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Asian Performing Arts Forum in Sashiki

By: Kathy Diener

Date Posted: 2001-02-16

The Sashiki Town Department of Education last weekend held an international forum entitled "The Ideal Method of Implementing Performing Arts Education and International Cultural Exchange for Young People" at Sugar Hall. The event was part of a five-year program funded by a grant from the Japanese Ministry of Education aimed at enriching cultural and performing arts education on Okinawa.

About 300 local students participated in workshops in chorale, theater, Thai dance, and Balinese gamelan music and shadow puppetry on Saturday. Sunday's program included discussions on the various traditional arts of Asia and the importance of cross-cultural exchange within the public schools. Instructors and speakers from Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines and Japan were attended. Also among them was renowned Korean director Hak-Won Yoon of Chung-Ang University, who led the chorale workshop and spoke about music education in Korea.

According to Atsuko Ikehara of the Department of Education, the purpose of the forum was to motivate educators to incorporate traditional performing arts of Asia into their curricula.

"Okinawan culture is very unique," Ikehara says, "so people focus on exporting it. There are few opportunities to import other cultures. This International Forum is designed to promote a cultural exchange within Asia."

While the event was open to everyone, the majority of students were involved in similar programs in their own schools. Most of the participants in the gamelan workshop were music students from the Okinawa Prefectural University of the Arts, which provided the instruments for the class. (Gamelan is the traditional Balinese orchestra which includes percussion instruments such as drums, gongs and a type of xylophone called gambang kayu.) The chorale workshop included students from grade school choirs throughout Okinawa.

The forum concluded with a Balinese shadow puppetry performance on Monday evening.

Sashiki Town Mayor Gentoku Tsuha says the forum represents an increased interest in the traditional performing arts as a means to "revive the bond of communication across different generations," which "has been lost to people in modernized society."

Manabu Oshiro, Associate Director of the Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education's Cultural Division, says the Board has been encouraging public schools to expose children to the traditional performing arts since 1999, in the hope that they will be inspired to become professional performers themselves. Oshiro says, "There is a need to found an academy of traditional performing arts so as to train highly qualified professionals."

Joaquin Yabut of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), sees performing arts education not only as a way to preserve tradition, but also as a tool for helping to shape the students' characters.

"The majority of children and young people," he writes, "do not end up artists… This does not sadden us at all. What gives us great joy is meeting a person who may have joined us in a production or workshop and says that our time together made them a better person."

Sugar Hall, named for the sugarcane fields that surround it, was constructed in 1994 as part of the Sashiki Town Cultural Center. It is the only full-sized auditorium in the area and hosts a variety of musical and theatrical events throughout the year. The Cultural Center is the current home of the Sashiki children's choir and orchestra, now in its seventh year. The building also houses the Sashiki Town Department of Education.

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