The Ichimura Nature School in the Kanto Region

"What do today's children tend to lack despite growing up in Japan's seemingly affluent society of abundant goods and information?"
In 2002, Ricoh established the Ichimura Nature School as part of its social contribution activities aimed at the sound development of children.
To help to fill a possible void in their lives, the Ichimura Nature School offers programs that are designed to foster a zest for life within children, who hold the future in their hands.

"Developing a great zest for life through learning from Nature!"
With this unwavering philosophy,
the Ichimura Nature School supports the sound growth of children.

Developing a great zest for life from farm work and communal life

Developing a great zest for life from farm work and communal life

The Ichimura Nature School Kanto is an NPO that was founded in Ashigara-kami-gun, Kanagawa Prefecture in 2002 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Ricoh Group's founder, Kiyoshi Ichimura. Based on the concept of "learning how to live from Mother Nature," the school offers hands-on programs to children from grades 4 through 8 throughout the year.
The school's building stands at a nature-rich site that extends to around 7,000 m2. During the 8-month long program, city-raised children spend two nights every other weekend engaging in a variety of agricultural activities, from sowing seeds to harvesting crops. Along with this hands-on experience, being away from their parents provides them with opportunities to learn the importance of farming, which requires much physical work, and to feel blessed by nature and experience a great sense of accomplishment through working hard together with peers, while also allowing them to appreciate the fruits of their labor and experience, namely the joy that comes from harvesting their crops. In the autumn season, when the leaves that sprouted in the spring turn red, the children graduate from the school, their state of body and mind more robust than when they first came.

Understanding how precious life is and learning the essence of the dignity of a human life

Understanding how precious life is and learning the essence of the dignity of a human lifeAt the same time as when the Nature School was first established, the fragile mental state of increasing numbers of school-aged children was manifesting itself as their self-isolation from society, as victims of abuse. "What went wrong with these children?" Ricoh attempted to determine what it could do to help the children, and ultimately decided to found a Nature School under the philosophy of the then chairman, Hiroshi Hamada.
Instructors at the school follow the basic principle of the "four don'ts": don't give children too many instructions; don't give them too many orders; don't try too hard to teach them something; and don't coddle them. The school programs are designed to help children develop three values—caring for nature, caring for others and cooperation, and caring for social rules—as well as a twin capacity for independent action and awareness of safety and danger.
More than 10 years have passed since the school's foundation and over 500 children have finished the course. Despite the requirement to stay on the school's premises every weekend, the attendance rate of the students exceeds 95%. Through participating in school activities, students begin to nurture a great zest for life. By the time they finish the course, a strong self-confidence that is underpinned by enthusiastic feelings has sprouted within them. Messages from their parents indicate that students have been steadily developing a spirit of independence, a sense of responsibility and a sense of caring for others. Examples of such messages include: "my child now voluntarily helps with household chores," and "my child has begun to say his/her own opinions confidently."

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Focus

Providing firm ground for a greater zest for life,
nurtured at the Nature School, into the future
Providing graduates with further support to continue
to develop soundly through social networking

At the 10th anniversary milestone, the school initiated new activities led by alumni

Masamitsu Sakurai, general head of the Ichimura Nature SchoolMasamitsu Sakurai, general head of the Ichimura Nature School

Panel discussion of alumniPanel discussion of alumni

On October 23, 2011, a total of 344 alumni, their parents, and those concerned, gathered at the Ricoh Technology Center located in Ebina-shi, Kanagawa Prefecture to attend the Ichimura Nature School's 10th anniversary reunion.
A total of 130 former students and 134 parents exchanged opinions and views on a number of topics including "How are you putting into practice the lessons learned at the nature school?" "How can we create opportunities for exchanges between alumni and for their further development going forward?" Upon looking back on the old days spent at the school, some former students said that they learned the importance of putting forth their best efforts, recalling that plants that failed to grow well did not have good care, and they naturally started to appreciate food more and to also feel humble, understanding that the food they ate came from living things. At the same time, we received from them a number of opinions and requests, including, "I would like to have an opportunity to listen to graduates who have started working," "I want to open a website specifically for the alumni association," and "I want to make new fields for the alumni."
The opinion exchange session was followed by a ceremony where Ricoh's chairman, Masamitsu Sakurai, who serves as the general head of the Ichimura Nature School, delivered the opening remarks. In acknowledgement of a wide range of issues surrounding today's children, Mr. Sakurai emphasized the school's underlying vision that has remained true to its form since its foundation and the great social significance of the programs.
Then School Board Director Takashi Nakamura summed up the opinions and views exchanged among the former students and their parents, indicating that going forward, Ricoh, the Ichimura Nature School and "Daichi-no-kai (the voluntarily founded alumni association)" will work together to decide on a future approach to measures to support further development of graduates. He expressed his hope that with these new measures implemented in line with regular activities at the school, graduates can grow to become future leaders to create a better society.
In his closing remarks, Ricoh President Shiro Kondo extended his gratitude to those who made the event possible and expressed his commitment and continuous support to the Nature School in hopes of its further success and for the continued sound development of every single student who graduated from the school.

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Interview

Strong bond of fellowship created through living together
The alumni association, Daichi-no-kai brings former students together,
stimulating each other to work harder

Yoshiaki Minagawa Chairman of Daichi-no-kaiYoshiaki Minagawa
Chairman of Daichi-no-kai
One of the first students who joined The Ichimura Nature School Kanto (when he started he was a grade 8 student.) He is currently in the second year of the Graduate School of Engineering, the University of Tokyo.

"When we unite our efforts, we can accomplish what appears to be impossible to accomplish by individual effort." This is one of the lessons I learned at the nature school. Since I always keep this in mind, I am able to organize people well in my research group, at a school club, etc. In addition, because of the farming experience, I understand how hard farm work is and feel appreciative of food.
At Daichi-no-kai, we strongly emphasize the maintenance of bonds developed among former students and between alumni and the school. Through living together at the school and eating the same food together, students start to bond with each other. You also find many of your peers are curious about various things and have different interests. Keeping a good relationship with those fellows is really significant for the rest of our lives.
Daichi-no-kai has held general meetings and summer camps, etc. In addition, I would like to start activities that will be helpful for those who have finished the school to continue to grow well, which will be a solid ground for the time when they start to work. Children need an adult or senior student around who is a kind of person they want to become in the future as well as a friend who competes to work harder at times, and also support them at other times. I hope we can develop an environment in which children can build such relationships with others.
Furthermore, I wish to create opportunities for alumni to be engaged in activities that will contribute to society, such as volunteer activities related to environmental conservation and agriculture.

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