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The Misawa International Center holds culture classes such as origami and ikebane for foreigners and Japanese living in Misawa. The $31.5 million center opened in April but local officials celebrated its grand opening Wednesday.

The Misawa International Center holds culture classes such as origami and ikebane for foreigners and Japanese living in Misawa. The $31.5 million center opened in April but local officials celebrated its grand opening Wednesday. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

The Misawa International Center holds culture classes such as origami and ikebane for foreigners and Japanese living in Misawa. The $31.5 million center opened in April but local officials celebrated its grand opening Wednesday.

The Misawa International Center holds culture classes such as origami and ikebane for foreigners and Japanese living in Misawa. The $31.5 million center opened in April but local officials celebrated its grand opening Wednesday. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Shakia Spears, left, and Senior Airman Abigail Cortes sing at the grand opening of the Misawa International Center on Wednesay. The Misawa base residents make up half of the Misawa Quartet, which performs at local function.

Shakia Spears, left, and Senior Airman Abigail Cortes sing at the grand opening of the Misawa International Center on Wednesay. The Misawa base residents make up half of the Misawa Quartet, which performs at local function. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

The Misawa International Center holds culture classes such as origami and ikebane for foreigners and Japanese living in Misawa. The $31.5 million center opened in April but local officials celebrated its grand opening Wednesday.

The Misawa International Center holds culture classes such as origami and ikebane for foreigners and Japanese living in Misawa. The $31.5 million center opened in April but local officials celebrated its grand opening Wednesday. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Pottery-making. Gyoza cooking. Flower-arranging.

Take your pick: Most of the classes are free and chances are you’ll meet Japanese — or perhaps French or Chinese — students or teachers and make lasting friendships. Or so officials hope.

Bridging cultural gaps is what the Misawa International Center is all about.

The $31.5 million facility on the outskirts of Misawa City opened in May but the community marked its grand opening Wednesday with a big celebration.

Senior leaders from Misawa Air Base, Misawa Naval Air Facility and Japan Air Self-Defense Forces joined city and prefectural officials and an American delegation from Washington state for an afternoon of congratulatory speeches and lively entertainment.

Misawa Mayor Shigeyoshi Suzuki boasted of the center’s attractions, including a combination movie theater and events hall, conference rooms, tea ceremony and pottery rooms and a state-of-the-art cable television broadcasting studio. He thanked the Defense Facilities Administration Agency for providing a subsidy to pay for about half of the building’s cost.

Misawa city hopes to use the center as a base to train talented people to “contribute to the global society,” Suzuki said.

“Every class is very popular,” the mayor added, noting that through the end of July, the center had 4,000 visitors.

The center offers language classes, including English, French, Chinese and Korean. Americans and other foreigners living in Misawa also may partake in Japanese language and cultural classes, said Koichiro Maita, director of the center.

Anyone who wishes to take a class can apply at the center, he said. “We want to make this ... a hub for international exchange.”

Classes on tap for the fall include pottery and Japanese language. Most classes are free; 10 sessions of pottery-making cost 2,000 yen (about $18) for materials.

Hirotoshi Mikami, vice president of the Misawa International Association, said the city pays teachers a small salary. The classes are in Japanese, but Mikami said the center is looking for Americans to teach classes such as quilt-making and cooking.

For children 5 to 7, a “multi-lingual circle” is scheduled from 3:30 to 5 p.m. every Thursday from Sept. 9 to Oct. 21.

“Your children will have an excellent opportunity to play with Japanese and French children,” says the brochure.

French children?

“In Misawa, we have 30 or more French families,” Mikami explained. French engineers are working on contract for Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., which is building a nuclear reprocessing plant north of Misawa.

Foreigners and Japanese also may belong to the Misawa International Association, which fosters even more exchange programs through the Misawa International Center, Mikami said. The individual membership fee is 3,000 yen (about $27) and 15,000 yen (about $136) for group membership. One of the association’s first programs for members was in July. A group of 53 Chinese women living in Misawa showed 40 Japanese women how to cook Chinese gyoza — meat or vegetables wrapped in a cooked flour shell. Most of the Chinese women are new to Misawa and are working as trainees at the “Cheers” meat factory, according to a Misawa City newsletter describing the class.

“We want to improve relations and [give foreigners a] good memory of Misawa,” Mikami said.

Shakia Spears, a dependent from Misawa Air Base and a member of the choral group Misawa Quartet that sang at Wednesday’s grand-opening ceremony, said she was excited to take classes at the facility.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “It gives you a sense of getting off the base.”

Another quartet member and Misawa spouse, Francesa Reed, said: “A lot of Americans, I don’t think they know about this place.”

Call the center’s international relations division at (0176) 51-1255 or e-mail misawa44@misawa.net.pref.aomori.jp for more information or to sign up for a class.

— Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this story.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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