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June 21, 2011 / Karen Hill Anton

Meetings and meeting community responsibilities

Three of my children with local friends

(April 23, 1992)                                                 

“Mama, you must have gotten it wrong,” my children said when I told them I had been chosen to be the fuku-kaicho (vice president) of the kodomokai (children’s association).

On the way to the meeting I decided to ask the kaicho, the president of the kodomokai, just to check.

“Excuse me, Maeyama-san,” I said, “but could you tell me what my title is?”

“In the kodomokai?” she asked.

“Yes.”

You’re fuku-kaicho. I told you on the phone.”

“Yes, I know,” I said, “but when I told my family they didn’t believe me.”

“I wonder why not?”

“They didn’t seem to think I’m fuku-kaicho-rashii” – meaning they didn’t believe I had quite the right demeanor for a position of such importance. And they figured I had misunderstood, and after all it wouldn’t have been the first time I had completely misconstrued a message in Japanese on the telephone.

“Well, you are fuku-kaicho,” Maeyama-san said. “Yoroshiku ne.”

We’ve had our first meeting, which was a gathering of all the mothers in the danchi (residential subdivision). Then we had our second meeting, which was a gathering of all the officers of the kodomokai in the area. And we had our third meeting, a gathering of all the officials of the kodomokai in our area of Tenryu.

Having now presided at these three meetings, which took place within the space of a week, I think I can say with fairness, and accuracy, that what we were meeting about could have been settled in 30 minutes.

“I just don’t understand why it took three hours,” I said to my husband later that night after the first meeting.

“Welcome to my life,” my husband, whose work as a university professor includes a lot of meetings, said. “Now you know what I do.”

The meeting had been held in a tatami room, and by the time it was over, my knees no longer worked as a mechanism to bend my legs. “And I was sitting there starving,” I said. “I didn’t have a chance to eat supper before I went.”

“Would you rather have been sitting there full? Believe me, it’s worse.”

At the second meeting, after sitting on a metal chair in a concrete room for a few hours, my shoulders got stiff.

“Oh,” the woman sitting next to me said, “do foreigners also get stiff shoulders? I heard they don’t.”

Almost unable to turn my head because of the lock on my neck muscles, I said, “I don’t know if we have a word for it, but yes, we do.” And I was confident I was living proof.

I’ve noticed at these meetings that the president, after reading a report, generally asks if there are any questions or comments. There is always a long pause, no answer, and I guess something is understood, because they move on. Then, just as we’re about to leave, there is always someone who says, “Oh yes, and one more thing …”

(Maeyama-san just called: there will be a kodomokai meeting tomorrow.)

Although some feel there is no longer as much of a need for these groups as there was once, it’s still a good idea the community attempts to assume some of the responsibility for the children in it.

When I was growing up in New York City there were similar organizations. And just like kodomokai, they took children on excursions, had picnics and fairs, and organized activities during summer vacation.

And come to think of it, I’d better tell my kids I come from a proud line of fuku-kaicho. My father was vice president of the Community League of 159th Street many times.

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POSTSCRIPT

Recently I visited the Washington Heights neighborhood where I grew up. Then the inhabitants were black, Jewish, Puerto Rican. Now almost everyone appeared to be from the Dominican Republic.

I had visited about ten years before, but there was such an unwelcoming, unfriendly, almost dangerous feeling, that I swore at the time I would not go back.

Also, there was no sense, no trace, of the community I remembered, where people sat out on the stoops, leaned out of windows, and children played ball and an endless variety of sidewalk games. Then it was certainly not a prosperous place, but everyone took pride in keeping the area in front of their apartment building, and the street in general, clean.

It’s all pretty shabby now. And the last thing you would expect to see is a child playing in the street. It would be almost impossible to conceive of a community organization that makes it its business to look after the children. 

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© Karen Hill Anton and “Crossing Cultures” 1990-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Hill Anton and “Crossing Cultures” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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