Yokota West gets a taste of Japanese culture
May 8, 2008
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Reading, writing and arithmetic were replaced by karate, kimonos and calligraphy Tuesday as students at Yokota West Elementary School celebrated Japanese culture at the 26th Annual Nihon Matsuri festival.
The event brought more than 350 volunteers from as far away as Osaka for the daylong culture lesson. Virtually every classroom in the school was full as 35 different activities were on display.
Keiko Majima, the host nation culture teacher at Yokota West, has been helping plan the Nihon Matsuri for 15 years. This will be her last year organizing the festival, she said. She will be retiring at the end of the school year.
“It’s a very concentrated day,” she said, adding that the event wouldn’t be possible without volunteers. “We ask people to bring their activities with them to Yokota to share with our students.”
The students traveled from classroom to classroom, learning to roll sushi, fold origami and even sumo wrestle.
While practicing drawing Japanese characters using calligraphy, second-grader Rita Nelson said that she learned a lot during the festival.
“Calligraphy is a lot of fun,” she said, but her favorite part of the day was learning to wield the bamboo swords used in the Japanese style of fencing known as kendo.
Outside, students snacked on yakisoba and udon noodles and pounded rice into mochi while others watched performances by the Waidaiko drummers and the Hamura Taiko drummers.
“I’ve seen a lot today; it’s been really cool,” said Weston Baker, a fourth-grader who said his favorite activity was the taiko drums.
Classmate Jacob Sutton also said he liked the drums, but his favorite activity was getting to act in a nininbaori, a Japanese comedic play.
Jacob said that even though he’s gotten the chance to travel around Japan, he’s glad the school has the festival because it’s important to learn about Japanese culture.
“It’s an unbelievable amount of culture brought here in just one day,” said Lee Kirsch, principal of Yokota West. He said that unfortunately many of the children on base don’t get too many opportunities to travel outside the base to experience life in Japan. “With this festival, we’re able to bring the culture to them,” he said.