EVERY week hardworking mums push their prams through the Handbridge shops and make their way to St Mary’s Church Hall for a well deserved break.
The sound of children laughing and playing can be heard, while their mothers chatter over cups of coffee and the smell of freshly made food fills the small hall.
The scene is the same as any other mother and toddler group, but here in the heart of Chester the tiny toddlers are all bi-lingual and the mothers are crafting origami storks out of Japanese newspapers.
Every Tuesday since the group was founded in 2005, members of the Japanese Mother and Toddler Group have gathered to enjoy traditional food, pour over Japanese newspapers, read traditional stories to their children and all chat purely in Japanese.
Now as their children play, the 20 mothers talk of their efforts to raise money towards the enormous aid effort needed in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Speaking to The Chronicle, Keiko Gordon, who founded the group with her husband, says that even though none of the women’s families have been affected they feel helpless watching the scenes unfold on the television.
Keiko, who lives in Handbridge with her English husband Graham and two children Kia, 4, and Tyler, 7, says they founded the group to give Japanese women and children a place to socialise and speak in their own language.
“There is a big Japanese community in the Chester area. All our children have mixed nationalities, our husbands are all British. The main thing is that it is a Japanese environment for children to come and speak in Japanese.”
Keiko’s husband Graham said that the group of 20 to 30 mothers, many married to English men, travel from all over the North West to attend the group: “There are some women who are in Chester purely for their husband’s company and business, so we encourage them to come and meet people.
“We have been surprised how many people are in this area. We are starting to see people coming from West Kirby, Liverpool, Wirral, families make a big effort to come here.”
Remarkably the toddlers, all aged between 0 and five are bilingual, swapping between talking to the mothers in Japanese while replying to their fathers in perfect English.
Graham explained how four or five times a year, the group transform the village into a oriental kingdom as they celebrate traditional Japanese festivals, blessing the church hall, banishing evil spirits and bringing good luck to the village
“Growing up in this country they know that English is the main language, here the idea is that they can speak in Japanese here. It’s great to see the children grow and develop in the group, and the mums meet up and become good friends.
“We are now hoping to set up a new Japanese group for people of any age in this area, ones who do not have children or whose children are older.”
Š The Japanese Mother and Toddler Group meet between 1 and 3pm every Tuesday at St Mary’s Without-the-Walls Church Hall, Overleigh Road, Handbridge. Š