Japanese language students to represent Boonsboro in Cherry Blossom Festival Parade

The group will carry a 'mikoshi' - a replica of a nonreligious portable shrine - along the route

April 12, 2012|By JANET HEIM |
  • Boonsboro High students, from left, Randi Stavrou, Grant Kane, Yukiko Shinoda, Donavan Taylor, Japanese teacher Ayako Shiga, Cori Robertson, Kevin Reese, Sam Trujillo and Jacob Nelson helped build a mikoshi that they will carry in the National Cherry Blossom Festival parade this weekend in Washington, D.C. Randi, Grant, Kevin, Sam and Jacob recently returned from a trip to Japan with their teacher.
By Yvette May, Staff Photographer

BOONSBORO — Less than a week ago, five Japanese language students from Boonsboro High School were on their way home from a spring break trip to Japan with their teacher, Ayako Shiga.

On Saturday, the school’s 25 Japanese students, including Japanese exchange student Yukiko Shinoda, will represent Boonsboro High at the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade inWashington, D.C.

“It’s a huge privilege to be in the parade. We’re walking behind the Japanese ambassador,” Shiga said.

The students are to arrive at the school at 6 a.m. Saturday, with the parade kickoff at 10 a.m. The parade will mark the 100th anniversary of the gift of the cherry blossoms trees from Tokyo toWashington, D.C.

Thanks to a grant from the Japan Commerce Association of Washington, D.C.Foundation, money was provided for materials to build the “mikoshi” — a replica of a nonreligious portable shrine traditionally carried in Japan during harvest festivals. The students will carry it along the parade route.


Shiga said they’ve done a test run to make sure the long carrying arms of the mikoshi fit into a school bus.

The grant covers the transportation costs for the bus and the “happi coats,” traditional Japanese outerwear, that the students will wear.

They will march in the parade accompanied by Japanese language students from two Fairfax County, Va., high schools and Georgetown University.

Work on the mikoshi began in February, with Cori Robertson,  Donavan Taylor and Yukiko, who is from Chiba Prefecture — one of 47 Japanese prefecture, similar to states — taking charge of the project.

They were assisted by the other students in the Japanese 4 course and Bryan Swisher’s shop students.

“Mr. Swisher’s shop class helped us tremendously with this thing,” Shiga said.

Paper cranes, symbols of peace and friendship, will hang from the center of the mikoshi.

Following the parade, the mikoshi most likely will be displayed at the Japanese street festival inWashington, D.C., then will be donated to Hagerstown’s Discovery Station for an ongoing exhibit on Japan, Shiga said.

The Japanese culture on display in the parade likely will be familiar to the students who traveled to Japan — seniors Grant Kane and Kevin Reese, and sophomores Jacob Nelson, Randi Stavrou and Samantha “Sam” Trujillo.

The trip was delayed a year due to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The students said they would not have thought they could travel to Japan had they not been inspired by their teacher.

They flew on March 31 from Dulles International Airport to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport and returned on April 6 — just as the cherry blossom trees in Japan were peaking.

Shiga had planned a detailed itinerary which included a tour of Tokyo; Kamakura, the old capital of Japan outside Tokyo; Hakone, a famous hot-spring area; and stops at historical sites, museums, markets, temples, shrines and for shopping.

The group agreed that Jacob Nelson used his Japanese language skills the most of anyone in the group. He befriended a Japanese teenager and family while visiting the hot springs.

A new ‘perspective’

One expectation Shiga had of her students was to navigate the train lines in Tokyo as a group, using their map and Japanese skills to reach a chosen destination.

“They did very well,” Shiga said.

Randi Stavrou experienced the kindness of a stranger when she almost got bumped off a train they were riding on. The group said that although the trains were crowded, people were polite and respectful in ways they don’t experience in the United States.

“There’s a sense of greater good in Japan. It stems from the culture. The general standard for living and behavior is much higher,” Kevin said.

“It’s all about perspective. You go to a radically different place, and it gives you a different perspective you didn’t have before. It makes you grow faster.”

Grant learned from the experience of being in the minority.

“It definitely showed us how it feels to be a minority. I think the Japanese are more open to minorities than we are. They accepted us better than we accept most minorities here,” he said.

The consensus was that all five wanted to learn more Japanese, although they’re taking the highest level of Japanese offered at Boonsboro High.

Sam Trujillo said she hadn’t traveled beyond West Virginia and Hershey Park in Pennsylvania before the trip. Although she was nervous about going to Japan, it opened her eyes to the world outside of Boonsboro, she said.

“It just taught me there’s a lot more in the world than we’ve experienced here,” she said.

Jacob now wants to travel more and return to Japan for college.

“It taught me to seize every opportunity that’s available,” he said.

“It makes me want to pursue a career in international law and travel more to experience other cultures, not just Japan, but China, Russia, India and Europe,” Randi said.

For Shiga, it was watching the smiles on the faces of her students, the confidence boost in their Japanese skills and their ability to get around in Tokyo, that made it all worthwhile.

“That was the reward for me,” Shiga said.

To watch the parade

The National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade will be broadcast on ABC7/WJLA-TV. For more information, go to

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