Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Ohata Young People's Center

The Ohata Young People's Center is housed in the building formerly occupied by the Ohata Elementary School. Declining enrollment forced the school to close nearly 20 years ago, and its remaining students were moved to nearby Niigata Elementary School, less than a quarter- mile away. You might wonder why, for the better part of a century, the city should have needed to maintain two primary schools in such proximity. The following explanation is based on what I have gleaned from local residents. The two schools are located in what was formerly referred to as the "Beverly Hills" of Niigata City. The official residence of the prefectural governor is across the street from Niigata Elementary School, and those of his lieutenant and of the city's mayor were, until fairly recently, but a short distance away. Influential private citizens made their homes in the neighborhood as well, and these were joined by a small expatriate community. Niigata's entertainment quarter was (and is) nearby, and geisha were a common sight in the neighborhood. So, too, were their "illegitimate" children, who were nevertheless legally required and entitled to six years of primary school education. Our pillars of the community, who sent their offspring to Niigata Elementary School, objected to this morally contaminating influence- and were perhaps apprehensive lest certain of the urchins be mistaken for their own. Suffice it to say that these influential citizens succeeded in persuading the Board of Education to establish a school for the exclusive use of the geishas' children, and that the Ohata Elementary School continued to operate long after the kimono was replaced by the mini-skirt.

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