Lotus Preschool in San Jose’s Japantown turns 25, celebrates the love

SAN JOSE — Kids anxiously waited outside the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose to catch a peek of their favorite teacher, “Miss Lynne,” and to celebrate Lotus Preschool’s 25th anniversary.

“I don’t think she knew it would be this big or last this long,” George Yamaichi, Lynne Santo Yamaichi’s husband, said of the last 25 years.

Young Lotus blossoms. photo by Jessica Savage/Nichi Bei Weekly

The school, which is located at the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin, currently has a three-year waiting list. Lotus also has its largest graduating class, with 20 students for 2011.

More than 600 guests received nametags at the July 30 event, and all alumni had their graduating pictures pasted next to their names. Some were shocked at how much they have grown since preschool.

Besides the exhibits at the museum, the event offered numerous activities for both adults and children. There was scrapbooking, a photo booth and a viewing room of the Lotus DVD. Pictures of every class since 1988 were posted throughout the museum. Guests enjoyed mini hot dogs, sliders, tacos and other comfort foods. Coffee and a special purple concoction made just for Lotus were served outside on the patio. A DJ kept the guests dancing well into the evening.

The event would not be complete without heartfelt speeches thanking Yamaichi for her hard work and persistence throughout the years. Volunteers were also acknowledged for their unwavering support.

Lynne Santo Yamaichi poses with her Lotus family at the preschool’s celebration. photo by Jessica Savage/Nichi Bei Weekly

Individuals from the class of 1988 and 1994 spoke about their time at the school. Each class seemed to evoke the same message — the school gave them a platform from which they could grow, and they will always remember the love and family of Lotus.

Attendees were treated to a performance by current students and the class of 2011, which sang Japanese songs and their own graduation song.

Yamaichi, who also serves as the school’s director, started Lotus after she saw a need for a school in San Jose’s Japantown. This “[also became an] opportunity to work with my temple, the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin.”

She cultivated her interest in working with children during her time at UC Davis. “I enjoyed my child development courses at UC Davis and especially the opportunities to work with the young children at the school’s child development center,” said Yamaichi, who holds a bachelor’s of science degree in human development.

Lotus Preschool opened its doors in July 1986. Since then, the school has given children a foundation in the community and Japanese culture.

Yamaichi’s approach to teaching is straightforward. “Children learn through their play, new experiences, and from teachable moments,” she said.

Brian Handa, who has been with Lotus for years, has learned exactly this. “You let them grow on their own,” he said.

Six-year-old Cassidy Yoneda, who graduated from Lotus in 2009, said she will always remember “going on the field trips.”

Lotus offers children an early exposure to the temple, where “they begin a lifelong association with the temple,” said Janice Doi, president of the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin.

In getting involved with the temple’s other programs, including scouts or Dharma school, “they develop this camaraderie with kids who share similar interests,” Doi said. Many of the students and their families are either already or become connected to the church and Japantown through Lotus.

Kay Park has volunteered at Lotus for four years, and began when her granddaughter Cassidy Yoneda first attended the preschool. Park appreciates that Lotus incorporates Japanese culture into the curriculum. “Food is the best thing to teach them,” she said.

Kazue Kawasaki, who has volunteered since 2007, initially learned about the school through volunteering at Yu-Ai Kai Japanese American Community Senior Service.

There was talk among the community about expanding the preschool into an elementary school, but Yamaichi has no such plans at the moment. “I really love this age group, so expanding is not in question.” She added, however, “I hope Lotus will continue to be involved with the temple and the San Jose Japantown community.”

 

Lotus Preschool is currently selling its 25th anniversary cookbook for $30, plus $5 for shipping. To purchase a cookbook, send a check payable to San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin Lotus Preschool and mail it to Lotus Preschool at 639 North Fifth St., San Jose, CA 95112.

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