There have been many studies proving that physical interaction improves mind and body, yet in America there are so many taboos against adults touching children. I don't remember any of my teachers touching me. On the other hand I can still recall vividly my kindergarten teacher being very angry when I accidentally called her "mommy." It is a common mistake that 5 year olds make but her response was to spit out, "I am not your mother," with a tinge of disgust.

I was also struck with how stern he gets with them. He isn't afraid to show his anger at their shortcomings because the students are able to cope and rise to the occasion. Learning to cope with disapproval and anger is another great life lesson. My 3rd grade teacher got so angry she would throw her chalk at us, but the only thing I learned from that is some people have hair triggers and you should be wary of setting them off.

If you haven't seen it, the French documentary linked by kliuless is worth watching. I saw it years ago but it has remained in my heart. Isn't it a sad comment that the people in charge of teaching the young are so seldom compassionate and wise that we make documentaries when they are kind and thoughtful and love their pupils.

Thank you, madamjujujive, I have sent the link to my half-Japanese daughter so that we can discuss it together. It will only feed her love for all things Japanese, but I am glad she has so much to be proud of about her heritage.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:15 AM on July 26, 2009 [6 favorites]

Okay good I wanted to cry really hard before I had to go to work. This has gone perfectly according to plan.

I want to be Mr. Kanamori when I grow up
posted by penduluum at 8:16 AM on July 26, 2009

He is very physical with them in a way I don't think would be allowed in American schools. Tragic isn't it?


I was also struck with how stern he gets with them.

Same. I'm still having a difficult time putting my thoughts together after sleeping on this. The credit Mr. Kanamori gives the students - actively encouraging them to voice their feelings and opinions and then being open-minded enough to accept their decisions. Most of the teachers I had would have been condescending toward the children, allowing them to voice their opinions perhaps, but not accepting them as valid.
Yuto's acting-out, for example - I was struck by what he said while the children were riding their rafts, "The Children did all the work. I can't take it away from them because of something unrelated. The raft was not the problem. The children said that the solution should match the problem. They were absolutely right. I was really impressed. Even adults can't say that."

Now, I had a rare teacher here and there that would be there for me during the difficult times. I remember one instance when I was having difficulty in school because of something in my personal life, and I was talking with a teacher one morning before school about it. When I burst into tears, he brought me into his office, gave me a hug and let me talk it out. When I was done, he wrote me a note to excuse me for being late for my first period. It was nothing like Mr. Kanamori, but at the same time, there are still teachers out there that are unafraid to be as much of a mentor to children as Mr. Kanamori is.

He manages to strike a balance with these children that is amazing to behold. All I can say after spending a few hours thinking about this is that he is more of a teacher to these children than the word "teaching" now implies. The documentary finds me wanting to know more about Mr. Kanamori - if he's a father, if he's still teaching, what in his life brought him to being this kind of teacher.

Thank you again for posting this. I wish I could favorite this a few thousand times.
posted by neewom at 10:14 AM on July 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

My goodness ... that "letter to the fathers" thing in part five is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.
posted by jbickers at 10:20 AM on July 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

My memory of elementary school is that when one kid -- or the entire class -- got in enough trouble to merit the teacher stopping what he or she was doing and address it, we would get an angry lecture as we sat in silence, heads lowered. The relationship between students and teachers was, in most cases, "us vs. them," but that didn't form bonds between us like the ones in the documentary. When one student got in trouble, the rest of us just tried to distance ourselves from him and shift blame. Our individual failings only came to light when it was our turn to be lectured. Even then, all we had done was find the teacher's limit and all we had learned was to tone it down a little.

When Yo & co. stood up for Yuto, I couldn't stop the tears from forming. These kids held true, solid bonds; they were brave and ready to sacrifice themselves for each other ("if Yuto can't go, I won't either"). Mr. Kanamori's lessons about empathy and friendship had really made a difference. If only my class full of cliquey, cowardly students (myself included) could have had a year with him, who knows how strong of character we might have become.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 10:32 AM on July 26, 2009

"if Yuto can't go, I won't either"

did you see how Mr Kanamori was *glowing* with pride over his students at that point? like "let me be all stern & aloof but i am completely tearing up inside".

what a fantastic man, and what a fantastic post, mjjj - easily the best of the best of.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:15 PM on July 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

did you see how Mr Kanamori was *glowing* with pride over his students at that point? like "let me be all stern & aloof but i am completely tearing up inside".

Bingo. The tilted head, the arms crossed over his chest, it was all to play "stern but possibly fair judge" and allow the kids a chance to assert themselves without coming off like it was a foregone conclusion he'd waive the punishment. The child who makes the most verbose case actually stumbled into some profoundly social-democratic thinking at that point, and that's where I lost it. In a good way. Thanks for the links.
posted by joe lisboa at 2:42 PM on July 26, 2009

Thank you, madamjujujive.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:59 PM on July 26, 2009

This is the first time I've been back in the blue for several years and mjjj, your was the first post I opened. Wow, you were always my favorite mefier and you still have the touch.

Nothing is ever desired except that in the having of it we believe we will be happier. So it is that joy or happiness is the paramount goal in everyone's life. Happiness is the signal that we are in the presence of harmony, that resonant exchange of energy between what we are contemplating and who we aspire to be. If we are in a state of happiness, then we are on the path to fulfilling ourselves and our purpose.

Kanamori is so wise to put this right out front. His challenge is to impart his students with the skills they will need to deal with all those other issues that foster dissonance within them. The first of those skills is the knowledge that emotions are always honest, they are just not honestly portrayed. Society prescribes that only certain emotions can be displayed at certain times and invests us with all manner of techniques for displaying phoney ones. What I see Kanamori doing is teaching his charges that their honest feelings are valid and that if shared honestly, they will be understood and appreciated to our benefit and the benefit of the others. That willingness to share and to validate is the bond that forms among them and it is the skill that will serve them more than any others throughout their lives.

How remarkable it is that this most important subject is virtually ignored in our education system. Thanks mjjj for reminding us about it.
posted by RMALCOLM at 9:06 PM on July 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

What a profoundly meaningful and uplifting film. Thanks for this beautiful gem of a gift, madamjujujive! I enjoyed the tears I cried, observing such beautiful humanity.

I love Mr. Mr Toshiro Kanamori . He's made my life better. I feel so grateful that he's in the world and this film has been made. A little more about the documentary. Amazin it's been out since 2003. He models and endorses authenticity in likable and courageous ways without being off the wall about it.

There was so much in the film that has been traditionally, socially taboo: speaking about happiness as something possible, not just some fantasy for idealists, acknowledging and feeling difficult, painful feelings, talking about death, especially with children, then sharing communal grief in an open, loving way as part of the process of being happy, saying one child's pain was worse than others' pain, expressing anger in an emotionally intelligent way, having a fair conflict, the need to bond, an older male teacher touching 10 year old female children, a young child winning over the decision of an adult in charge of many children based on the principles of the children.

This film shows how deep emotional wounds can heal, by openly discussing hurt in an empathic, considerate way, talking about responsibility, fairness, loneliness. It shows how children are worth honoring, how intelligent they can be, how, when given wholesome, mature, emotionally awake guidance, children can be considerate of others and beautifully truth seeking, capable of much social courage.
posted by nickyskye at 11:41 PM on July 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

I want to share this with my friends, but I'm pretty sure most of them are too cynical and emotionally detached to appreciate it.
Yay North America!!!!!
posted by radgardener at 8:05 AM on July 27, 2009

I love the near unanimous, "this is fucking awesome," combined with the equally unanimous, "I am fucking crying."
posted by chunking express at 12:54 PM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

The world would be a much better place with more Mr. Kanamoris in it.

Thank you, madamjujujive, for a fantastic post.
posted by deborah at 4:09 PM on July 27, 2009

Very cool. *stiff nod of appreciation*

Oh, ok, ok, I cried too. ;)

Thanks for that, madamjujujive.
posted by springbound at 5:02 PM on July 27, 2009

« Older Spınal Tap Art   |   BA holders, rejoice. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments