Autumn at Kuimaru Elementary School in Show Village is like something from a postcard.
Kuimaru Elementary School closed in 1980 after years of population decline in Showa Village. This beautiful building was due to be torn down in 2012, but was bought by the village and reopened in 2018 as a museum and community building, where various events are held throughout the year.
The ginkgo tree that stands guard outside in the school grounds is over 1000 years old, and sheds a lovely carpet of light, yellow leaves in November every year.
I was really surprised to learn during my visit that the tree outside suddenly sheds all of its yellow leaves in the course of just one night! That means I timed my trip last week really well. Below you can see a photo of what the tree looks like with a few more of its leaves still on.
To be honest, I was pretty satisfied just visiting the school, taking snaps outside with the ginkgo tree, have lunch, and head home, but I was really excited to know that visitors can actually visit inside the school, where many of the class rooms have been transformed into a museum of sorts, and others have been used as the main offices for the local tourism association.
Inside the School
The school has been really well looked after – it was hard to believe that there hadn’t been any students learning hear for nearly 40 years!
It was fun to explore the school – I recommend a visit, especially if you have never had a chance to visit a Japanese school before. It honestly didn’t look that different from the schools I used to teach at (except for the lack of white boards!)
You can enter classrooms and even pretend to be a student by sitting at the desks of former students. As you can tell from the photo above, the seats and desks were absolutely tiny!
Well, actually, there was a bit of a range of sizes of desks in the same class. This led me to think that perhaps decreased population in the town meant that different age groups learned together in the same classroom.
From the classroom decorations to a hand-written list of rules on “How to study”, there are lots of things left in the school which make it feel as if it hasn’t been nearly half a century since the school was used.
In case you’re interested, here is a rough translation of the “How to study” rules…
- Before you study
- Go to the bathroom
- Check you have all of your apparatus for class
- Prepare your books and notebook
- Make sure your desk is neat
- Sit in your seat once your hear the bell
- While you study
- Make sure the balls of your feet touch the floor
- Don’t laugh at your friends’ mistakes
- Keep your back straight
- Put your hands together behind you
- Stand straight in front of everyone to get their attention
- Pronounce the end of your sentences clearly
- Don’t use slang
- Firmly grip the bottom of your book with both hands
- Hold your book at eye-level
- Read out loud, slowly and clearly
- Place your feet on the floor
- Don’t slouch. Hold your notebook with your left hand.
- Grip your pencil correctly!
- Putting your hand up:
- Hold your right hand straight out at an upwards-diagonal angle.
- After study
- Put your apparatus away
- Prepare for your next lesson
Does this sound like the rules you had in elementary school? Are there any differences?
I also liked how interactive the school was. Things aren’t blocked off by glass or barriers like in normal museums – you can touch and move the objects here.
I visited the school as part of a work trip for Fukushima Prefecture’s official Facebook Page (click here to see), so I left a bit of graffiti on the chalk board to shameless advertise the page. I wonder if we gained a few more followers…
I would have to say my highlight, though, was getting to flick through a range of books that students would have used to study in the 70s and 80s. Since I can read Japanese, it was so cool to see the kind of things kids would have been learning in elementary school and reflecting on my own childhood, but even if you can’t read Japanese, there’s quite a lot you can understand from the pictures and charts. (And I mean, maths is the same in every language – right?)
Aside from the addition of a tourism association on the first floor, one other major change to the school is the inclusion of an exhibition on local life, with items on display ranging from those used in farming, to essential tools for create some of the village’s most well-known local products.
I wasn’t expecting to discover so much at this school, but I wish I had had more time to slowly check everything out. I will definitely be coming back again, and bringing some friends with me too!
Visiting Kuimaru Elementary School
- Opening hours: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm Wed – Fri (Closed on Mon and Tue)
- Cost: Free!
- Getting there: You need to travel by car or hired taxi in order to reach Showa Village.
Lunch Nearby at Cafe Schola
I had lunch at Cafe Schola, which is right next to Kuimaru Elementary School. I heard that it actually used to be part of the school complex, but has been renovated as a very comfortable, open, bright cafe.
This cafe specializes in dishes made from soba (buckwheat flour), and some of its main dishes include a savoury bacon and egg galette, as well as Japanese dishes such as plain soba noodles with a dipping soup (I ordered both!).
Being right next to the school means that you’re able to get a good view of not only the school building, but also of the surrounding mountains.
The cafe also included a few little items of memorabilia from the school, including an old school abacus, textbooks, and even a box used to control the electricity in the building.
The cafe and the school are both excellent places for people interested in taking photos. There is so much interesting stuff to capture on camera. Make sure to stop by if you get a chance!
Here’s the location of this cafe on Google Maps: [MAP]
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