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Elementary students gain cultural knowledge through festival

Date Posted: 2004-05-20

CAMP MCTUREOUS, Okinawa, Japan — For a child, life in the land of the rising sun may be a difficult transition to make. The absence of the red, white and blue homeland can be hard on some of the military dependent children who are used to the customs and traditions of the U.S. However, as the students of Bechtel Elementary School are finding out, the Okinawan culture is an alluring society full of interesting art and playful creatures.

Bechtel hosted its 11th Annual Ryukyu Festival in the school’s gymnasium April 29.

The festival is a way to introduce the students to the culture and traditions of Okinawa, according to Barbara Lambert, Ryukyu Festival chairperson.

“This school believes in cultural diversity,” Lambert said. “The students, teachers and administrators of this school are all guests in this country and we want to learn all we can about the different traditions, dances and music Okinawa has.”

Bechtel students were treated to taiko drum performances from the Mihoso and Kadena Kokusai Matsuri Taiko Drummers, a lion dance from the Tengan Himawari Kodomokai dancers, and a sumo wrestling demonstration from Chubu Norin High School.

“It was very interesting,” said Chelsea Peeples, a sixth-grade student at Bechtel. “I’ve never seen anything like this before. I really liked the Shishi Dog dancers.”

For the past eleven years, Bechtel has been bringing together American and Okinawan communities through the actions of the Ryukyu Festival. Lambert said it is important to bring Okinawans and American military dependents together.

“Most of these students do not get a chance to experience all this stuff in one place like this,” Lambert explained. “By exposing the children to the Okinawan culture through performances like this, they are becoming more interested and eager to get out and learn more about where they are living.”

The smiles grew on the faces of the students with every bang of the taiko drum, snap of the lion dancers jaw or slam of a sumo wrestler on a mat.

Peeples said he enjoyed the show so much that he would like to do more than just watch the performers.

“I thought it was going to be adults doing the dances but I was surprised to see other kids doing it as well,” Peeples added. “I’d be interested in trying that sometime.”

The entertainers put on five separate performers for the students, but the staff and faculty at Bechtel played a big part in the success of the event Lambert said.

“These teachers really work hard every year for the festival,” Lambert said. “Some of them vacate their classrooms to give room for the performers. I think this really shows their dedication towards the students here.”

The Ryukyu Festival has been a part of Bechtel’s curriculum since 1990. Since its beginning, the students have and will continue to learn more about the Okinawan culture, according to Lambert.

“The kids are gaining a lot by being here,” Lambert concluded. “Their knowledge of Okinawan culture has become a real eye-opener for them. Their participation in the school’s Okinawan cultural programs increases more and more over the years.”

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