The first place I lived in Tokyo was right across the street from a big otera called Tōkōji. I had a nice view from my window and was able to observe it through the seasons. Lovely! And smack in the middle of Tokyo.
This temple had a large yōchien and the children would arrive by basu each morning. I would watch the sensei teaching them etiquette. As each child alighted from the basu, the sensei would bow and say good morning. The child would reply with their own “Ohayō gozaimasu, Sensei.”
It was always fun to watch, because the now didn’t come naturally to some of the children, and the Sensei would place a firm hand on the child’s atama and “assist” them in bowing.
I also learned a number of children’s songs thanks to this temple. As is true of many schools in Japan, the sliding glass doors to the classrooms were almost always wide open regardless of the weather. Children would run freely between classroom and the outdoor space. It’s a very healthy lifestyle. And when they were singing, I heard it all. The first uta I learned was this one:
There were more to come, but to me this one was the most charming. Living across the street from an otera with a yōchien was an unexpected bonus in my quest to learn the Japanese language.
- otera – お寺 temple. Of course this word uses the honorable “o” in front of it. Remember, Temples are Buddhist and shrines are Shinto.
- Tōkōji – 東光寺 the name of a temple in Meguro Ward. It’s very much off the beaten track so only locals would visit it. Or parents of the students at their kindergarten. It also has a cemetery as the temple was created in memory of the death of a ten year old.
- yōchien – 幼稚園 this usually gets translated as kindergarten, but can include classes of 3,4 and 5 year olds. It contrasts with daycare centers which are called hoikuen.
- basu – バス bus
- Ohayō gozaimasu, Sensei – おはようございます 先生 “Good morning, Teacher”
- atama – 頭 head (part of body)
- uta – 歌 song