Each camper is unique. Each child comes to summer camp with their own set of experiences, their own family situations, their own expectations, their own likes and dislikes, hopes and fears.
It would be dishonest of me not to acknowledge that you start to notice… patterns. There are ‘types’ of campers, and you could meet them several times during your summer. This is my attempt at a classification of camp archetypes (with apologies to Carl Jung).
The Card Shark (with Shark Cards)
This kid has been dealing cards since they learnt to walk, and knows all the games, from trump to babanuki and everything in between. They know the rule-book back-to-front, and enforce it without distinction or mercy. And no ordinary pack of cards will do either: the Card Shark has a deck of cards which are dazzling gold/ were bought on holiday in Okinawa/ are also a mosaic jigsaw/ were personally woven from the Shroud of Turin by Leonardo da Vinci. Sometimes they have actual sharks on them, to drive home the point. Just don’t confiscate the cards, or you might incur a feeding frenzy.
Just like snakes shed their skin, naturally and without sorrow, this camper leaves behind their personal possessions on an hourly basis. It doesn’t seem to be a conscious process- all these worldly items are a burden, and so they have to go. One morning, you pick up the kid’s passport and place it around their neck, and you could swear you watch it dissolve in front of you. It reappears an hour later, on top of a mountain in Finland. The camper never seems to be aware of their own latent psychic powers, and certainly doesn’t mourn for their lost possessions. After all, you keep finding their water bottle/camp passport/glasses and bringing them back, don’t you?
When you ask everybody to pack their backpacks, your child deputy is by your side, repeating instructions in English and Japanese for anyone who didn’t quite follow. ‘Attention campers! Our Dear Leader says plz stack your plates and wear a hat today! 帽子を被って下さい!’ They’re the model camper, never late and always enthusiastic about a given activity. It’s only at night when you wake in a cold sweat and wonder if they’re trying to usurp your position. I mean, they’re nine years old, which in theory would make it difficult, but are you really that much more responsible than a nine year old? In the morning, you’re pretty sure it’s all fine, but you watch ’em carefully, just in case.
This camper just half-learnt the rules to this game two minutes ago, and their attention may have drifted at times, but now it is. Life. And. Death. They love the game and throw themselves into it with dazzling energy, but the next fifteen minutes will be an emotional roller-coaster...They will appeal any decision with maximum ferocity, a Premiership footballer in training. If they lose, a full inquest begins into whose fault it was. They’re impartial in assigning blame, mind- it could be somebody on their team, on the other team, or the referee of course. Once the heat of the moment is gone, everyone’s friends again, which is one reason elementary school kids are better company than Premiership footballers.
The Man on a Mission
This kid has a profound mission at any particular moment in time- whether it’s finishing a drawing, finding their goggles or catching Japan’s biggest grasshopper- and nothing will distract them from the task at hand. Even if you manage to divert their attention with promises of dinner or football, without constant supervision they will gravitate back towards their raison d’etre without fail. The mission can seem perplexing to those on the outside: why exactly do you need to find your goggles twenty minutes before bedtime? Are you gonna sleep in them? But to the camper, you’re a bureaucrat who just can’t see the bigger picture. Now go away, and let them finish carving a hole in the tree trunk with a snorkel.
Did you know that replacing the word ‘pizza’ with ‘Lewis’ in a song is really, really, really funny? Not only is it objectively hilarious, but it’s one of those jokes that gets better with age, like a fine wine, until the 57th time when the Giggler can barely breathe for laughing. This kid seems like good fun to have on your team, but beware: they are nothing if not evangelical, and they will recruit others to their cause. Before long you will have a bunch of second-graders laughing so hysterically that they can’t even catch a breath to explain the source of the joke.
The Crash Test Scientist
They’re not angry with you, just curious. It’s a matter of intellectual inquiry for this child to see how many times they can flick your knuckles before you get angry, or what will happen if they jump on you while you’re tying your shoes. If you’re not available as a subject, they will be trying to explore other avenues of inquiry, like ‘what’s the biggest stone I can throw?’ or ‘how many people can jump on this platform at the same time?’ Unfortunately, you have to intervene. Nobody likes to stifle the curiosity of kids, but this child really needs better risk assessment in their investigations.
The Helium Child
While the Man on a Mission gravitates back to a specific location, the Helium Child just floats away into the grass, blissfully unaware of the world around them. You tried to keep them close with head counts and group games, but your bag of tricks can’t hold down this free spirit. You’ve thought about buying a rope, but you’re pretty sure there are some serious ethical complications with tethering children. Just when you’re at a loss, you find that one magic activity that keeps this camper rooted to the spot, whether it’s rope-walking or painting rocks. For a moment, gravity has won.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
The whole time I’ve been in Japan, true to form, I’ve been a city boy. In my breaks away from Hiroshima, I’ve traveled to Kyoto, Osaka, Fukuoka, Tokyo, and many smaller towns, but I’ve never strayed too far from a 7-11, so to speak. So staying in the mountains in Niigata has felt, at times, like discovering Japan for a second time. This time, I’ve had little connection with Japanese culture and society, but I’ve been immersed in the country’s amazing landscapes and wildlife, from frogs and giant grasshoppers to sheer mountain valleys.
In the last couple of weeks, I saw these amazing yamayuri or mountain lilies by the side of a path. I’ve walked between vivid green ricefields and through the middle of a mountain stream. I climbed Mount Takao outside Tokyo, which is on the city’s fringes but has a centuries-old protected forest. After I finish working at summer camp, I’m planning to explore more of Japan’s true wilderness, in particular Aso National Park near Kumamoto.
Here’s to the wild places. Once again, thanks to the English Adventure team for letting me use their fantastic photographs, and… catch you next time.