As I explained in my interview for the Cultural Ambassadors Programme, I have been a member of Girlguiding for over a decade, progressing through Rainbows, Brownies, Guides then Senior Section, and finally ending up as Young Leader at my former Brownie Pack, 2nd Enfield Brownies. “Brown Owl” (Emma Supple) takes an active interest in the projects and successes of all members of her pack, past and present, and so I knew exactly who to go to when advertising my recent book appeal – if you haven’t already heard about this, please have a read here!
A note was sent home with the Brownies, explaining that “Squirrel” (Carys) will soon be travelling to Yosano, Japan with her university, and that she was collecting children’s books to take with her to give to school children in the local community. The Brownies were asked to have a look for lightweight, good condition books that they had perhaps grown out of, and, in return, the following Tuesday 16th January, I proposed to give the Brownies a ‘Taste of Japan’ – an evening themed around the exquisite food, craft and culture of the country I am so excited to visit.
As promised, the Brownies returned the following week, weighed down with book contributions for who they now referred to as their “friends in Yosano”. As they arrived one by one, each girl proudly presented their homework research about Japan, and bombarded me with questions about life in Aberystywth – “What’s a University? Do you sleep there? So do you have to speak Welsh?” etc. After what felt like a lifetime of questions and answers, the Brownies had all arrived and we were ready to start the evening. I began by leading a group discussion, asking them to share what they had discovered about Japan – many had printed out maps, others had written down interesting facts and some had drawn pictures. They were amazed to hear that Japan is made up of 6,852 islands, and even more thrilled that I would be visiting the country where Nintendo was created! I shared everything I knew about Japanese culture, and told them I was hoping to find out more during my stay to report back to them!
I explained that for our first activity, they would be attempting to write using the three Japanese scripts, kanji, hiragana, and katakana. The Brownies then used guides to attempt to write some very simple words, which they were very enthusiastic about – some even promised they would be fluent by the time I returned! For those who finished early, they designed posters with pictures of cherry blossom and maneki-neko, which I explained was a Japanese cat figurine, believed to bring luck to the owner.
After they had mastered their Japanese writing, much to their delight, each Brownie was presented with a pair of wooden chopsticks. After a questionable demonstration from the leaders explaining how to use them, Brownies were split into teams and raced to sort out bowls of Fruit Pastilles into colours. A number of the Brownies were actually better than the leaders at using them, and nearly all of the girls proudly took a pair of chopsticks home to practice!
Next, Brown Owl showed the Brownies a beautifully ornate Japanese fan that was given to her father a gift. I told the Brownies that the folding fan (sensu) was actually invented by the Japanese, and I asked them to design their own origami fan to take home. I explained that origami is yet another intricate art associated with Japanese culture, and they took great care to do this art justice. I was amazed by the effort and concentration that went into designing each and every last detail. Even the Guides decided that they wanted to make one!
By then it was nearly home-time, and with two enrollments taking place that evening, I had to draw the session to a close. We reflected on the various things we had learnt, and the Brownies should each other the beautiful arts and crafts they had made. As a final treat, they were rewarded for their hard work with vegetarian sushi and prawn crackers – but only if they could remember some of the trivia we had discussed at the start of the evening!
The Brownies were sorry to see the evening come to an end – nonetheless, they left armed with their new facts and creations, and, more importantly, a newly found awareness of the beautiful cultures of Japan. Could these girls be the next generation of Cultural Ambassadors?
To HK Noodles, Enfield, for kindly providing the chopsticks!
To my wonderful Brownies (and parents!) for their generous book contributions, and for their endless energy, enthusiasm and questions.
To the gorgeous Guides – who are now all far too grown up!
To my fellow Young Leaders Alice, Maggie, Jess and the rest,
and last but not least to Brown Owl (Emma Supple), for allowing the evening to happen, and for providing unconditional love and support, always.