A taste of Japan

Princeton Community Japanese Language School celebrated its 25th anniversary with a cultural festival Sunday at Rider University.

By:Cara Latham Special Writer
Children, dressed in martial arts uniforms, flipped and rolled on mats in the center of the room. Wooden swords cut through the air, and several women walked around in colorful flowing kimonos. The aroma of Japanese food was everywhere.
   Japanese culture filled Rider University’s Bart Luedeke Student Center on Sunday as the Princeton Community Japanese Language School’s celebrated its 25th anniversary. The Princeton-based school holds its classes at Rider University.
   The Japanese Festival was the first community event the school has held, said Yuriko Mandeles, the chairwoman of the school’s Parent-Teacher Association.
   "This year, we specifically wanted to introduce (Japanese culture) to the outside people, not only the Japanese parents whose kids go to the Japanese school," said Ms. Mandeles. "So, as many as possible — we want them to join with us and participate in the events."
   The cultural display was an extension of the school’s mission, which focuses on Japanese language instruction. Many of the demonstrations were led by the parents of schoolchildren, and performers from outside groups, Ms. Mandeles said.
   The opening performance was given by Taikoza, a New York City-based Japanese music and dance group led by Marco Lienhard with three other taiko drummers. The drummers pounded away on large, powerful drums, while keeping a steady rhythm and drawing the audience’s attention. The word taiko, which means great drum in Japanese, refers to both the modern art of taiko drumming, which is known as kumi-daiko, and to the taiko drums themselves. In feudal Japan, taiko were often used in warfare to motivate troops and set a marching pace. Taiko’s role in Japanese classical arts dates back 2,000 years.
   Patricia Reckrey, a resident of Wisconsin, was in the Lawrence area for a family function, read about the event in the newspaper, and decided to attend.
   "The taiko drumming was awesome," Ms. Reckrey said. "The reverberations stay with you even after you walk away. I think the best part for me, though, is to see people proud of their heritage and sharing it."
   The group was followed by a tutorial about the fundamentals of aikido, a modern Japanese martial art Marie Mockers-Numata, and her husband, Masashi Numata, both teachers at The Princeton Aikikai Training Center in Princeton, along with some of the PCJLS students, who also attend the training center, demonstrated some moves.
   "Aikido is a martial art that teaches (you) to develop your mind, your heart, your body, your emotions as a whole, as a circle," said Ms. Mockers-Numata, to the audience.
   Students are also taught breathing and spiraling movements to polish their techniques. Studying aikido is a great chance for children to learn respect, courtesy, balance and cooperation, said Ms. Mockers-Numata.
   "It takes several years for the children to be able to show you what they’re doing right now," she said.
   Other performances included a display of kendo, the art of Japanese swordsmanship, and a Japanese percussion duet.
   Tables were also set up participants to try calligraphy writing, making origami or playing "Go Moku Narabe," which is similar to tic-tac-toe.
   Tea ceremonies, kimono exhibitions and flower arrangements, called ikebana, occupied other stations around the room to give the audience a chance to learn more about each cultural tradition. Children listened to Japanese stories, and participants sampled Japanese food.
   The Princeton Community Japanese Language School, a nonprofit organization, was established in April 1980. The school has received support from Princeton University, the Japanese Ministry of Education & Science, and the Japanese Overseas Children Education Foundation.
   The school provides language instruction to children, kindergarten through high school, whose native language is Japanese, as well as language instruction for non-native speaking children in grades 1 through 8, and a separate program for non-native speaking high school students and adults. Classes are held Sundays from 1 to 4:20 p.m. in Rider University’s Memorial Hall.
   The school’s population has grown from 50 students and five faculty members in 1980 to 250 students today, Ms. Mandeles said. She said she hopes the festival will promote more interest in the Japanese.
   "We want to have more students come and learn their language and culture, and that is the ultimate goal," Ms. Mandeles said.
   Ellen Bearn, the director of the Japanese as a second language division, said that the growth of the school is one of the many accomplishments in the past 25 years. The school has also recently just added a course called "The Princeton Course," which is for families who aren’t going back to Japan, so that the children "can keep up their contact and their exposure to Japanese language and culture because it’s part of their identity," said Ms. Bearn.
   The school’s doors are open to anyone with an interest in Japan," she said.
   The schools would like to hold more cultural events to offer people a "different way of looking at the world," Ms. Bearn said.
   "When you try Japanese writing with the Japanese brush, how different is it from writing with a pen?" asked Ms. Bearn. "It’s very different — what it’s like if you had to wear a kimono, how restricting it would be, and how your movements would have to change and how your life patterns would have to change. That’s the sort of experience that I hope people have here."
   For more information about the Princeton Community Japanese Language School, go to the school’s Web site, www.pcjls.org, or contact Ms. Bearn at ebearn@msb.com.