Bluffton fourth-graders learn from Japanese children in tsunami-devastated town

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Bluffton fourth-graders learn from Japanese children in tsunami-devastated town

Published Tuesday, November 22, 2011   |  566 Words  |  

They traveled about 10,000 miles in a plain manilla envelope before arriving Tuesday to the "oohs" and "ahhs" of Bluffton Elementary School students.

Letters and carefully drawn illustrations from Japanese fourth-graders told the Bluffton fourth- and fifth-graders of track-and-field days at school, dances and trips to the mall.

They also told of life after the devastating 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck March 11.

"I lived in the Shishiori area before," Masako Kikkawa wrote. "But my house was carried away by tsunami and gone. So our family got an apartment in Shinjo, and I started to come to Shinjo Elementary School since then."

Kikkawa was nervous to be in a new classroom without any friends.

"But Satsuki and other girls talked to me," she continued in her letter. "I was happy and made seven friends a day. Now all classmates are my friends."

The Japanese students attend Shinjo Elementary School in the port city of Kesennuma. The school, on a hill and spared from the tsunami, served as a shelter for many homeless families in the weeks following the quake. More than 1,000 Kesennuma residents died in the disaster, and many were left homeless.

Shortly after the disaster, Bluffton Elementary students in Gretchen Fritz and Jennifer Ray's classes sent letters of encouragement and origami cranes to the Japanese school. The Japanese students wrote to the Bluffton students to thank them. Fritz surprised about 100 students gathered in the cafeteria with the letters.

The Japanese teacher wrote that each student was able to take one home and that they were shocked that children in a country so far away were worried about them.

"I felt really bad because it was devastating seeing all those people homeless," fifth-grader Jordan Barrow said.

Barrow was among those who had written the first letters to Japan. The fourth-graders will write back to the Japanese students.

Ellie Lentz said she will talk about her school in her letter: "And say I'm glad they got through it."

Peyton Scott said he'll be sure to ask one important question in his: Will one of the Japanese students be his pen pal?

It's that sort of connection Fritz and principal Christine Brown said they hoped to foster.

"It makes for a great comparison," Brown said, adding that students could learn about the Japanese school environment, what TV and music is popular and what a typical dinner is.

Fritz said she hoped her students would learn more about the world. They've also surprised her with their compassion for the Japanese students. When she showed satellite images of the devastation in Kesennuma, there was an audible gasp.

"It was genuine concern," she said.

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at

Related content

  1. YouTube video of the tsunami hitting Kesennuma
  2. Washington Post: Japan 8 months after the tsunami
  3. Images from Google Earth of Kesennuma area after the tsunami