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Children from Yokota West Elementary School learn about making yakisoba during the Nihon Matsuri Festival.
Children from Yokota West Elementary School learn about making yakisoba during the Nihon Matsuri Festival. (Jim Schulz / S&S)
Children from Yokota West Elementary School learn about making yakisoba during the Nihon Matsuri Festival.
Children from Yokota West Elementary School learn about making yakisoba during the Nihon Matsuri Festival. (Jim Schulz / S&S)
Kimberly Fisher, left, and Gabriella Coulter use kendo swords to take a swing at a volunteer during Tuesday’s annual Nihon Matsuri at Yokota West Elementary School.
Kimberly Fisher, left, and Gabriella Coulter use kendo swords to take a swing at a volunteer during Tuesday’s annual Nihon Matsuri at Yokota West Elementary School. (Jim Schulz / S&S)
Volunteers demonstrate sumo wrestling to a kindergarten class.
Volunteers demonstrate sumo wrestling to a kindergarten class. (Jim Schulz / S&S)
Amoni Loiseau enjoys playing on the taiko drums after watching a demonstration.
Amoni Loiseau enjoys playing on the taiko drums after watching a demonstration. (Jim Schulz / S&S)
Saeko Nagaoka shows Monika Johnson and Hime Pitts how to add a little extra touch to thier kamisuki.
Saeko Nagaoka shows Monika Johnson and Hime Pitts how to add a little extra touch to thier kamisuki. (Jim Schulz / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — About 300 Japanese residents celebrated the first day of their Golden Week holiday Tuesday at Yokota West Elementary School’s annual Nihon Matsuri, or Japanese Festival.

The event gave a glimpse of 32 cultural facets of Japan to pupils, teachers and parents at this base west of Tokyo.

Kendo experts let first-graders rap them over the head with bamboo swords. Taiko drummers shared their drums. A moichi maker stood over a vat of steaming sticky rice all day. And scantily-clad sumo wrestlers ate hot dogs in the library.

From the green tea ceremony to a sushi-making demonstration, it was a day of learning away from the classroom for children and a taste of Americana for the Japanese.

“They get a touch of Japanese culture in one day, that those who are on tour here for three years never get,” said teacher Uvella Knight. “For the presenters, they get to see a little bit of America.”

The festival started small 21 years ago when the then host-nation teacher invited members of her hometown of Hino to the school, said Carol Fullerton, the school nurse and Nihon Matsuri co-chairwoman.

“The town of Hino adopted us,” Fullerton said. “They said, ‘Oh, we’ve got to bring culture to this school.’ ”

The festival is always held during Golden Week — a time when three national holidays give Japanese workers up to 10 vacation days; Tuesday was Greenery Day.

Regulars still come to Nihon Matsuri, but the festival grows each year.

The memory of sweet American desserts enticed one Japanese presenter to come again.

“I can already taste those American cakes,” said one woman, when host-nation teacher Keiko Majima asked her to return to this year’s event.

Parents spread out a huge lunch of home-cooked meals and desserts, from macaroni and cheese to brownies.

Food — Japanese-style — was also a festival highlight for some YWES youngsters.

“I like all the eating stations,” said fifth-grader Karen Orloski, her mouth full of moichi dipped in sugar and powdered soybean.

For Karen, who has attended YWES since first grade, Nihon Matsuri is her favorite school day.

“You don’t have to do math, and you get to learn about Japanese culture,” she said.

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