By SHOKO ARAKI
What’s so special about 14 students and four chaperones visiting a local Japanese language school? Nothing, unless the visitors are from three small villages in Alaska.
On April 27, students from Cruikshank School in Beaver, Tsuk Taih School in Chalkyitsik, and Old Steven’s Village School in Steven’s Village visited Orange Coast Gakuen Japanese Language School (OCG) in Huntington Beach. Chaperones accompanying them included a principal and teacher.
Beaver was founded in 1910 by Japanese immigrant explorer Frank Yasuda. His wife, Nevelo, discovered Chandalar gold. Later, the couple became successful traders. Mr. Yasuda became a legendary figure in the north, known as the “Japanese Moses” for bringing families across from Brooks Range to Beaver, according to the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Foundation website. As part of the education about their Japanese heritage, students learn Japanese language in school and have traveled to Japan twice.
This year, their cultural exchange trip brought them to California, and their itinerary included major attractions like San Diego Zoo, Sea World, Disneyland, Universal Studios, Griffith Park Observatory, Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, and UC Irvine. For some of these students, this was their first trip outside of Alaska.
Tsuk Taih School fifth-grader Alisha enjoyed Disneyland the most. Universal Studios and Sea World were also among the students’ favorite attractions.
This visit opened up an opportunity for all students to learn about lifestyles and cultural differences between Native Americans and Japanese. Visitors observed classes at OCG; some students even had the opportunity to participate.
OCG student Ryan Kaneko played several pieces on his koto, including “Sakura Sakura” and “Ue o Muite Arukou” (retitled “Sukiyaki” in the U.S.). OCG elementary school students sang the theme song from Hayao Miyazaki’s “Our Neighbor, Totoro,” followed by the junior and senior high school students singing “Furusato” (which means “hometown”). Then the students from Alaska and OCG participated in learning a few Obon festival dances from dance instructor Donna Minamide.
Next, instructor Paul Williams led self-introductions by students in the Gwich’in language, which is spoken in the interior region of Alaska. Wearing beautiful traditional attire, the students presented Native American songs and dances, then taught OCG students how to do a Native American dance.
Cruikshank School Principal Charleen Fisher shared a slide show presentation of their village, the school, and interesting information about what life is like in the village. OCG students were eager to learn more about their new friends and asked many questions during the Q&A session. When asked if students played sports, Fisher answered that students do not play sports because there are not enough students to make a team.
Life in Alaska is very different compared to life in California: there is only one car in the whole village; boats and plane are the only way to travel; and family activities include hunting, trapping, and fishing.
After the presentations, everyone enjoyed a lunch that included Japanese curry rice, mugicha (Japanese ice tea made from barley), and chocolate cake. During lunch, students shared stories and learned more about life in Alaska.
Then the group headed out to Huntington Beach for a special lifeguard station tour, which included an informational session about the lifeguard’s duties, followed by a visit to the lifeguard station tower at the pier. Students saw lifeguard cadets jumping off of the pier as part of their training, and an actual rescue. The guests were especially excited to visit the beach for the very first time on this trip.
The cultural exchange experience was interesting and educational, helping students from both cultures understand how other people live and opening their eyes to the world outside their own familiar habitat.
OCG Japanese Language School is a private school teaching students of all ages Japanese language and Japanese culture. The unique curriculum is especially designed by CSU Long Beach professors who are widely known in the field of teaching language and currently serve as curriculum advisors. The school’s methods have recently become recognized as innovative and it has received many inquiries nationally and internationally. Earlier this month, OCG’s methods were presented at a conference at UCLA.
For more info, visit www.orangecoastgakuen.org, Facebook, or Twitter (@OCGakuen).