Photo: Is it a bird? A plane? No, it’s a YAMANEKO!
O-hayo gozaimasu. Watashi wa Feleti desu. Watashi wa Iowa kara kimashita—Did I convince you with my Japanese skills? Lol. Well, the truth is I really do not speak Japanese, but I can sure try with a Japan Lonely Planet Guide. The JICA volunteers have been hard at work with development projects throughout the Kingdom. The JICA program is the most closely related aide organization to the US Peace Corps in Tonga. Japanese volunteers serve two years in countries around the world (in comparison with Australian volunteers who serve for a year). In Tonga, some JICA volunteers teach at secondary schools, work at medical centers, and train at teacher training colleges. Regardless, JICA volunteers work side by side with their Tongan counterparts to help train men and women of Tonga for a better and brighter future.
During the week I was in Nuku’alofa for IST, I had an opportunity to meet Toru Yamaguchi. My new friend is a JICA volunteer who works at a Tertiary Institute/Teacher Training College in the capitol city. His primary project entails training future and current teachers of Tonga the art of Solopani or Abacus. When he had first told me about Solopani, I had no clue what it was. Solopani or Abacus is rectangular device with multiple beads to help solve math problems. It is essentially a calculator without batteries; instead, you use your brain. The new Tongan syllabus for all of the government primary school will mandate the use of Solopani next year. As a result, Toru has been busy preparing teachers allover Tonga about Solopani. The Japanese government is donating hundreds of Solopani to the Ministry of Education of Tonga.
Photo: Toru and I with my YAMANEKO (which I have nicknamed—Nemo). Toru had visited Vava’u for a two day work shop at GPS Neiafu for training current teachers with Solopani. This photo was taken after some Peace Corps and JICA volunteers hiked up Mount Talau in Neiafu.
To return a favor to Toru for promoting the Matamaka GPS POSTCARD PROJECT with the people of Japan on his blog, I would like to help him out with his YAMANEKO PROJECT. What is it you may ask? It essentially is like the Travelocity Gnome travelling around the world with people taking pictures of it at famous sites. Instead of gnomes, Toru has personalized little cat clay figures called YAMANEKOs. He gives YAMANEKOs to people from around the world. People with YAMANEKOs place their little figurine in a public space where others may see it. When you spot another YAMANEKO, then you know that it was Toru who made it. As a result, you have made a connection with that new person through the YAMANEKO. Did I confuse you? The main purpose is for people to meet others through the YAMANEKO and for it to travel to as many places in the world.
Toru personalizes each YAMANEKO he makes and catalogs each figure with a serial number. I believe my YAMANEKO was in the 2000s, but I cannot remember the exact number. It is currently in Matamaka and will go wherever life may take me after Tonga. At the time of writing, YAMANEKOs are present in over forty countries from around the world. Therefore, I am bound to run into another one someday! I wish Toru the best of luck with his endeavors in Tonga and with his YAMANEKO PROJECT. If anyone else has a YAMENEKO, please let me know :D
Photo: Toru and some PCVs at Nuku’alofa after we had dinner at a local restaurant (where there was a TV with CNN!).
By the way, my Japanese in the introduction in English is “Good morning. My name is Feleti. I am from Iowa.”—at least I hope so…