FROM A THRIVING LEARNING HUB TO AN ABANDONED BUILDING
My mother took me to her elementary school in our first days at her village, Kase, in Aomori Prefecture in Northern Japan. I have heard about this school from her all my life, and this was the first moment I could see the school for myself. Alas, the elementary school in my mother's village, once a thriving place of learning, playing, growing, is now an abandoned building. Why? This could be due to younger families in the village, having migrated to bigger cities. The elementary school age population has reduced so much that keeping the school open was not sustainable. The young children in Kase now have to commute to the next town, Kanagi to study.
My mother's school building radiated with so many stories to tell. All the children who spent their precious young days in the building with their teachers, the administrators, the cooks and cleaners, each have their own piece of the story.
The children's handprints on a wooden pillar at the entrance of the school made a remarkable impression from a past, to an unknown future. I felt a sad lament arise from the abandoned building, like the school ground was longing for the children's footprint again. Children bring vitality and youthful energy to a village. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the school building woke up to the sound of children's laughter again?
I learned that the scene of abandoned schools in small villages is not too uncommon in Japan now. I started to day dream about a reverse migration back to villages, a kind of eco-village living of a different kind.
While I stayed in Kase, my mother's village, I read the Mother's little booklet on Japan. The booklet was given to me by dear friend Marti, while I was teaching a month-long course on Ecovillage Design Education in Auroville, India in 2019. This was the right moment for me to connect with the Mother's message about Japan. Although the booklet was written nearly a 100 years ago, its message is timeless when it spoke about the children and the soul of the country.
What The Mother Said About The Children Of Japan
'We could quite well call Japan the paradise of children' wrote mother in this little booklet, ' in no other country I have seen them so free and so happy.'
'After months of residence in Japan I have yet never seen a child beaten by a grown-up person. They are treated as if all the parents were conscious that the children are the promise and the glory of the future.'
'When older, but still very young, you may see them in the tram cars, dressed with foreign clothes, the student cap on the head, the knapsack on the back, proud of their importance, still prouder at the idea of all they are learning and will learn. For they love their studies and are the most earnest students. They never miss an opportunity of adding something to their growing
WHO IS THE MOTHER?
The Mother was born Mirra Alfassa in Paris on 21 February 1878. A pupil at the Academie Julian, she became an accomplished artist, and also excelled as a pianist and writer. Interested in occultism, she visited Tlemcen, Algeria, in 1905 and l906 to study with the adept Max Theon and his wife. Her primary interest, however, was spiritual development. In Paris she founded a group of spiritual seekers and gave talks to various groups.
In 1914 the Mother voyaged to Pondicherry to meet Sri Aurobindo, whom she at once recognised as the one who for many years had inwardly guided her spiritual development. After a stay of eleven months she was obliged to return to France due to the outbreak of the First World War. A year later she went to Japan for a period of four years.
In April 1920 the Mother rejoined Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry. When the Sri Aurobindo Ashram was formed in November 1926, Sri Aurobindo entrusted its full material and spiritual charge to the Mother. Under her guidance, which continued for nearly fifty years, the Ashram grew into a large, many-faceted spiritual community. In 1952 she established Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, and in 1968 an international township, Auroville.
The Mother left her body on 17 November 1973. (https://www.sriaurobindoashram.org/mother/)
Here is a gallery of images from the booklet 'The Mother on Japan.'
MY MOTHER, Shigako
I remember dancing for my great grandma, bonding with my two aunts, and charming my grandparents, in our ancestral home, at the age of eight-yeas-old.
My life-path was such that it took me 46 years to return to my ancestral home again, just after the Covid lockdown and social restrictions. In our ancestral home, my mother spoke in Tsugaru, her native tongue. There is something about being at 'home' that puts you at ease. I felt like I was getting to know her, in her natural element for the first time. A deeper connection with my ancestral lineage was awakening in me. Suddenly a depth of my own roots, the ancestral influence in my life was being revealed to me. For the first time in my 54 years of life, I was feeling the connection to my Tsugaru heritage. My heart was crying. I cried for realising what was amiss in my life ~ for the disconnection with my ancestors in this mysterious land of Tsugaru people. And I cried for the sudden love I felt while slowly arriving at my ancestral home. I heard my ancestors whisper in my heart. 'Welcome' they said. 'Welcome to our home, to your home.'