Kids get out of the city and back to nature
by Miki S. Noguchi
Many parents fondly reminisce about the childhood summers and daily adventures they spent away at camp. Seeking to replicate that experience for their own children, expat parents used to have to send their youngsters overseas to spend the summer at camps in their home countries—much farther afield than perhaps ideal. But, since 1999, David Green, his wife Yoshiko Kimura, and a team of educators/camp counselors have been hosting a camp and summer school in Minami Boso, Chiba. Situated near woods, rice fields, the beach, and only two hours from Tokyo, Discover Japan is ideally located for kids to get out of the city and into the countryside. It’s the perfect opportunity for children to experience Japan outside the concrete jungle of Tokyo.
Many children only spend time in the city, and never get to know what the rest of Japan is like, and so Green says that allowing children to escape to the “other Japan” is one of his most important motivations for establishing the camp. With Minami Boso as an outdoor classroom, the children need little encouragement to seek out new “creatures” and ask questions about their surroundings. “When children are given the opportunity, they have so many questions and want to know so much about what they have in front of them”, Green says.
“When children are given the opportunity, they have so many questions,
and want to know so much about what they have in front of them”
Among the children interviewed, the most popular activity at the camp was, hands-down, going to the beach to explore tidal pools and shallow waters for marine life. “One of my favorite activities in camp was going to the beaches. There were lots of interesting creatures that are fun to observe. My favorite is the sea anemone,” says Ayane, an older camper who has become a sort of junior counselor. The shells and other goodies found at the beach, or in the woods, are brought back to the camp’s discovery room, which acts as a sort of hands-on museum and classroom combination. Here, in addition to the day’s findings, treasures from summers past are used to teach science and biology as they actually apply right outside the room’s windows.
It is this combination of fun, discovery, and exposure to the natural world that has parents as excited about sending their kids to Discover Japan, as the kids are to go. One mother who has sent her daughter to the summer school program (in addition to multiple bicycle and ski trips also organized through Discover Japan), explains that; “Mr. Green’s camp has many different activities and a nice balance of learning life skills and academic things.” Craig Evenson, who has also sent his son and daughter to the camp multiple times, reports; “The kids insist each year to go to this camp. They enjoy the range of activities offered, from physical exercise, to adventures at the beach, and even the quiet time with arts and crafts.”
A typical day starts with everybody getting up at 6:15am. Then, all but three students and one counselor head for a morning activity to get everybody fully awake. The kids who stayed behind with a counselor busy themselves getting breakfast ready for everyone. (Second only to exploring the beach, cooking was named by the kids as one of the most popular activities at the camp.) Under the help and supervision of an adult counselor, each camper has the opportunity to set to work mixing, cutting, stirring, and serving up hot meals to camp at least once during the week. After breakfast, the rest of the day is spent exploring the beach, bicycling along the rice paddies, or hiking through the woods. During summer school, mornings are also spent working on peer-reviewed writing activities inspired by their time at camp. The day ends back in the discovery room playing board games, reading books, or asking David questions about where the various wonders of the natural world came from. Sometimes, the campers move outside to circle a campfire and listen to stories under the stars—here they are clearly visible away from the neon lights of the city.
Finally, around 9pm, physical exhaustion from a day filled with activities that challenge the mind as much as the body, overcomes, and everyone heads to bed to rest up ready for another day of discovery.