A unique cultural experience

Japanese festival brings food, entertainment and activities to WHS

Colorful origami decorates a table at the festival. Participating in traditional crafts is one way for the community to learn more about the Japanese culture.


WHS Japanese Festival

The Japanese festival will be held from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 29 at the Washougal High School commons, 1201 39th St. Participating in activities is free. Food costs vary. Admission to the Japanese concert from 2 to 4 p.m. is $4 for adults, $3 for college students with ID, and $2 for youths (9-18), seniors (65 and older) and military members with ID. Admission is free to ASB members with ID and children ages birth to 8.

Raffle tickets will also be sold for $1 each or six tickets for $5.

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Clockwise, from left, Paula Raynor, Hannah Shilling, Breanna DeCicco and Chelsea Gaddy work on posters promoting the festival. Students spend several months preparing for the annual event.

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Beautiful and delicate Japanese arts and crafts are on display during the festival, along with other cultural displays and activities.

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“Angel” entertains the crowd at a past WHS Japanese Festival with a fusion dance performance. Entertainment this year also includes traditional jazz dance, a tap dancing saxophonist and Taiko drum performers.

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Flower arranging is one of the activities offered at the WHS Japanese Festival.

When one hears the phrase, “Japanese Festival,” places like Portland, Tacoma or Seattle typically come to mind.

However, Washougal High School has its own festival, the only one of its kind in the Clark County area.

For the past eight years Japanese teacher Shoko Parker and her students have spent several months preparing for the March 29 event, which includes entertainment by Japanese performers, swordsmanship lessons via Skype, food and activities.

The students take on a bulk of the responsibility to prepare for the festival: They paint posters, promote the festival, rehearse a Japanese song, learn calligraphy and Japanese crafting, and prepare ethnic food.

“This is a great opportunity for my students to experience how to interact with neighbors respectfully,” Parker said. “It is a rare situation where the community comes to enjoy the different cultural activities. Everyone will gain the authentic knowledge while sharing what they know about Japan. I believe this harmony will create a safer and better community in Washougal.”

During the festival, students greet attendees, direct the performers, oversee demonstrations and serve food. All proceeds benefit the school’s Japanese program.

“My students are acquiring their leadership skills while guiding the performers and demonstrators, and explaining about the Japanese displays and other activities,” Parker said. “It is challenging for me to bring everyone in my class as a whole group, yet they are learning and adjusting with the Japanese collectivistic culture. I am very proud of my students, including former students, who come to school on that Saturday to see, hear and sense the authentic Japanese cultural products and interact with various people who (also) enjoy it.”

Although the festival involves a fair amount of preparation, Parker looks forward to it every year.

“I personally enjoy seeing everyone’s smile, serious faces while gaining new knowledge and interactions among various people during the event,” she said. “There are small children to grandparents interacting at the commons. People are looking at Japanese traditional displays, playing with Japanese products and trying traditional cultural activities such as flower arrangement, calligraphy and Kendo swordsmanship.”

This year’s entertainment includes traditional jazz dance, fusion dance, a tap dancing saxophonist, en Taiko drummers and the Japanese students performing the song, “Sukiyaki.” In addition, there is flower arranging, calligraphy, children’s games and a kimono photo booth.

Food includes curry and rice, Udon noodle soup, green tea ice cream and Japanese soda.

“I hope this festival will bring more fusion of different music and memories to the audiences,” Parker said.

Chelsea Gaddy graduated in 2010, but comes back to WHS almost every year for the event.

“I enjoy helping with the performers and singing,” she said. “I really enjoy the Japanese culture and language.”

Paula Raynor also graduated in 2010 but still attends the festival every year.

“I enjoy learning about the culture and like to help people who may not know much about it, learn more,” she said. “I love coming here.”

Hannah Shilling, a sophomore, is in her second year of studying Japanese, and enjoys the process of learning the language.

“It’s nice because people with a lot of different interests come together for a common purpose,” she said.

The festival provides a complement to classroom work.

“You don’t get to experience culture that much here, and going to the festival is a good way to learn about it,” Shilling noted.

Sophomore Brenda DeCicco enjoys learning to cook Japanese food for the festival.

“I love the process of putting it all together,” she said. “It helps me learn and embrace more of the culture, and making food is fun.”

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