Muir Middle School Welcomes Japanese Students For Annual Japan Day Festivities

(Photo By Ross A. Benson)
Visiting high school students from Rebun Island, Japan, demonstrated their traditional yosakoi dance for the John Muir Middle School student body at the annual Japan Day festivities held on September 22, 2023. (Photo By Ross A. Benson)

Students and staff at John Muir Middle School welcomed visiting high school students from Japan’s Rebun Island for the school’s annual Japan Day festivities on Friday, September 22. This is the eleventh visit to JMMS by the Japanese students in collaborations with the Rebun Island International Exchange Program directed by Dr. Akiko Agishi of Creative Enterprise International (CEI.)

For the 2023 Japan Day program, visiting Japanese students sat in on some of Muir Middle School’s classes in the morning and then joined members of the Muir Associated Student Body for a tea ceremony in the school library.

After lunch, the Rebun students changed into their traditional dance outfits and performed the yosakoi fishing dance for two student assemblies in the afternoon.

The Japanese students were joined by young drumming prodigy Yoyoka who shared her impressive percussion skills with the Muir students.

“The afternoon assemblies afforded the whole school the opportunity to experience the yosokoi dance provided by Rebun students and to watch a performance by the brilliant Yoyoka,” commented Muir Vice Principal Corey Howard, who coordinated the Japan Day activities. “Students and staff alike were impressed with Yoyoka’s talent and stated that it was the best assembly that Muir has hosted in years.”

Young drumming prodigy Yoyoka performs an impressive set for John Muir Middle School’s 2023. Japan Day festivities. (Photo By Ross A. Benson)

“Mr. Howard did an incredible job on Japan Day. I have heard from several teachers who said this was the best Japan Day assembly we’ve had,” commented Ted DeVirgilis, who recorded a message for the Japan Day closing ceremony, as he is currently in the middle of a sabbatical from teaching at Muir while he teaches in Japan for a year.

“The Rebun students gave a wonderful yosakoi dance performance,” he added. “And Yoyoka’s power and inspiration had Muir’s Burnside Auditorium absolutely rocking, perhaps with echoes of Muir’s famous alumni guitarist Randy Rhoads.”

“Yoyoka is already considered one of the top drummers in the world at the age of 13, drawing praise from Robert Plant, Dave Grohl and numerous online music reactors. I can’t wait to see how her career takes off now that she has moved to the Los Angeles area,” De Virgilis also said.

Visiting high school students from Rebun Island, Japan, demonstrated their traditional yosakoi dance for the John Muir Middle School student body at the annual Japan Day festivities held on September 22, 2023. (Photo By Ross A. Benson)

DeVirgilis shared his message to the visiting Rebun Island students along with a video he made of he and his family’s recent visit to the northernmost island of Japan: “Konnichiwa, John Muir Middle School! This is Mr. DeVirgilis, on sabbatical teaching English in the Japanese countryside. It’s actually Saturday at 6:45 a.m. here on the other side of the globe, so I am speaking to you from the future!”

“I am so happy that today is Japan Day, our eleventh Japan Day at Muir, when we welcome our friends from Rebun High School! (Minasan, kon’nichiwa. Myūa de, soshite hosutofamirī to issho ni tanoshī jikan o sugoshite itadakereba saiwai desu.) [translated: Hello, friends. I hope you have a great time at Muir and with your host families.]

“Muir Family, I am excited that you got to see the amazing drummer Yoyoka. I am a big fan of hers. And some of you also got to take part in a tea ceremony today – or have Rebun students visit your classes. How cool!”

“My daughter Yuzu, my wife, and I got a chance to travel up to Rebun in July to see our Sister School. I made a six-minute film about the amazing people and school on Rebun.”

“We loved it on Rebun Island. I am so thankful to Rebun High School, Mr. Fujisawa at city hall, Mayor Ono, and the whole island for welcoming us.”

“Dr. Miller and I had a student trip to Rebun scheduled for June of 2020, but of course that had to be ‘corona canceled.’ As I hint in the video, I am organizing a 2025 trip to Rebun for students. More info about that when I’m back teaching at Muir after Spring Break.”

“We have had so many amazing experiences this year. I hope you get a chance to travel, whether it’s around the world or around our amazing USA. Or both. It’s always easier, more comfortable to stay home, but meeting people from different cultures is always worth the effort. You learn so much about different beliefs, music, and food. (I love living in the USA, but we are decades behind Japan in bullet train—and toilet—technology!) Maybe, most important, when you meet people from around the world, you learn that humans are similar no matter where you go: We all want peace for our loved ones and the freedom to pursue happiness.”

“You have your whole life to travel though. I didn’t leave the country until I was in college doing a semester abroad. In the meantime, keep studying.”

DeVirgilis answered a few student questions live via chat online before concluding his Japan Day presentation.

(Photo By Ross A. Benson)

The day’s events were funded by parents of the John Muir Fundraising Committee.

“I am honored to work at a school that has such a vibrant history of going beyond the classroom to provide enriching cultural experiences for our students and staff,” Howard added. “I am thankful for the Japanese Business Association and Rebun Schools for the wonderful day and all the opportunities that have been afforded to our students due to the hard work of the partnership.”

Last year, DeVirgilis and Muir Principal Greg Miller joined the visiting Japanese delegation at the Grand Canyon to celebrated the Rebun Island International Exchange Program’s 10th anniversary.

During the 2022 Muir Japan Day program, Burbank students enjoyed a kimono show and live performance from a Japanese-American musician, drummer and performer, Ken Koshio.

Muir Middle School and Rebun High School have been Sister Schools since 2019 and have shared a rich cultural exchange for more than a decade.

(Photo By Ross A. Benson)