Promises are meant to be kept, especially when you make them to a bunch of kids. So, I had no hesitations, when the core committee of お日様 – 2012, asked if I would be joining this year’s edition of the summer camp (an annual event organized by the Paediatrics Department of Mie University Hospital) (Read about last year’s camp here).
This time the camp was set in the mountains bordering Mie and Nara prefectures. Nestled in these mountains, at a fair altitude of about 600m, on a fairly flat plateau, surrounded by vast grasslands is the National Soni Youth Outdoor Learning Centre. The drive from Mie University took a little more than 2 hours. We were following the bus (which all the kids were driving on), and going at a real slow speed, and had couple of small stops en-route. Once we left the highway, and got on to the mountain roads, the country side presented us with beautiful scenery, the black of the mountains, beautifully covered with the new green of the grass; the lush green of the paddy fields broken in parts by the silver white of the gurgling river, the blue of the sky dotted with the dark rain bearing clouds, add to that a small drizzle of a rain…
We had to stop the car, some way ahead of the camp, and then hike up. We assembled at the huge gym, and were divided into groups. Most kids from last year’s camp were there, and some new faces too. Kids have great memories, and they wasted li’l time before they came up and started talking, talking about everything; everything that happened between the last year’s camp and now. Most kids were running about asking for people, who were at the camp last year, and the year before. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, we started with the games. A bunch of fun games, mostly indoor ones, courtesy; the rains, were planned. And then came the balloon people, doctors, and students, who were great at balloon art; making all kind of animals, swords, umbrellas, hats…. u name it, out of balloons. Pikachoo was an instant hit with the children, and everyone one wanted one of their own. Then it was fan making. Everyone had to design their own fans.. If Pikachoo was the hero with the balloons, it was Anpanman with the fans. Every other fan, had this cute bread man… smiling.. flying.. all over it.
Time went on, and soon it was shower time, and then dinner time. The Fire Gods descended after dinner, and came on to play with the kids. The rains did not allow a camp fire, but the Fire Gods had arranged for a Candle Service instead. The Gods, heard the children’s prayers and wishes, and advised them on different matters. They made the children sing and dance, and laugh. Soon it was bed time. A late night party for the parents and the doctors was also arranged. But before that, we had to get the kids to the beds.
We sat talking with the kids in the common room. Couple of girls offered to teach me Japanese, and the lessons went on for a good 2 hours or so. More kids and some students also joined in and it was kind of a mess, and of course lots of fun, when everyone wanted me to learn a new word of their choice, write it and then recite it back. There was this small girl, who wanted me to talk to her, and her alone. Boys were having fun of their own, chasing each other around the common room. The fun went on late into the night, and slowly the kids retracting to their rooms and beds. The party down stairs was on full swing, even after all the kids were in their beds and sleeping. Drinking, and talking went on till the early hours of the morning.
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The first thing scheduled for the morning was the ‘bug hunt’. As in the last year, we had carried a bunch of bugs, and the plan was to release them right before the hunt, in pre-assigned places in the woods around the camp, and then the kids could hunt them down. The rains were still strong, and was not showing any signs of stopping. That meant, the bug hunt was to be cancelled! Some kids were disappointed, but were happy when we showed them all the bugs, ‘that we had caught’ for them.
After breakfast it was time for more games. The fun and the games went on till about 11:00, when we started the BBQ. As in the last year, this was a HUGE BBQ… 焼肉… 焼きそば… 焼肉… 焼きそば… and more 焼肉… 焼きそば… Kids were also given water pistols and water balloons and they were happy shooting ‘anything that moved’. Doctors; even the senior most of all, got drenched, in this war with the kids, and were happy with it. Soon it was time to tell good-bye, but not before the final group photos were taken. One girl came up to me as made me promise, that I would go for the next year’s camp, and would remember all the Japanese words that she had taught me the last night.
Good-byes are hard to tell… Harder, when being told to a bunch of kids. Some of the kids were almost in tears, all they were looking forward was for the next years’ edition of this great fun. For sure, I am going next year, and the year after that, and the year after that… as long as I am in Japan!