"Favorite Sakura Festival Food"

The cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Takada, in the southern part of Niigata prefecture, where I live and work. Two years ago my mother and sister came in April, hoping to catch "full bloom" but had to leave a few days before the flowers opened. This year, there was quite a stir caused in Japan because the incredibly mild winter (see Inconvenient Truth) was wreaking havoc on the national cherry blossom bloom predictions.

But this week, as you can see, is beautiful. Rows upon rows of cherry blossom trees that remind me of pink popcorn or cotton candy. At least the cotton candy (candy floss for Brits, 'Tralians and Kiwis) can be had at the food stalls that are just as important (or moreso) than the flowers themselves. The Japanese have a saying, "Hana yori Dango," literally, "Dumplings rather than Flowers," which shows the preference for eating and drinking at the festival. Actually, some think the cherry blossoms are merely an(other) excuse for loosen-the-tie eating and drinking to excess.

When I took the Day Program members of Free School I CAN to the park, we were all having a wonderful time until a well intentioned (?) grandmother came up and started interrogating us as to why we weren't "In School." While I patiently explained that we were members of an alternative school, she literally could not understand what that might be, and walked off muttering something about "compulsory education."

In Japan, compulsory education is mandatory until the age of 15 (vs. 18 in the US, at least in California). However, for those kids who can't or choose not to go to "regular" school, there are few options. Homeschooling is just getting started here. Free schools are seen as playhouses for selfish kids who "can't cope."

Our mission at I CAN is to give kids a safe, fun, friendly environment for kids to learn some of those coping skills. Whether they choose to apply them at school or not is not as important as the fact that they are growing into confident, happy kids, who look forward to getting up in the morning!

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