During my recent visit to Kannoura to photograph courtship and mating of whitespotted bamboo sharks, I was given the unexpected opportunity to address the kids at the local elementary school (甲浦小学校).
Totally unplanned, spur-of-the-moment thing.
At dinner one night, I shared a few photos on my iPad with a friend's 11-year old son, and by the end of the next day, the entire school had heard about amazing pictures and crazy stories being told by this weird guy who was visiting the area to jump into cold water to stare at motionless sharks, waiting for them to do something...perhaps (it does sound somewhat odd what you put it in writing, huh?).
Next thing I knew, I was in the school Principal's office (gulp).
Well...it had been a while since I'd been called into a Principal's office, and I have to admit, I was nervous. My trepidation was unwarranted though, as Kumiko-san was about the nicest and most enthusiastic person you could ever come across. Literally within seconds of meeting, we were discussing dates, times, etc., eventually deciding upon the morning of 16 May, with me taking up the entirety of the first and second class periods for the day.
Things happened so quickly that I didn't have time to mention to anyone that I'd never done a presentation for kids...in Japanese. Oh well.
I stayed up late putting slides together, eventually deciding to tell the life stories of two types of whales, humpbacks and sperm whales, as representatives of baleen and toothed cetaceans. I was so nervous that I only got three hours of sleep that night!
Anyway, things went well, and the kids actually listened and understood me. (Yes, I'm just as surprised as you are.)
I know this for a fact though, because by early afternoon, the eldest kids had written down their thoughts, assembled a nice booklet, and had it delivered to me!
At the end of my presentation, I told them, in the most sincere and articulate Japanese I could muster, that my talk that day had not actually been about whales, or about photography for that matter. Nope. It had been about the importance of pursuing dreams.
I explained that spending my life learning about the ocean had been a lifelong dream, and that though it had taken a long time, with many detours and missteps, I was able to show them fun photos and share interesting stories with them because I had had a dream, and I had stuck with it through thick and thin.
I asked that if they remember one thing from the morning we spent together, it was that pursuing dreams is perhaps the most important thing in life. OK, so I felt kinda' old saying that, but I meant it.
And one of the most amazing things about reading the letters in the booklet was that it became clear that they had heard me.
Many of the kids wrote about their dreams, things they want to do, people they want to become. I had to stop reading several times due to the sudden onset of warm and mushy feelings.
Later in the afternoon, we happened to cross paths with a few of the kids, who immediately called out and came over to talk/ play. More warm and mushy feelings.
And finally, reporters from Asahi Shimbun (Atsuo Negishi) and Kochi Shimbun (Yohei Sakamaki) attended the talk as well. Both were great guys, fun to speak with, and kind enough to run stories the next day about my experience photographing bamboo shark mating, as well as my more nerveracking adventure of speaking in front of the terrific kids of Kannoura Elementary School.