1997 Fourth Annual Midwest Regional Kumon Instructors Conference
Good Morning, welcome to St. Louis, the gateway to the world. It is my great pleasure and honor to make opening remarks at this very exciting, 4th annual midwest conference.
I am particularly honored to be the first Kumon instructor selected for the job. This shows the Kumon's commitment to make this, and future conferences, a truely joint event for the Kumon instructors and the Kumon office.
I would like to take this opportunity to celebrate the opening of the long-awaited St. Louis Branch Office. We, all the Kumon instructors in St. Louis, are very happy to know that Rhonda and Shell's support is only ten minutes away.
In the next few minutes, I would like to talk about my personal relationship with the Kumon method and how we started the first Kumon center in the midwest fourteen years ago.
My first encounter with the word Kumon was in 1983 in Osaka, Japan. I was attending a high-school class reunion and, was talking about our own children's obvious weakness in school math in America.
One of the classmates happened to be a veteran Kumon instructor from my hometown, Moriguchi, and she recommended me to look into a possibility of bringing the Kumon Method to St. Louis.
Moriguchi is a small town in the suburbs of Osaka, but is a very important town, not because it is my home-town, but because Mr. Tohru Kumon, the founder of the Kumon Method and his family also lived there when he started the Method in 1955. Moriguchi is also the headquarters of two other internationally known companies, Panasonic and Sanyo.
The next day, the classmate brought sample Kumon worksheets, about 500 of them ranging from A to F, to my mother's house in Moriguchi. She also gave me a brief history of the Kumon Method.
From her, I learned that Mr. Kumon graduated from Osaka University, my alma mater, as a math major, and that he had been teaching math in the Sakura-no-miya high-school, while we were attending the near-by Otemae high-school from 1953 to 1956. I also learned that, in Japan at that time, about 7% of K-to-12 school population, or 1% of the entire population were studying Kumon.
As soon as I looked at the sample worksheets, I realized that the method would work perfectly for our children. There were several reasons.
First, it is a self-learning system. I knew very well how difficult it is to teach your own children. The less the parents try to teach, the better relationship we can maintain with the children.
Second, the worksheets are well designed. Problems were laid out very carefully. They were not randomly generated by a computer. They are sequentially organized in such a way that it is easy to know where you are in the curriculum.
Third, the worksheets are extensive. No need to worry about what to do next until our children graduate from the high-school.
Finally, I thought the Kumon is an extension of the abacus school, and I knew very well the merits of abacus practice. Let me digress a little here, and talk about the Japanese culture and the abacus.
There have been two different cultures in Japan, going back more than seven hundred years. One is called Kanto (eastern) culture, and the other is called Kansai (western) culture. Tokyo is the center of Kanto, and Osaka is the center of Kansai. Tokyo, formally known as Edo until one hundred years ago, had been a town of samurai and military rulers, and Osaka had been a town of merchants. Something like New York vs. Chicago.
In the two cultures, everything is different. Language in Kansai is softer than language in Kanto. Food in Kanto is saltier than food in Kansai. More importantly, Kanto is more formal than Kansai. Kanto is idealistic while Kansai is realistic and pragmatic. Kanto people value principle and Kansai people value results.
Kumon is, by definition, a Kansai company. Kumon worksheets are an accumulation of whatever works in practice and whatever produces good results. They are not derived from any lofty educational philosophy espoused by academic types. Mr. Tohru Kumon was a practitioner of math education, not a theorist.
Going back to abacus school. Forty years ago in Kansai, particularly in Osaka, it had been a customary tradition, for children of merchant family to attend an abacus school in the neighborhood, twice a week. Abacus schools are usually run by a single male instructor in his private house. There, you learn how to use an abacus for arithmetic operations with accuracy and speed.
I was born in a small merchant family in Osaka, and my mother sent me to an abacus school, called Ashima Abacus center, from my 2nd grade to 5th grade. By the way, later I found out that Mr. Kumon's house was a block away from the abacus center I attended. Sometimes I wonder, the concept of Kumon center was conceived after the Ashima abacus school.
I hated going to abacus lessons twice a week, after school and before dinner, from 3 to 4 o'clock, when other kids in the neighborhood were playing marbles during the golden hours of playtime. My mother never explained to me why I had to learn the abacus. She simply told me I had to learn it. Period.
However, I knew in the bottom of my heart why. I was good in math at school, thanks to abacus lessons. I usually could answer math problems faster than anyone else in the class. Sometimes I could compute even faster than the teacher. Once, my 4th grade teacher, annoyed by my excessive quickness, accused me of using abacus in my head, saying, "Kimura, you used abacus again in your head. It is unfair. Don't use abacus." I said, " Yes, teacher, I will use abacus nomore." Of course I knew that no one could peek into my head! Today, I still don't understand why it was unfair to do mental computation using abacus in my head.
By the way, the merit of abacus is not limited to learning how to move abacus beads fast; but rather, you can do mental computation, without a physical abacus, by manipulating an image of an abacus in your head. By the time I passed, in my 5th grade year, the national abacus certification test of the third degree, (we may call it the brown belt of abacus,) I could mentally add four digit numbers as fast as I could read them. I would be lucky today if I could do the same for two digit numbers. However, I still do all addition and subtraction operations in my head using an imaginary abacus.
While people thought I was some kind of a math genius, I knew the secret: two hours of abacus practice a week makes a genius.
So, when I saw the Kumon worksheets first time, I knew its value as an extension of abacus school, covering a wider range of math skills. I thought, "This is what I need for our kids in St. Louis."
After visiting the Kumon Headquarter in Osaka on the following day, I arranged to open a center in St. Louis on January 1984, the first Kumon center in midwest. At that time there was only one Kumon office in USA, the Los Angels office. The New Jersey office was preparing to open, but was not ready.
As for the initial training, I received a special deal. Mr. Shikatani, the general manager of the Los Angels office, was kind enough to fly into St. Louis and spend one day with me at Washington University. I paid one hundred fifty dollars for the initiation fee, but I did not pay his travel expenses. A special deal, indeed.
We started with 14 Japanese children, including our two boys. Somehow, I did not think Kumon would be popular among American families, and not a good business in the midwest where there is a very small Japanese population. Considering the fact that there are more than one thousand children studying Kumon in St. Louis today, and only few of them are Japanese, how wrong I was! On the other hand, we still have a long way to go for reaching the 1% level of Kumon population from the metropolitan population of two million.
When the New Jersey office was opened soon after, we became a member of the New Jersey Kumon community. Then, the Chicago office was born, and Matthew Lipsha, who will give closing remarks today, helped us a great deal from Chicago. The rest is the history.
One highlight of this conference to me is the demonstration of advanced students in this afternoon. You will meet many Kumon geniuses demonstrating the Kumon power. We all know the secret. Do we? Almost.
Junu Bae is one of the students you will meet this afternoon. He is a three years old becoming four in two weeks, who is finishing the math F level [6th grade level] soon. He is from my center, but I don't know his secret. He may be a genuine genius. When you see him this afternoon, please try to find his secret.
I feel so lucky to have been associated with Kumon. Not only because it helped our own two boys in their academic work, but also because it gave me an opportunity to meet so many Kumon geniuses and occasionally to transform an LD student into the best student in the math class.
Finally, I would like to thank the members of the Kumon Chicago Office for spending hours of hard work to organize this exciting event.
Peter, Jon, and of course, Rhonda and Shell; I am sure you all had a couple of sleepless nights. Thank you very much for your efforts.
I am sure this conference will be very productive and instructive, contributing to your successful Kumon experiences.
Thank you for your attention.
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