The Sea, The Iwa & The Classroom

By Patrick Peh

Prologue

Not long after my arrival in Baishinji, I decided that it would be a tremendous waste not to write something about it. This place is not only rich in heritage, but also representative of a coastal suburban area close to the city. The reason it took so long for me to produce this piece of writing is because I wanted to do the Nakajima article first (Into the Seto Naikai). It was also because I was spending a lot of time refining lesson ideas (maybe I’ll do an article on the way I refine my lesson ideas as well), and editing previous drafts of this post.

Shimmering in the sea

“If you take the Iyotetsu line towards Takahama, and alight at the stop before the terminal, you will reach Baishinji station.” That was what Yukari-san told me during arrival orientation in my first year as ALT, as she showed me the map of Iyotetsu while explaining the ways I can reach the schools that I was about to teach in. It was summer when school began so my first trips to school were by bicycle. When it got a little colder, I started commuting by train and when I alighted at Baishinji station, I saw this. I just stood there for a while, appreciating the breathtaking view as waves shimmered across the beach.

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The children of Iwa

There are two schools in Baishinji-cho: Takahama Elementary School and Takahama Junior High School. Both schools have been around for many decades and the Junior High School just had its 75th batch of students matriculated earlier this April. The school area is surrounded by mountains so the children are called Iwako, with Iwa meaning large rock.

「グとパーでわかれましょう!」

Translator’s note: “Gu to paa de wakare mashou” means let’s split into paper and rocks.

This one liner is something I would often hear in Elementary Schools in Japan during play time, to the point where it is effortless to recall when and how it would be said. Very quickly after an equal number of ‘rocks’ and ‘papers’ appear among the participants, half of the children will turn their aka shiro boushi (red-white hat) inside out so that they could tell who their teammates are and begin the game of onigokko – the good old game of “Tag! You’re it!”

The rules of onigokko should not be underestimated as the children continuously come up with creative variants of the game. The rules are not static either! Some rules can and will change so the players will just have to keep up. The ‘jail’ would usually be where the noboribou “climbing poles” are and it is available in the game mode “police and thief” which is called keidoro in Japanese. In another version, players who are caught are frozen in place. That game mode is called koori oni as koori means ice. Players can save their teammates when they touch them and when that happens they are free to run until an oni catches them again (TN: oni just means demon or ghost. In this game they are the catchers in the game of tag). Once in a while, the children will decide to play iro oni which means color oni. In color oni mode, the oni decides the “safe color” and announces it to the other players. Once the safe color has been decided, the countdown from five (or ten) will begin. When it reaches zero, that is when you hear children scream as they run after one another in the playground.

Speaking of the playground, I have learnt from the students and teachers the name of most, if not all of them items found in the playground. The monkey bar is called tsurikan, the slide is suberidai, the climbing pole is noboribou and sometimes there will also be kensui bars. Those are pull up bars, the only kind of bars the school children are allowed to go to. Upon interacting with the children in the playground, the children showed me that they are fully capable of organizing themselves and having fun. What I admire about them is their ability to withstand colder temperatures and continue playing in the playground when I would be staying in the teacher’s office, doing work or talking to the teachers in the warmer temperatures of the shokuin shitsu (teacher’s room).

Lessons from the classroom

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Above is a picture of the west building of Takahama Elementary School. It faces the sea and it can be seen from Baishinji station. That is what I used as a landmark when I first navigated to the school. It has a banner in red and blue which says 愛 Sea Tell 高浜 ❤️ 日本一礼儀正しい子 (pronunciation aishiteru takahama nippon ichi reigi tadashi ko) which is word play for “I love Takahama, the kids with the best manners”. It is as if the school building itself is shouting out to the children of the school and its visitors that “Polite and courteous is what we will be!” in a reassuring and endearing manner.

Situated in a place of higher elevation, the school compound also serves as an emergency shelter. Japan is a country known for the frequency and the ferocity of the natural disasters it faces and people in the suburbs will always be more prone to such disasters in the city. Therefore, it is wise to have emergency shelters in elevated areas, especially Elementary Schools, because the safety of children should be a priority.

Mystery of Mitsuhama-yaki

In the school vicinity, there are many people’s homes and parks, but not many places that sell food, except the family mart in Matsunoki area and the Lawson in Tatsumi-cho. There is one Mitsuhama-yaki place that is worth a mention, and the name of that place is Okame. This family restaurant is known for the generous portion of Mitsuhamayaki that it serves at an affordable price.

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Mitsuhama-yaki is a local delicacy that is similar to the Hiroshima style okonomiyaki. Both Mitsuhamayaki and Hiroshima style okonomiyaki are made on the counter, by the chef with ingredients layered while using noodles as base as opposed to Kansai style okonomiyaki, which uses cabbage batter as base and cooked with ingredients mixed together by the person eating. The only difference between Mitsuhamayaki and Hiroshima style okonomiyaki is that the ingredients are different. Mitsuhamayaki typically includes the fried bits of tempura called tenkasu as well as chikuwa which is a kind of tube shaped fish paste cake. Hiroshima style okonomiyaki typically includes a sunny side egg. Both Mitsuhamayaki and Hiroshima style okonomiyaki have meat in them, but not the Kansai style okonomiyaki.

Relating to the way Hiroshima style okonomiyaki being similar to Mitsuhamayaki, the Ehime dialect Iyo-ben is similar to Hiroshima-ben. When a person says yaken in Iyo-ben for emphasis (kore wa muzukashi yaken), in Hiroshima-ben that would be jyaken (kore wa muzukashi jyaken) and in Kansai-ben it would be yanen. Even the dialects here are closer to Hiroshima when compared to Kansai. I have got to find out more before I leave Japan.

Baishinji Station

Baishinji station is known for being the filming spot of Tokyo Love Story (1991) for some of the major scenes shot outside downtown Tokyo. This shooting location is sometimes cited by tourism boards to promote tourism in the local area. In the picture below, you can see the banner detailing the story of the 90s drama and how the platform is also called “the platform of love”.

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The photo on the left shows some of the scenes that were shown in the actual drama. It is said that whoever ties their handkerchief together here is bound to never separate from their lover.

Life on the beach

The cerulean-blue sea glimmers in the backdrop of the silky sky as the gentle waves hug the shore of Takahama beach. This is a soothing place for anyone lucky enough to set foot here. It has a garden, a cafe, a mountain, several monuments and statues, a display train and a station.

The display train is a model of the Bocchan train, like the one in Dogo. Unlike the ones that are operating for the city tram services, the display ones run on diesel rather than electricity. It can be seen just a little up north from the station and seems to be a nice addition to what the Baishinji station area already has. The Baishinji area is also home to one of Ehime FC’s training grounds. The players can sometimes be seen training from the inside of the Iyotetsu train if you are just passing through Baishinji. 

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A picture of the local area map found by the station.

The Baishinji park is known for its plum and cherry trees which bloom in spring. The cafe is relatively newly opened and it is called Mican Park. The cafe’s theme is the locally well-known mascot of Ehime, Mican, and it opens from 9:30 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon. If you take a walk inside, you can see that the interior of the building is decorated with all things Mican. The cafe offers an assortment of Mican and Mikan products (where Mican is the character and Mikan is the fruit) as well as merchandise like mugs, t-shirts and keychains. I could show you a picture of the inside but I want you to visit the cafe (when it reopens after the pandemic of coronavirus ends), so I’ll just show you a picture of the outside.

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A picture of Mican Park from the pavement, which is what you will see if you drive by.

After a day of work at school as I commute back home, I sometimes stop, almost involuntarily, to gaze upon the orchestra of Ehime’s culture and bountiful nature. When I walk down the area, every turn, every corner assures me that wherever I may be, The Sea, The Iwa and The Classroom will be waiting for me in Baishinji.

Patrick Peh is a 3rd year ALT from Singapore currently in Matsuyama. Not long after writing the “Into the Seto Naikai” article, Patrick has found Tarorin in Ehime prefecture. But Tarorin just wants to do his own style of Cyalume Dance and does not want to make any videos with Patrick.  

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