By Tetsuko Kuroyanagi
A runaway best-seller in japan, totto chan is a deeply moving tribute to a wonderful school, tomoe
When she saw the gate of the new school, Totto-chan stopped. For its classrooms, the school had made use of six abandoned railroad cars. To Totto-chan it seemed something you might dream about. A school in a train! When mother and Totto-chan went in, the headmaster got up. With a hasty bow, Totto-chan asked him spiritedly, “What are you, a school master or a stationmaster?”
Mother was embarrassed, but before she had time to explain, he laughed and replied, “I’m the head-master of this school.”
The headmaster offered her a chair and turned to mother. “You may go home now. I want to talk to Totto-chan.” The headmaster drew over a chair and put it facing Totto-chan, and when they were both sitting down close together, he said, “Now then, tell me all about yourself. Tell me anything at all you want to talk about.”
Anything I like?” Totto-chan had expected him to ask questions she would have to answer. When he said she could talk about anything she wanted, she was so happy she began straight away. It was all a bit higgledy-piggledy, but she talked for all she was worth.
…At the beginning of the first period, the teacher made a list of all the problems and questions in the subjects to be studied that day. Then she would say, “Now start with any of these you like”. So whether you started on Japanese or arithmetic or something else hardly mattered. This method of teaching enabled the teachers to observe – as the children progressed to higher grades – what they were interested in as well as their way of thinking and their character. It was an ideal way for teachers to get to know their pupils.
… You might wonder why the headmaster allowed the children to swim naked. He thought it wasn’t right for boys and girls to be morbidly curious about the differences in their bodies and he thought it was unnatural for people to take such pains to hide their body from other people.
He wanted to teach the children that all bodies are beautiful. Among the pupils there were some who had had polio, or were very small, or otherwise handicapped, and he felt if they bared their bodies and played together it would rid them of feelings of shame and help to prevent them developing inferiority complex.
The students at Tomoe each had a tree in the school grounds they considered their own climbing tree. Because Yasuaki-chan had had polio he had never climbed a tree, and couldn’t claim one as his own. That’s why Totto-chan decided to invite him to her tree. Yasuaki-chan’s arms and legs were so weak it seemed he could not even get on the first rung without help.
Yasuaki-chan looked nervously at the stepladder. Then he looked at Totto-chan, drenched in perspiration. He was sweating profusely, too. He looked up at the tree. Then, with determination he placed a foot on the first rung.
…But from there it was hopeless. Totto-Chan jumped on to the branch but no matter how she tried, she couldn’t get Yasuaki-chan onto the tree from the step ladder. She took hold of his hand, with its fingers all stuck together because of polio. Yasuaki-chan trusted Totto-chan completely. And Totto-chan was risking her life for him. She pulled with all her might.
long last, the two stood face to face on the tree. Yasuaki-chan was able to see vistas he had never glimpsed before. “So this is what it’s like to climb a tree,” he said happily.
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