By Peter Day
While some teachers may go to the beach or enjoy a staycation at home this summer, Lucerne Valley Middle School teacher Naomi Oyadomari will take a once-in-a-lifetime trip to her family’s origins — Japan.
“It is something that I have always wanted to do, to visit my grandparents’ homeland and the land of my samurai ancestors,” said the Oyadomari, known affectionately as Ms. O. “My father was Japanese, Okinawan to be more specific. My grandfather was born in Okinawa and emigrated to Hawaii in 1905 to work in the sugar plantations in Hawaii. My grandmother was a picture bride and came to Hawaii soon after to marry my grandfather.”
Oyadomari’s opportunity comes after she was chosen to receive a Keizai Koho Center Teacher Fellowship from June 24-July 2. Over eight days, Keizai Koho fellows such as Oyadomari will have the opportunity to learn about the Japanese economy, various businesses, and contemporary Japanese society, as well as participate in roundtable discussions with educators and business leaders in Tokyo.
While her father was from Japan, Oyadomari’s mother is from the Philippines, but being born and raised in Hawaii creates a blended culture perspective.
“Living in Hawaii, one automatically adopts the cultures of the islands; it is truly a melting pot of different ethnicities and cultures. I tell my students all the time, I am Asian but culturally I am Hawaiian.”
After living in Hawaii — she attended the University of Hawaii — she was a teacher in the Westminster School District where she taught 6th grade for four years at Schroeder Elementary School in Huntington Beach. In 1991, Oyadomari was hired to teach 6th grade at Lucerne Valley Middle School.
She admits the move to a High Desert school was a bit of a culture shock because she had lived in a fairly large city, Long Beach, and taught in a sizable school in Huntington Beach with a majority of Vietnamese and Indian students.
“It took a little while to become accustomed to teaching in a small rural school in the middle of a desert where there were no sidewalks or street lights,” she remembers. “But I soon came to love the town of Lucerne Valley as I got to know so many of its residents and learn of the big way they chip in to help and support the children of this community.”
‘FAREWELL TO MANZANAR’
But Oyadomari’s trip to Japan will be much more than a personal journey to her family’s homeland. Every year, her English students read the novel “Farewell to Manzanar,” about the Japanese interment during World War II. (Manzanar was one of 10 internment camps Japanese Americans were forced to live in from 1942 to 1945. Manzanar, now a National Historic Site, is located near the town of Independence, about 200 miles north of Lucerne Valley.) In the book, there are numerous references to Japanese culture, which hits home for the teacher.
“In fact, the matriarch of this novel reminds has so many similar traits and life experiences that my grandfather experienced coming to America as an immigrant, yet trying to hold on to his Japanese culture and ways.”
Oyadomari’s trip also will help provide content and perspective for future classroom lessons.
“I am developing a unit lesson where I share my experience in Japan to students when reading this novel again next year,” she says. “In the novel it talks about the Japanese gardens that were built at Manzanar to provide peace and serenity during a time of chaos and uncertainty for the internees. I will incorporate these gardens from the novel, gardens that I visit in Japan and create a Friendship garden here on campus with my students after we finish the novel.”
Her trip also will help her when Japanese students again visit Lucerne Valley Middle High School. On the last visit the visitors showed Lucerne Valley students a video they made of what a typical school day is like for a student in Japan.
“I also will share education in Japan with my students and hopefully adopt a sister school from Japan that we will correspond with and create a video that will show what a typical day in the life of a student from Lucerne Valley is like. I hope to bridge the gap of both cultures and create friendships.”
Oyadomari is a strong believer that travel is vital to open ones’ eyes. It gives a greater perspective and appreciation for our world.
“That is why I organize the DC/ East Coast trips, because I see how it changes the minds and outlooks of students who travel with me. They come back from these trips a different student with broader dreams and goals. Travel is invaluable to one’s growth.”
As a teacher, Oyadomari is thrilled when her history lessons spark a student’s interest and changes their perspective from “history is boring” to making it come alive for them.
“I also find it rewarding when I see my students get passionate and actively involved in civics and being an active citizen,” she said. “That’s my biggest joy.”
Oyadomari, who also serves as the school’s AVID coordinator, credits a former student Neil Gibson, who currently is a U.S. diplomat in Tokyo, for helping secure the Keizai Koho fellowship.
“I taught Neil in seventh and eighth grade here in Lucerne Valley,” she said of the 2000 LVHS graduate. “Today Neil is currently assigned at the Embassy in Iraq on assignment but he is still officially under the Embassy of Tokyo. It was with great pride and joy that I submitted Neil’s letter of recommendation to the Keizai Koho Fellowship with my application and to read Neil’s words of how I played a part in his education and a spark for history and the world.”
With her trip just days away, Oyadomari is getting more and more excited.
“Going to Japan is like a spiritual journey for me; something that is indescribable. I feel that this journey will complete me and ground me in my family’s history. I am beyond excited and honored to be a part of this incredible experience.”