John Muir Middle School and Japan’s Rebun High School cemented their ongoing friendship with a Sister School proclamation at Muir’s seventh annual Japan Day celebration on Friday, September 20.
During the Burbank Board of Education meeting on Thursday evening, September 19, officials from the Consulate-General of Japan and Rebun High School joined visiting ninth-graders from Rebun, Muir teachers and administrators and Burbank Unified School District officials to officially announce the two schools Sister School status to the Burbank Board of Education.
Visiting students from Rebun also performed the “Nanchu Sōran Bushi,” a traditional dance performed before fishing in the northern Hokkaido region of Japan where Rebun Island is located for school board members.
At the Friday afternoon Japan Day celebration, which is sponsored every year by the John Muir Booster Association, Muir students watched a short presentation on science teacher Eric Blinder’s visit to Japan this past summer, as he shared what he learned from visiting the country and meeting its people. He noted the similarities and differences between the school system in Japan and the U.S. and talked about his new experiences with food and the ease of public transportation.
“The students at Muir will remember the events of this week for some time – I know I will!” commented Muir teacher Ted DeVirgilis who has coordinated the annual Japan Day program at Muir for the past seven years. “The board meeting was a public proclamation of Muir’s commitment to deepening our international friendship with Rebun High School.”
“The Sister School commitment is basically to host each other’s students, strive to have our respective English and Japanese classes communicate (a la Skype or similar) intermittently, and look to connect via technology when we can,” explained DeVirgilis. “We are sending a group of students, teachers and Dr. Miller to Rebun Island next June and Rebun has agreed to have our students do a homestay there.”
At the Japan Day event, the nine visiting ninth-graders from Rebun High School all introduced themselves to the Muir students and each shared something they really liked as a hobby or about America. Muir students responded loudly to many of the shared interests and hobbies, such as music, basketball, hamburgers and more. The Rebun students again performed the “Nanchu Sōran Bushi.”
Visiting guest artist Sasaki Mitsuru performed traditional folk songs on the shamisen, a Japanese stringed instrument that was prominently featured in the 2016 stop-motion movie Kubo and the Two Strings. Mitsuru plays the tsugaru style shamisen, a fat neck type that is the largest and loudest of the shamisen.
“The dance by the Rebun students and the shamisen performance by guest artist Sasaki Mitsuru were loved by the whole school,” added. DeVirgilis. “Two Muir teacher-musicians, Steven Moos and Glen Jaffe, even joined the shamisen players onstage in an improvisation with mandolin and guitar.”
Every year, students from Rebun Island visit the U.S. and include a stop by Muir Middle School’s Japan Day, during which Muir students explore different aspects of Japanese arts and culture. In previous years, students learned about flower-arranging, origami, yasakoi dance, taiko drumming, paper cutting and tea ceremony, among other arts.
At Friday’s event, after the cultural activities, all Muir students joined the visiting Rebun students and officials, along with school faculty and administration on Mustang Field to witness the unveiling of the Sister School flag, which was designed by Muir teacher Amy Prosser and features the mascot of each school.
Muir Principal Greg Miller and Rebun Principal Hiroyoshi Sakano both said a few words and signed the Sister School proclamation.
Vice-Consul Yuichiro Tanaka, of the Consulate-General of Japan in Los Angeles, also spoke. He mentioned that when he was the age of Muir students, who are in their early teens, his family moved to Australia.
Tanaka said the experience changed his life and opened up many possibilities. He encouraged Muir students to visit other countries and expose themselves to other cultures.
“I love that we now have a Sister School flag that will be raised below the American Flag for future Japan Days,” DeViriglis also said. “The support from the Consulate-General of Japan in Los Angeles was incredible.”
“We were visited by the Deputy Consul, a Vice Consul, and the actual Consul General over the course of three days. On Saturday at a small event at Japan House (Hollywood/Highland), Akira Muto, Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles, congratulated Muir and Rebun High School on our Sister School status.”
“It’s amazing what can happen if your show an appreciation for another culture,” DeVirgilis added. “Muir was already ‘famous for friendliness’ but now Muir and Burbank are known in Japan and the Japanese-American community as a place where Japanese culture is appreciated.”
Forty-seven Muir students, along with school officials and chaperones, are planning a trip to Japan in 2020.
“For Muir’s trip to Japan next May and June, the Governor of Hokkaido Prefecture will be meeting us to honor our continued exchange with Rebun, and the U.S. Consulate in Sapporo will be hosting a barbecue for us,” DeVirgilis said.
“All of this is because Japan Day – and our friendship with Rebun – has grown over the past seven years.”