Amy Zou: Kyoto University Hospital's NicoNico Tomato

In addition to the daily Japanese classes and electives, I spent the spring semester of 2018 volunteering and helping out the staff at the Kyoto University Hospital’s In-patient Children’s NicoNico Tomato Program. Every week consists of a new task designed to celebrate the closest holiday. The sheer level of consideration for the children throughout my time there was highly impressive and completely tangible. Despite the gap in language levels, I was able to grasp that these obaa-chans that worked at NicoNico were very fond of children.

The first project I worked on with the staff of NicoNico was Valentine’s Day cards for the in-patient children. The completion of these cards took the span of several weeks, likely due to the level of details incorporated into each card. Not only did the card require precise sewing techniques, a realistic rendition of a bar of chocolate was incorporated as well, looking freshly opened with the foil artistically ripped. The end result took the appearance of a coat on a hanger with a white, fluffy scarf coiled around the hanger to make it more realistic.

While working on individual components of large projects, the staff gossips as furiously as one might expect obaa-chans to do. The instances of gossips were both among the most interesting and yet most difficult part of my community experience. While the stories are highly entertaining when I understand them, the counter is that I rarely manage to fully understand them. From their interactions, it seems evident that the obaa-chans have likely known each other for a significant period of time and are friendly enough to use highly casual forms of speech with each other. As such, conversation between the other staff typically occur in casual Japanese with liberal usage of regional dialects.

With my ears constantly hearing casual forms, I subconsciously want to return conversation in such a way despite knowing that the more proper way is more appropriate. It is particularly difficult as interactions with the children are meant to be done in casual, while interactions with the staff and the parents of the children should be more formal. The transitions are exceedingly odd and difficult to adjust to, and perhaps I can argue that I have learned a lot about switching formality of speech through this experience, but truly, I have only been able to notice it after committing mistakes after mistakes of misrepresented respect. Nevertheless, the experience of working with children and for the children was highly enjoyable with the welcoming staff. I would definitely enjoy continuing volunteer work in this program if I had a longer time to spend in Japan.

4 thoughts on “Amy Zou: Kyoto University Hospital's NicoNico Tomato

  1. That is so much work and committee for a card. It seems really fun! Did you think not being to use formal speech as well affected you experience or relationship with the obaa-chans?

    • I really enjoyed my time there and all the thought and effort put into toys and activities for the kids!
      I do not particularly think my imperfect formal speech really affected my relationship overly much since I made sure to clarify and apologize from the beginning that my recognition of Japanese speech styles is slightly more than horrible. They all use casual speech with each other, so at times, it can be really easy to just slip into their speech pattern and end up accidentally disrespectful. They don’t seem to mind (or perhaps I simply don’t notice..???)

  2. I find it incredibly inspiring that you chose to help these hospitalized children for your CIP. You’ve not only managed to make a difference to your Japanese language levels, but also to the people you’ve worked and interacted with. While you mention that you made a lot of mistakes, that is only a part of learning. I’m sure you’ve improved, and are a better person for it.

    • It makes me really sad to see children who need to be hospitalized, but it was also a learning experience on how resilient the kids are from a first-person point of view. NicoNico has this little system where the children collects stamps and receive a prize for every 10 days they are there, and also a prize when they are released; I really love it as it seems to give the kids something to look forward to, even if the ‘prize’ is just something small. I certainly made plenty of mistakes, but the experience was definitely worth it!