Tag Archives: rebun

Muir Middle School Hosts Sixth Annual Japan Day

Nine high school students from the tiny island of Rebun, Japan, visited John Muir Middle School on Friday, September 21, for the sixth annual Japan Day cultural appreciation activities.

Principal Dr. Greg Miller welcomed the visiting students and their two teacher chaperones and addressed the Muir student body. He showed photos from his recent summer scholarship trip to Japan and Rebun Island and talked about learning from different cultures through travel and international exchange.

Gankyo Nakamura, the first American to be accepted to Japan’s top kabuki school, gave a presentation on kabuki theater in the auditorium and answered students’ questions after his performance.

L/R Muir’s Asst Principal Catherine Celeya, Rebun International Exchange Program Dir. Dr. Akiko Agishi, Rebun Town Education Superintendent Mr. Kono and Ted DeVirgilis (Japan Day Chair and English Teacher.) (Photo by Ross A Benson)

The day ended with a collaborative taiko drum performance by the nine students from Rebun High School and a Little Tokyo taiko group, Chikara Daiko, on Muir’s Mustang Field. The musicians exchanged videos over the summer, each group learning one of the other’s songs, in order to perform at Japan Day, explained English teacher and Japan Day Chair, Ted De Virgilis.

“To have their first performance come off without a missed beat was staggering,” commented De Virgilis. “You can’t help but feel moved—literally—by over a dozen drums pounding in sync to a packed house on Mustang Field.”

Muir students sit on Mustang field enjoying a collaborative taiko drum performance by the students from Rebun High School and Little Tokyo group Chikara Daiko. ( Photo by Ross A. Benson)

“Muir does a great job of teaching kids about cultures around the world,” added De Virgilis. “Rebun High School and Muir have agreed to become ‘sister schools,’ which unlike Sister Cities, is an unofficial term, and we are figuring out what that could lead to in the future.”

“In the short term, we are hoping to have Muir students take part in a live stream with the English class at Rebun High School—as soon as December.”

“Because the interest in Japanese culture has grown so much over the past six years, the BUSD board approved the creation of a Japanese culture class as part of the 10-week sixth grade wheel program (along with Cooking, Art and Spanish classes),” said De Virgilis.

japan day

The combined drum players from Rebun High School and Little Toyko taiko group Chikara Daiko are joined by members of the Muir Japan Go! class. ( Photo by Ross A Benson)

“This summer I developed the [Japan Go!] class based on my experiences studying Japanese language, visiting Japan and learning from the many Japanese-American teaching artists who have taught Muir students as part of Japan Day. The first 10-week class is going quite well, and had the bonus of preparations for—and special access within—Japan Day.”

As the northernmost island in Japan, Rebun and its fishing industry have been negatively affected by rising sea temperatures and many people have left the island. Every year, some students from Rebun High School, with a total enrollment of 24, travel to the U.S for a two-week visit. The island of Rebun is a national park, so Rebun students visit different U.S. National Parks each year, in addition to other cities and points of interest.

Drummers from Japan’s Rebun High School and Little Tokyo Chikara Daiko perform. ( Photo by Ross A. Benson)

The cultural exchange program was created to encourage families to stay on the island, by providing students with the chance to travel and learn abroad and return with their new knowledge and experiences. The Rebun International Exchange Program is supervised by Akiko Agishi, president of Creative Enterprise International Inc & Japanese Language Scholarship Foundation (Aurora Foundation).

Muir families hosted the Rebun students in their homes for five nights during their visit, before the group left to visit the Grand Canyon. Muir’s annual Japan Day is sponsored and funded by the John Muir Booster Association.

In June 2020, a group of 20-30 students from Muir Middle School will visit Japan and Rebun Island for the first time as part of the “sister schools” cultural exchange.


Muir Middle School Breaks Japanese Fan Dance Guinness World Record

Students, staff and teen-aged visitors from Japan broke the Japanese Fan Dance Guinness World Record at John Muir Middle School on Thursday, September 21, as part of the school’s annual Japan Day cultural appreciation celebration.

For the fifth straight year, Muir Middle School hosted students from the tiny Japanese island of Rebun with special classes and activities on Japanese culture and activities. In the past, workshops have included flower arranging, tea ceremony and origami.

Largest Japanese Fan Dance Guinness World Record

Observers on the traditional yagura tower prepare for Muir Middle School’s Largest Japanese Fan Dance record breaking event. (Photo By Ross Benson)

The 2017 Japan Day events included an anime workshop and a calligraphy class. Then, in the afternoon, the entire population of Muir Middle School joined the eleven students and two teachers from Rebun for the Largest Japanese Fan Dance Guinness World Record breaking activity.

“This was a historic day for Burbank and for Rebun Island—and so much fun for those who took part,” said English teacher and Japan Day Chair Ted DeVirgilis. “Great things happen when cultures are willing to learn from each other.”

“I’m so proud of the students and staff of Muir for taking the leap to learn the dance, help coach each other, make 1,500 headbands and dance the Hokkai Bon Uta, a centuries-old song from the Rebun area.”

Largest Japanese Fan Dance Guinness World Record

John Muir Middle School in Burbank broke the Largest Japanese Fan Dance Guinness World Record on September 21, 2017. (Photo By Ross Benson)

The total number of participants in the Japanese Fan Dance was 1392. Once Muir officials send in the evidence – video, photographs and signed forms from 33 stewards and the two witnesses, Burbank Vice Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy and Japanese Dance expert Nakamura Gankyō – the process will take several months for the Guinness World Records administrators to certify the record breaking event.

Students learned the Shin Hokkai Bon Uta dance during the previous week from dance teacher Christine Inouye and Muir Physical Education teachers. The event also included the traditional yagura tower and taiko drums, courtesy of the Little Tokyo Dance Club.

Largest Japanese Fan Dance Guinness World Record

(Photo By Ross Benson)

“Japan Day is a great opportunity for our students to interact with students from Japan and learn about Japanese culture,” commented Principal Greg Miller. “The highlight this year was all of the excitement, preparation and practice to set a new world record in Japanese dance.”

“It’s been awesome to see our students and staff come together over the last few weeks to make this once-in-a-lifetime experience a reality.”

The event was sponsored by the John Muir Booster Association and the ASB – the school’s Associated Student Body group. Actor George Takei donated 500 fans for the event as well.

After the Japanese Fan Dance Guinness record breaking event, some students stayed after school and participated in a Kintsugi class with the Japanese visitors. Kintsugi – the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer, typically made of gold – highlights the finding of beauty in broken things.

The students from Rebun will visit Joshua Tree National Park next. The entire island of Rebun is a national park in Japan, so every year the group visits a different U.S. national park.