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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 26, 2002 - Issue 54


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Japanese Woman Shares Culture with Navajos

by Jim Snyder/Staff writer Farmington Daily-January 12, 2002
credits: art by Ray Swanson
art by Ray SwansonTOADLENA - Chihiro Mochizuki, 23, of Fujida, Japan, squeezed her face tight and reached her hand out as if to grasp the air while she tried to find the right words in English to answer the questions: What brought her to the Navajo reservation, and what differences has she seen between the Japanese and the Navajo cultures?

Her travels have brought her halfway around the world to this tiny, picturesque community on the east face of the snow-capped Chuska Mountains on the Navajo reservation.

Mochizuki, who has a degree in mechanical engineering, decided to take a year off to volunteer her time to teach others about her culture at To'haali Community School. She is in the International Internship Program, although she is not studying to become a teacher. It's a big change from where she lived, just an hour southwest of Mount Fuji.

"I think it's a good opportunity (for our students) to see the diversity of the world," Principal Delores Bitsilly said.

"It's great how she interacts with the kids here," Delphina John, the academic department head of the school, added. "She's a very popular person at the school."

The Bureau of Indian Affairs school has 210 students from kindergarten through the eighth grade. Eighty of them live on campus in dormitories. There are also preschool children in the Family and Child Program, known as FACE.

One of the subjects Mochizuki is teaching in Janice Baxter's fourth-grade class is Japanese calligraphy, known as syodo. The kids were excited about syodo and wanted their names written on their basketballs and other personal items.

Baxter was an accountant who switched careers to elementary education. She's been teaching for a year. "I really appreciate her support. She's helped me mentally and spiritually," Baxter said.

The students practiced writing their names Wednesday as Mochizuki and Baxter watched closely.

Before Mochizuki arrived on the reservation, everything she knew about Native Americans came from American movies and television. Her biggest fear, though, was not facing an unknown culture so far from home, but rather flying on a commercial jetliner to the United States.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was the biggest story in Japan in 2001 she said, and like people throughout the world, she witnessed it on television. She said possible terrorist attacks against U.S. bases in Japan scared many people right after the Sept. 11 attacks.

But today she is much more confident things are returning to normal around the world, and feels right at home on the reservation.

The biggest difference between the two cultures she said is "I can go in my room with my shoes on. In my country we have to put shoes off. I like to walk home sometimes, my shoes are muddy. Sometimes my room is muddy," she said with a smile.

She is staying with host family Ernest and Linda Teller. Ernest works for the BIA in Farmington, while Linda works as a cook at the school.

Linda said all they knew about Japan was what they saw on television. "We had a lot of fun with her. She's trying to teach us Japanese, while we're trying to teach her Navajo."

They both use English - their second language - to communicate. Linda said having foreigners stay in her home is nothing new. The family has also hosted Italian vacationers. "We like people to come over," she said.

But has Mochizuki experienced Navajo culture herself?

"We took her to the mountains to chop wood the first day she was here," Linda said. They have also taken her to Las Cruces and to Denver. And she has seen a powwow. "It's good to have her here with us. We hope to visit her in Japan," Linda said.

Indiana students choose reservation
The other two visitors on campus are Paul Spahr, 23, and Jon Mays, 23. The Indiana University students from Bloomington, Ind., are doing their teacher-internships at To'haali Community School.

Education students are required to spend the second semester of their senior year working in a classroom. While most of their classmates chose schools in Indiana, they asked to work on the Navajo reservation.

"I love it here," Spahr said. "It's beautiful every morning when I wake up."

"From the standpoint of the kids in the classroom, it's not all that different from kids in Indiana," Mays said.

"Kids are kids anywhere," Spahr said.

Mays had a unique reason for wanting to work in elementary education. "When you work with kids, you see a reflection of you - a place you've been before. You learn as much from them as they learn from you."

The two added they are learning a lot about Navajo culture, even though they just arrived on the reservation Jan. 6. They've already been invited to dinner in people's homes, which they consider quite a gesture of friendship.

"It's wonderful to see men (in contrast to the high-percentage of women) concentrating on the primary grades," Bitsilly said. "It's a breath of fresh air."

Map - Toadlena, NM

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