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Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, December 13, 1999

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Eri Ando of the "Japan in a Suitcase" program drew ooooohs from
Aina Haina Elementary School students when she said that cubbyholes
were used to hold students shoes in Japan.

Good baggage

Aina Haina students get a
trunkload of culture, courtesy of
'Japan in a Suitcase'

By Stephanie Kendrick
Assistant Features Editor


THE discovery of a calendar on the inside flap of a Japanese elementary school student's book bag yielded a lesson in cultural differences.

Children attend school Monday through Saturday in Japan, explained Eri Ando, an intern with the Japan-America Society of Hawaii.

"Would you like to come to school on Saturday?" asked Ando.

"Noooooooo!" pleaded the third-grade Japanese language class at Aina Haina Elementary.

Ando and volunteers with the Japan-America Society are taking the "Japan in a Suitcase" program to Hawaii elementary schools through August.


Bullet What: A program designed to teach Hawaii elementary school students about their peers in Japan. Sponsored by the Japan-America Society of Hawaii
Bullet Where & when: Pearl City Highlands Elementary, today; Waianae Elementary, Thursday; St. Theresa Elementary Jan. 5, 7, 12 and 14; Hawaiian Mission & Intermediate, Jan. 10; Mililani Uka Elementary, Jan. 13, 21 and 24; Honolulu Waldorf School, Jan. 18; Jefferson Elementary, Jan. 20; Mililani Mauka Elementary, Jan. 25; and Ewa Beach Elementary, Jan. 28
Bullet Call: 524-4450

The program has been in development for three years and debuted in Hawaii schools this spring, according to Earl Okawa, executive director of the Japan-America Society of Hawaii.

The society, which already offered two programs designed for high school students, wanted to create something that would engage the interest of younger keiki. It was the arrival of its first intern from Japan three years ago that got the ball rolling.

"We really needed to have a native person leading it. It gives so much more authenticity," said Okawa.

The first intern helped develop the curriculum, the second took it out to the schools for the first time and Ando, the third, has picked up the pace, having visited 29 schools in a month and a half.

Ando and the volunteers travel to schools with a pair of suitcases, each packed with the belongings of a Japanese elementary school child. The suitcase is unpacked with the help of Hawaii elementary school children and the items are used to discuss cultural similarities and differences.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Ando pulls props from her suitcase to share with her young audience.

Similarities noted about the book bag included the fact that it was a back pack and contained a pencil box. Differences included standardization, all bags are the same design with red for the girls and black for the boys. And the class was impressed that the bag was covered by a bright yellow flap designed to make the wearer more visible to cars.

Also in the suitcase were an apron and kerchief for serving lunch. Attempts to identify the apron included: painting smock, pajamas and rain coat. Ando explained students in Japan take turns serving lunch and even the boys must wear the aprons and kerchiefs. The Aina Haina youngsters also learned Japanese students eat in their classrooms and they must finish all the food they are given. Groans and giggles ensued.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Students practice a courteous bow at the end of the presentation.

The unpacking of the suitcase was followed by a short slide show on elementary school life in Japan. Here, the local keiki learned students in Japan clean their own schools, from the classroom to the bathrooms. None of them thought this was a good idea.

But the point of the "Japan in a Suitcase" program is not to convince Hawaii keiki that the Japan way is better; it's to open their minds to the idea cultural similarities and differences.

"We think it's really important to develop openmindedness at a young age," said Okawa.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Alyson Kintscher, 8, at left, and Chero Morton, 8, hold up a
caligraphy set for their classmates at Aina Haina Elemenatry
for Eri Ando's presentation of "Japan in a Suitcase."

For example, when Hawaii students are told Japanese books are read from right to left, their reaction is usually "That's backwards," or "That's the wrong way," said Aina Haina Japanese teacher Junko Agena. "I tell them their way of reading is 'backwards' to a Japanese. They have to realize it's not right or wrong," said Agena, who was born and raised in Japan.

Agena said community support through activities like this are key to teaching language and culture to youngsters. "A program like this is very good. It's very difficult to collect all these items," she said.

Society volunteer Denise Sugi- yama added "They get to kind of step into the shoes of the Japanese child" through handling and trying on items from the suitcase.

The tactile nature of the presentation appeals to Ando as well.

"This is a fun-filled way they can learn by doing something," she said.

The program lasts 45-60 minutes and is available free to third- to sixth-grade classes. The society requests that each presentation be limited to fewer than 30 children.

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