Children from Shiritsu Kahoku Kindergarten in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, pose with a koinobori flag inscribed with inspirational messages from Washington State University students.

PULLMAN, Wash. — Two Japanese koinobori (carp) flags, displaying signatures and inspirational messages from Washington State University students, helped children in a devastated region of northern Japan celebrate Children’s Day on May 5.

Children’s Day, known in Japan as Kodomo no Hi, is a national holiday that celebrates the happiness of children and expresses gratitude toward mothers.

The flags were sent by WSU’s Office of Student Affairs and Enrollment to Mieko Nakabayashi, a ’92 WSU alumna and member of Japan’s House of Representatives. She responded with thanks for the koinobori that “carry so much spirit of WSU students.”

Washington State University American Nihonjin Organization President Matt Kawamura (in white sweatshirt) and other students hold one of the koinobori sent to Japan.

Nakabayashi consulted with fellow lawmaker Tomiko Okazaki, senior director of the Special Committee on Reconstruction for the Great East Japan Earthquake. She arranged to have the flags delivered to children in Ishinomaki City in Miyagi Prefecture, one of the regions hardest hit by the earthquake.

According to the Japanese National Police Agency, the 2011 earthquake and resulting tsunami killed 15,854 people. More than 3,000 remain missing.

Receiving the WSU koinobori were children in the Ishinomaki-Shiritsu Iinokawa Hoikusho (daycare center) and the Ishinomaki-Shiritsu Kahoku Yochien (kindergarten).

The idea to send the koinobori was a collaborative effort between WSU donor Patti Hirahara in Anaheim and Nakabayashi, whose own koinobori project in Japan inspired the WSU project. They thought it would be a great way for members of WSU’s Japan Club and American Nihonjin Organization to connect with Japanese children who have been affected by the earthquake.

Matt Kawamura, president of WSU’s American Nihonjin Organization, said he hopes to form a connection between Japanese children and WSU that will last for years to come.

“It is a rare opportunity to be able to send a piece of yourself and your school across the world in the way we were able to with the carp,” he said. “We wanted to send a message to the children that they are not alone and there are groups outside of Japan that are thinking of them and wishing them well.”

Last year Hirahara donated to WSU her family’s collection of more than 2,000 images taken by her grandfather and father (a WSU alumnus) at the Heart Mountain internment camp during World War II. The donation contains the largest known collection of photos taken at the Wyoming camp, which housed more than 10,000 people of Japanese ancestry.

Whenever she visits the Pullman campus, Hirahara has enjoyed meeting with students in the Japan Club and American Nihonjin Organization. During her most recent visit in March, she spoke to more than 600 students in WSU history classes about the collection.

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