This is the year of Japan for Lions Clubs International. Our international president is Dr. Jitsuhiro Yamada of Japan. The international convention will be held in June in Fukuoka, Japan’s sixth-largest city. But it’s service as usual in Japan, and that’s a good thing. The 124,353 Lions in 3,120 clubs often focus on children and are perfectly positioned this year to heed Yamada’s call to expand our service to children. A Memorable Last Day of School Heavy rain did not dampen the spirits of students of Tsuki ga Oka Elementary School taking part in a traditional lantern festival, a fixture of the culture of the Iwate Prefecture in eastern Japan. The children march through town with the box-shaped lanterns, consisting of a wooden frame with paper screens and handmade by them. The festival celebrates the harvest and includes prayers for the health of children. Morioka Mitake Lions have sponsored the festival and concluding fireworks for three years. The festival is held on the last day of school before summer break after the sun sets. Sounds of Fun “Waku waku” is an onomatopoeic term in Japan for expressing the feeling of happiness or excitement, and the Toshima Kodomo WAKUWAKU Network is a well-known nonprofit that supports children. Tokyo Toshima Lions team up with the nonprofit for a day of summer fun for children at Ikebukuro Honmachi Park. Lions have staffed a waterslide and cooked lunch on grills. Japan has seen a decline in its birthrate, and the club decided to sponsor a project for children to celebrate its 50th anniversary last year. Making Memories (Opposite) Four years ago, to mark its 50th anniversary, the Wakayama Nishi Lions Club held a ceramics workshop for graduating elementary school students. The students loved it, and the project has become an annual event. The experienced instructor is a longtime friend of the club. Helped by Leos, the students shape cups from raw clay, apply a colored glaze and dispatch their work to a kiln for firing. In a month they receive their commemorative coffee mugs. “I hope that the kids use the cups while studying for their exams and remember the fun time we had making them together,” says Past President Takayuki Kikuchi. Plum Service Assignment Shion Ishihara, a third-grader at the Hiroshima Central School for the Blind, enjoyed snatching the plums off trees at the beautiful Shukkeien garden. “Picking plums was fun because of the loud snap you hear,” Shion says. The fragrant ume plum, a relative of the apricot, is too hard and sour to eat, so it’s usually pickled and eaten as umeboshi, a salty condiment often served with rice balls. The Hiroshima Peace Lions Club co-sponsors the plum picking event, a community tradition since 1981. The garden has a much longer history, dating from 1620. “Shukkeien” means “shrunken-scenery garden,” and valleys, mountains and forests are represented in miniature in the garden’s landscapes. Near the epicenter of the atomic bomb blast, the garden was restored in the 1950s. The Lions had help with the plum picking: youths from the Hiroshima Juvenile Correctional School assisted Lions in guiding the blind children around the orchard. Within the park is the Hiroshima Prefectural Museum of Art, and the blind students were allowed to touch sculptures and other art when they toured the museum. Pulling on the Same Rope Thirty-years ago town officials balked at a Lions’ proposal to hold a sports festival for children of all abilities for two communities in central Japan. On the Nobi Plain, Ikeda and Godo are tucked in between the Ibi River and towering Mount Ikeda. “They told us it won’t work—we wouldn’t be able to hold an event across two towns,” according to a longtime member of the Ikeda Godo Lions Club, which serves both Ikeda and Godo. “We showed them it can work. That’s leadership. That’s Lions.” Today the sports festival draws nearly 400 children, Lions and staff. The special needs children and other children compete in relay races, a balloon popping game in which the balloons are tied to ankles and a bread eating contest. A highlight was the tug of war. “Those kids can pull,” says President Naoto Ito, referring to the children with disabilities. Planting for the Future Reforesting barren hills last year, schoolchildren planted 100 oak trees that they had raised from acorns. For nine years Sano Nishi Lions have guided dozens of elementary school students in the Tochigi Prefecture in restoring a landscape in Ashio ruined by industrial pollution and also taught them about a local hero who is regarded as Japan’s first environmentalist. In the 1890s, Shozo Tanaka led the fight against the Ashio Copper Mine, whose poisonous waste destroyed 6,000 acres of forest. The schoolchildren enjoyed their labor but let out an audible sigh when told the reforestation will not be finished until their grandchildren’s generation.
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