Tetsuko Kuroyanagi’s Totto Chan: The Little Girl At The Window is one of those books that satisfy you deeply and stay with you long after you have read it. I happened to read Ava’s touching review of this book, and I knew I wanted to read it. Ava was kind enough to send across a copy, and I’m so happy she did. It is a book that you can so easily miss, and your life would be all the poorer for it. Thanks, Ava, for telling us about this wonderful book!
Totto Chan: The Little Girl At The Window is a memoir by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi about her childhood, mostly about her days as a student at a unique school called Tomoe Gakuen. From what I gathered, Tomoe is a school for ‘special children’, and Tomoe was taken there by her mother because she was expelled from her first school in the first grade itself, for being a distraction to the rest of the class.
Totto Chan, the name by which Tetsuko was fondly called, took to Tomoe instantly. Which child would not – when the classrooms are made of old railroad cars that are no longer in use? Tomoe is run by an exceptional headmaster, Mr. Kobayashi, who had extensively studied the imparting of ‘knowledge’ to children, rather than the imparting of ‘education’.
Tomoe was criticised by many for not being a conventional kind of school. Children were encouraged to study whatever subjects they liked first, they were taken to ‘field kitchens’ and ‘farming lessons’ to learn the practical aspects of cooking food and farming, first hand. The headmaster personally saw to it that the meals of all the kids were nutritious and balanced. The headmaster knew the children in and out, and the children were so comfortable with him that they fought with each other for a chance to get on to his lap and climb on his back! The headmaster personally saw to it that no child developed complexes, and no child felt any different from the rest. This and much more was special at Tomoe. I was always one for practical education, so how could I not like this book, which is all about ‘free teaching” and ‘practical learning’?
It was Tomoe that brought out the best in Totto Chan, as it did in a lot of other children. It was Tomoe that made Totto Chan what she bacame – an eminent TV personality in Japan. Tomoe was indeed a special school, and Mr. Kobayashi was indeed a gifted headmaster.
Sounds impossible? It might, but it was not. Such a school actually existed in Japan before it met a rather sad end. The famous TV personality of Japan, Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, actually studied in Tomoe. The epitome of kindnes, love for children – Mr. Kobayashi – was really the headmsater of Tomoe.
In a separate section in the book, the author writes about her fellow students, what each of them went on to become later in life, adn how Tomoe shaped them and their professions.
Written in very short chapters with very simple language, this book set me thinking – about my school days, the present state of schools in India, the pressures that a child has to face. If a school like Tomoe existed in India, if a headmaster like Mr. Kobayashi lived now, I would enroll my kids there in a jiffy, with my eyes closed. THAT is the kind of education I craved for, and that is what I would love to give my kids.
Here’s an excerpt from the book that I particularly liked:
It was the poet Basho who wrote:
Listen! a frog
Jumping into the silence
Of an ancient pond!
Yet the phenomenon of a frog jumping into a pond must have been seen by many others. Down through the ages and in the whole world, Watt and Newton cannot have been the only ones to notice the steam from a boiling kettle or observe an apple fall.
Having eyes, but not seeing beauty; having ears, but not hearing music; having minds, but not perceiving truth; having hearts that are never moved and therefore never set on fire. These are the things to fear, said the headmaster.
How true! It is things like this that made me fall in love with this book!
This book really is a treasure, and I can’t thank Ava enough for letting me know about it. It is a must-read for everyone. I’m sure it will move you, the way it did me. You will not regret having known the delightful kid Totto Chan and her classmates, the perfect headmaster – Mr. Kobayashi, and the wonderful school -Tomoe Gakuen.
I read this book for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge 2010. The stopover was at Japan.
My rating: 5 stars