Golden Week: A week-long Japanese cultural immersion program held at an independent school near Downtown Los Angeles

Pilgrime Kendo

Cultural News Photo

From January 4 through 8, 2010, Pilgrim School, a preschool – 12th grade independent school, hosted a week-long Japanese cultural immersion program dubbed as  “Golden Week” on its campus located near downtown Los Angeles.

Cultural News, 2010 March Issue

By Naomi Otani and Shige Higashi

From January 4 through 8, Pilgrim School, a preschool – 12th grade independent school, hosted a week-long Japanese cultural immersion program dubbed as  “Golden Week” on its campus located near downtown Los Angeles (540 South Commonwealth Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90020).

The curriculum for the week-long program, a rarity in American education, included arts, music, dance, sports, foods and religion, all steeped in Japanese tradition. Three hundred-and-fifty students from kindergarten through high school enrolled in unique courses chosen from a selection of 19 classes.

Pilgrim School was founded in 1958 by the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. Its student population reflects the vast cultural, ethnic and social diversity of the city.  This unique mixture of cultures and nationalities allows each student a first-hand opportunity to learn about people from all parts of the world.  The school is committed to providing an environment where each student can reach his or her full potential academically, socially, physically and spiritually.

Pilgrime Taiko
“Golden Week” Japanese cultural program offered students at Pilgrim School to learn 19 courses of arts, music, dance, sports, food and religion of Japan which included taiko classes. (Courtesy of Pilgrim School)

Dr. Mark Brooks, head of the school, says “Pilgrim students are some of the most diverse in the nation and they are always eager to embrace new experiences.”  Their academic program stresses cooperative learning and hands on instruction.

The faculty encourages both the teacher and the student to mutually interact in a manner that is most conducive to learning. School members, whether it be a student or faculty, are all “active” and “participatory” learners.  Given this cooperative environment, the choice to offer the “Golden Week” courses was a natural for the school.

The objective of this program was to expose the students to the many facets of Japanese culture in a hands-on, interactive fashion.  This program was made possible by the sponsorship of Mr. and Mrs. Noritoshi Kanai, whose grandchild is presently a third grader at Pilgrim.

Mr. Kanai is currently President of Mutual Trading Co., Inc., an importer and distributor of Japanese foods nationally, and the pioneer of sushi in America. He and his daughter Nancy Kanai are supporters of many charity organizations and community groups.

Mr. Kanai felt that in this ever-changing and highly-digital world, he wished to introduce the students to a different type of culture embedded in the rich traditions of his homeland.  His hope was that through such a program, some of the students would be inspired to learn more about Japan and foster further mutual understanding between the two cultures.

Pilgrime Three Persons
Driving forces of “Golden Week” Japanese cultural program were, from left, Mr. Gankyo Nakamura, Dr. Mark Brooks and Mr. Noritoshi Kanai. (Cultural News Photo)

This was the atmosphere in which “Golden Week” was born.  Pilgrim’s Golden Week coordinator, Mr. Gankyo Nakamura, is a professional Kabuki actor and M.A. candidate in Japanese Studies at the University of Southern California. Mr. Nakamura spent over four months recruiting over 25 artists and professionals in the Los Angeles Japanese community to help demonstrate their crafts and artistic talents.

The nineteen classes that were offered were:

1. Nihongo (Japanese Language) by Hiromi Takahashi of Pilgrim School

2. Shodo (Calligraphy) by Mme. Aiko Kichimi

3. Sado (Tea Ceremony) by Mme. Sosei Matsumoto, Chado Urasenke and Matsumoto Kai

4. Ikabana (Flower Arranging) by Sogetsu School, Los Angeles Branch

5. Sumi-e (Black Ink Painting) by Mr. Eugene Bang

6. Poetry by Mrs. Joyce Chinn

7.  Oshie- (3-D pictures with fabric) by Mme. Kyuka Kanesaka of Kanesaka Yukari Kai – Kyugetsu Ningyo Gakuen Los Angeles Chapter

8.  Origami (Paper Folding Sculpture) by Mr. Yami Yamauchi of Have Paper, Will Travel

9.  Anime (Japanese Animation) by Prof. Akira Mizuta Lippit of University of Southern California School of Cinema Arts, and Mr. Eugene Bang

10.  Manga (Cartoon Drawing) by Ms. Katrina Alexy, Ms. Alma Limon, and Ms. Alyse Carter and Mr. Jason Carter of Pilgrim School

11. Minyo (Folk Songs and Dance) by Mme. Matsutoyo Sato and Matsutoyo Minyo Kai

12. Taiko Drums by Mr. Kristofer Bergstrom of On Ensemble Taiko

13. Sushi Preparation by Chef Kentaro Uechi, Chef Brandon Bae, and Chef Erwin Angeles of Sushi Institute of America

14. Judo by Mr. Ryan Grady of Pilgrim School

15. Kendo by Mr. Timothy Yuge of Torrance Kendo Dojo

16. Karate by Mr. Art Ishii of Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu of Little Tokyo

17. Samurai Culture by Mr. Dan Sherer, University of Southern California Ph. D. History Candidate and Mr. Darin Furukawa of Samurai Store, Inc

18. Nihon Buyo (Classical Dance) by Mr. Hirohichiro Bando aka Gankyo Nakamura and Ms. Kyosuzu Bando

19.  Buddhism Chapel on January 11 by Rev. William Briones of Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple

Pilgrime Ikebana
“Golden Week” Japanese cultural program offered students at Pilgrim School to learn 19 courses of arts, music, dance, sports, food and religion of Japan which included ikebana classes. (Courtesy of Pilgrim School)

According to Dr. Brooks, the Golden Week  Program was a tremendous success. Such an agenda provided an opportunity not just for the students, but also for the faculty and staff to learn right alongside of the students.

The Golden Week Program created student interest in Japanese culture beyond its one-week duration.  Dr. Jon Kidder, Pilgrim Director of the High School and Middle School, said, “The students are excited to continue this experience. Membership in the Pilgrim School Judo Club doubled after Golden Week.  In addition, over a dozen students are going on a spring break trip to Japan with Ms. Hiromi Takahashi, a Pilgrim teacher who has been running the school’s Japanese language program for over ten years.”

From the student perspective, Theya Buckley, a Pilgrim School 7th grader, added, “Golden Week has been a very interesting experience for me because I have never really taken classes like Ikebana and Oshie and it is fun to learn how other cultures and other people do things.”

Dr. Brooks said that with the great success of Golden Week, the school is currently planning a similar type of program embracing other cultures in the near future.  Such programs as these would surely help all of us foster a better understanding of people throughout the world; this in itself would definitely make this a better world for all of us to live in.

For more information about Pilgrim School, visit www.pilgrim-school.org or call (213) 385-7351.

Naomi Otani is Japanese language teacher and translator.

Shige Higashi is Publisher and Editor of Cultural News.

Pilgrime Sushi
“Golden Week” Japanese cultural program offered students at Pilgrim School to learn 19 courses of arts, music, dance, sports, food and religion of Japan which included sushi classes. (Courtesy of Pilgrim School)

Pilgrime Karate
Karate class was included in “Golden Week” Japanese cultural program. (Courtesy of Pilgrim School)