Whitikahu calls Fukushima

Mar 9th, 2018 | By | Category: News

Whitikahu Primary, NZ, meet Odaka Elementary, Japan. In the first of its kind, a video chat was held for students from both countries last Friday.

The idea had been mooted around Christmas – Iris Riddell, born and raised in Gordonton, teaches English at Odaka, in Fukushima Prefecture, just 16km from the disabled Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

She was keen to set up some interaction between her pupils and those at a school from home.

Whitikahu teacher Matt Clarke from Room One stepped up for the job, and at 1.15pm NZ time (9.15am in Japan) the call was made.

Whitikahu Japan


Odaka was blown away by the Kiwi class, says Iris, when they each stood up and introduced themselves in Japanese –   “Kon’nichiwa watashinonamaeha Lisa desu!”

Excitement was also high at the Whitikahu end.  “They were totally engaged by the thought of Skyping Japan and eagerly found out facts and practised really hard to learn some simple Japanese sayings to use,” says Matt.

Iris says her students were really curious about New Zealand lunches.  “What do Kiwi kids eat for lunch?” they asked.

Whitikahu were keen to answer this and Fergus, below, held up his lunchbox for all to see, while the others yelled out – “Sandwiches!”  “Yoghurt!” “Cookies!” “Cheese and apples!” “Watermelon!”   They were impressed to hear the Japanese class had curry, rice and ramen noodles – “kind of like 2-minute noodles.”


Whitikahu Japan


Questions fired to and fro, with descriptions of Calf Club Day – “we win ribbons and medals and everything!” says Sanjana – and what is studied at school.  (Maths, reading, PE, writing, science, handwriting and Maori.)



Whitikahu Japan


Corban demonstrates the fine art of batting in cricket…


Whitikahu Japan


Computer games, movies and television shows resulted in mutual recognition and laughter – Sponge Bob was a winner, as was playing Minecraft.  And everyone loved Star Wars.


The technology mostly behaved well  -the test call at 5 minutes prior didn’t quite work – and the two classes were able to see and hear each other on large screens.  Iris had on hand a translator but waving, smiling and miming bridged any communication gap.


Whitikahu Japan





Whitikahu Japan




Whitikahu Japan



“These are my favourite books,” says one of Iris’s pupils.  (And someone from Whitikahu whispered – “they print them back to front!”)


Whitikahu Japan


Ava’s Jojo hair bow was much admired at Odaka.  (As was her drawing of a Star Wars Death Trooper!)


Whitikahu Japan


Odaka students were agog at the Kiwi kids’ bare feet – there is much protocol around shoes in Japan.  Then Whitikahu ramped it up by running outside, through the playground and on to the sports field.  “We can’t really do that here, and some of our sports grounds have artificial grass.  This was pretty impressive for them to see!”


Whitikahu Japan


Sayonara Japan!  See you later!  Plans are already being hatched to repeat the call or something similar.   Everyone agrees – it was awesome.


Whitikahu Japan


From Iris, in Japan –

When we first announced to the 6th graders we were planning a live video chat with a New Zealand school, there was some obvious tension in the air. A few nervous glances and whispers. There’s a big difference between drilling English phrases in the safety of our classroom in Japan, and actually talking to a bunch of Kiwi kids.

Over the next few weeks, we prepared. The students wrote their questions in Japanese on slips of paper, which I translated. Then I helped them practice asking them. I asked them to bring a ‘favourite item’ for a Show and Tell, and excitement started to grow.

It was such a thrilling moment when the Odaka 6th graders walked into the room and saw the big screen, filled with an image of grinning kids, waving from another hemisphere.

I was delighted with how the call went. Though there was some shyness, there were also some beautiful, pure moments of connection. Like the geeky kids exploding with joy when they realised they played the same video games, the huge response from the Whitikahu kids when one of the Odaka students shared his life goals (“I want to run in the Olympics!”) or the appreciation for a Whitikahu student’s awesome sketch of a Star Wars Death Trooper.

Those moments, and more like them, were what this exercise was all about: connecting kids and letting them explore their similarities and differences. The shyness slowly dissolved away over the course of the 45-minute call, with students on the Odaka end bopping each other on the head with a big plastic hammer, performing waggly-arm dances for the camera, and generally hamming it up. You know, being kids.

A huge thank you to Whitikahu School, principal Trish Wilson and Room 1 teacher Matt Clarke who immediately got what we were trying to do and jumped on board 110%. Likewise, I’m grateful to everyone at Odaka-yon Shougakkou for letting me step outside the box and experiment with my role as an Assistant Language Teacher. The school’s motto here is ‘Let’s Challenge, Let’s Try!’ and they certainly did that with this call!

I’ve already spoken to a few people about repeating the video call with other year groups, so hopefully this won’t be the last Whitikahu School has heard from us here in Fukushima!


Click here to read Kia Ora Fukushima, Iri’s blog about life – often magical – in Japan.

And how about checking out Whitikahu’s Facebook page here.  A real cool rural school.





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8 Comments to “Whitikahu calls Fukushima”

  1. Valerie Morgan says:

    A great story on great topic. A really worthwhile initiative!

  2. Judy McDonald says:

    Brilliant stuff! I hope the two schools have a long and fruitful long-distance relationship!

  3. Judy says:

    What a great thing to do connecting kids like that!

  4. Pam Corbett says:

    Well done Iris. You’re doing more for international understanding than a certain someone with orange-coloured hair.

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