Cultural celebration returns to US air base in Tokyo after long COVID-19 absence
Stars and Stripes May 4, 2023
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Japanese, Asian and Pacific Islander culture were on full display this week during a celebration missing for five years at this U.S. airlift hub in western Tokyo.
More than 500 students at Joan K. Mendel Elementary School on Thursday enjoyed JaPANDAsia, an event that began in 2004 but was last held in 2018 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think that being in Japan, allowing the students to be able to see the culture and see the people, understand the actions behind the culture and why certain people do certain things, helps our students to be global citizens,” principal Jenaya Parris told Stars and Stripes at the event.
On a stage in the school’s information center, students interacted with traditional Japanese dancers and watched at least three groups of Hawaiian hula dancers perform.
“Japan, and Asia, in general, has been a place that I have always wanted to come to,” said assistant principal Holly Vance. “I have never been able to travel here when I was a younger adult, but I was so honored and privileged to be able to come here and serve with Mrs. Parris as leaders of our school.”
Inside classrooms, children were shown a Japanese tea ceremony, how to write in calligraphy, and wear yukatas and kimonos. They also tried out the koto, a Japanese stringed instrument.
In the gymnasium, booms from a taiko team sounded and later a synchronized karate team made up of Japanese adults and children gave demonstrations. Taiko is a traditional Japanese drum, used commonly in ceremonies and celebrations.
“I was not sure what would be shown here, but kimono dressing and especially the hair accessories were most interesting,” Reinosa Yuna, 9, a third-grader who is fluent in Japanese and English, said at the event. She was looking forward to seeing taiko, karate and mochi making.
Mochi is a traditional Japanese cake made of rice pounded into a paste. A mochi-pounding station was set up outside for students to take a swing with a large wooden mallet.
Parris, who is handing over the reins as principal of Mendel soon, believes the effect of this type of event on the students is priceless.
“They are going to grow up and they are going to leave here, and this is an experience that’s going to stay with them forever,” she said. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to lead and learn with this staff and with the community here.”