Muir Japan Day honored visitors from the tiny island of Rebun, Japan, on Friday, September 23. The international guests – high school students, the mayor and other dignitaries from Rebun, shared origami paper folding, ikebana flower arranging and yasakoi dance with students at John Muir Middle School in Burbank.
“This—our fourth Japan day—was the best yet!” enthused Muir English teacher and coordinator of Muir Japan Day, Ted DeVirgilis.
“The Muir kids had a great time creating origami, and the ikebana class was something special. Thirty Muir students were able to bring home a beautiful flower arrangement to their families, and they learned an art that not many Americans get to experience.”
“We are grateful to both the Muir Parent Boosters and Muir ASB for the funds to bring in the teaching artists.”
Madame Fumi Akutagawa, a Little Tokyo legend and Muir Japan Day regular instructor, led 70 students in an origami workshop in the Muir Library.
Kaz Kitajima showed students how to create ikebana flower arrangements in the Sogetsu style. Kitajima is renowned throughout California for his dynamic arrangements of bamboo, pine and flowers.
During the week leading up to Japan Day, Muir students learned daily Japanese phrases from the morning announcements, in order to greet the visitors in Japanese.
The visiting Rebun high schoolers performed a yasakoi dance to about half the school population.
“The Muir kids and teachers loved the high-energy dance and many stayed to talk to the students afterwards about manga, anime and other shared interests,” added DeVirgilis.
The visit is important for the Rebun kids as well, explained DeVirgilis. The Japanese students practiced speaking English and seeing more of the world.
“Rebun island is so isolated, the two weeks they spend in Los Angeles and around California are transformative,” he said. “The teachers back in Rebun have said previous student travelers on this exchange now have increased confidence in school, and their outlook on life and their future is expanded.”
“It’s the same for Americans who are able to travel too,” he also said.
Although there are no current plans to send Burbank students to Rebun, every year Burbank high school students are selected to travel to one of Burbank’s two sister cities in Asia: Ota, Japan and Incheon, Korea.
Student exchanges to Gaborone, Botswana, are also planned. Visit burbanksistercity.org for more information.
“John Muir is truly a destination for cultural exchange, and I look forward to more exchanges with different cultures in the future, because of the continued success of Japan Day,” said DeVirgilis.