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Festival reflects Japanese diversity

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Event celebrates 25 years of school

By Marty Finley

Those who descended on Elizabethtown Community and Technical College on Saturday were treated to a taste of Japanese life.

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The Elizabethtown Japanese School celebrated its 25th anniversary by staging the Cool Japan Festival, an open house bridging American culture with Japanese customs.

Visitors could sample multiple segments of Japanese culture, from fashion and music to pop culture and food. One booth was set up to practice origami while children pounced on the chance to write their names in Kanji, written characters that are part of the Japanese language.

Some dressed in colorful costumes or kimonos, which photographers encouraged as they snapped family portraits.

During skits and musical performances, a hush would replace the din of excitement as an audience would form and encircle performers.

Alex Stanley drove from Lexington to bring his son to the festival. Stanley is half Japanese and took lessons from the school when he was a child. He said he likes to come back to the community for small events and wants to surround his son with a part of his culture.

He said festivals such as this one also help to enrich a community’s understanding of Japanese culture.

“It’s like a slice of being in Japan,” he said.

Stanley said the community is tight knit in Elizabethtown, a trait he finds lacking in Lexington.

The school was created in 1987 by local Japanese companies for employees’ children. Many of the families only are in the United States on a temporary basis, so the school allows them to work on their Japanese language skills and math. The school has 43 students, from fifth through 12th grade.

Jeanne Thomas worked on origami during her visit and said she attends any festivals that exhibit the culture of Japan. Her daughter, Ayanna Burrus, taught herself the Japanese language.

“She just said she was gonna teach herself Japanese, and I said, ‘OK,’” she said. “And lo and behold.”

Thomas said her daughter’s newfound language capabilities allowed her to give an introductory speech at an eighth grade ceremony in Japanese.

“I just try to support her,” she said.

Burrus said she was inspired to learn the language while watching television.

 “I just saw it in an anime and I thought it sounded cool so I wanted to learn it,” she said.

Burrus said she also was intrigued by the challenge because it is not one of the more popular foreign languages to learn.

Michael Barksdale was climbing out of a kimono and said his wife, who calls Japan home, wanted to make the trip to the festival.

His family lived in Japan for about five years and sampled foods and crafts at the festival. He said he was fascinated with the culture.

“I loved it,” he said of his time in Japan. “I’m trying to go back.”

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.