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Guests share Japanese customs at International School of Beaverton


Delegation teaches finer points of traditional clothing, tea ceremonies

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Beaverton Internation School student Isaac Vergun is helped with putting on a kimono by Shoko Nagasaki, left, and Izumi Nakada during a workshop this week.Within minutes after learning first-hand how to properly wear a Japanese yukata, Anna Bakun, a sixth-grader at the International School of Beaverton, had figured out where to apply her new knowledge.

“If I ever get to Japan again, which I probably will,” she said, “I’ll get to wear a yukata without someone helping me.”

Freshman Elise McMahon was taken by the grace with which the students visiting the school from Japan folded and wore their yukatas. The word is an abbreviation for yukatabira, a colorful, unlined hemp kimono garment first worn by nobles when bathing and now embraced by fashionable Japanese youths.

“It was great to see them wearing bows,” Elise said, commenting on the styles commonly worn to Japanese weddings. “The sleeves are really long. I think they’re very beautiful.”

Her sister, seventh-grader Meredith, agreed.

“I think it’s interesting there are so many ways of tying them,” she said of the obi, or sash. “It’s really cool to learn about them, because I didn’t really know.”

The yukata demonstration, along with a presentation of a traditional tea ceremony, was part of a day-long exploration of Japanese culture on Monday at the International School featuring a visiting delegation of students and instructors from Japanese universities. by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Ako Sahiara led the students at the International School of Beaverton through a tea ceremony during a workshop this week.

Hiroshi Furusawa, consul general of Japan at the Consular Office in Portland, dropped by Monday morning to observe the language- and culture-oriented workshops.

Former Raleigh Hills resident Ako Sahara, a freelance teacher who now resides in Tokyo, returned to Oregon last week to help coordinate cultural workshops at schools in Portland, Sheridan and Beaverton, including the Beaverton School District’s International option school as well as Valley Catholic High School. She worked with Yayoi Satsumoto, a teacher at Yokohama National University, who planned the visits with financial support through the Japan Foundation.

Sahara and the other teachers and students led similar workshops during each school visit, discussing the history of the yukatas and the different styles worn by women and men based on the season and occasion. Local students are taught how to tie the obi, and each of them gets to wear a yukata and be photographed. A tea ceremony demonstration follows, with two students volunteering to be guests for an abbreviated version of what is normally a lengthy, contemplative session.

“Usually the ceremony takes four hours,” Sahara observed. “You have a bowl of water, and you take time to appreciate the scrolls on the wall. A traditional tea ceremony is in a very small tea room with three or four people.”

International School Principal Jill O’Neill said Monday’s event was one of four intercultural sessions the school aims to host each school year.

“This opportunity presented itself, and we thought it fit with the mission of our school. I think it’s just a great example of helping students develop an international perspective by understanding another culture,” she said.

Appreciating the authenticity of the demonstrations, O’Neill picked up on how the visitors connected with the local students.

“It provides adolescents a chance to do it in a hands-on way,” she said. “The tea ceremony and traditional clothing both reflect the respect that’s so integral to the Japanese culture.”

Samantha Wong, 17, a senior at the International School, enjoyed the connection she and her fellow students made with the visiting delegation.

“We can learn more about the culture when we actually interact with the people of Japan,” said Wong, a Bethany resident whose family hails from Japan. “It actually strengthens our bonds, and we’re able to learn more when we can ask questions, and there’s someone there to answer our questions.”

When asked if she and other Beaverton-based students might make their own cultural exchange visit to Japan, Wong breaks into a smile.

“I’m not sure what we would talk about. Maybe hamburgers?” she said. “Our history is longer than America’s.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Hiroko Kawabata helps Ella Alves de Lima with her kimono, while fellow International School of Beaverton students Meredith McMahon, center, and Anna Bakun figure out how to put their's on.