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Local elementary students introduced to Japanese Culture

Kumiko Takahashi Wissmar gives a presentation on Japanese culture to Sally Mauro students in Helper.
Kamiko Wissmar speaks to class about Japanese culture.

Sun Advocate community editor

Second grade students at Sally Mauro Elementary were treated to a culture lesson on Monday as Kumiko Takahashi Wissmar joined the class to discuss some of the special customs unique to Japan.

Wissmar was born in Japan and lived there working for a mass media company until she met her American husband who had followed a college roommate from the College of Eastern Utah to the far east. As a couple they share a love for both American and Japanese culture that has lead them to spend significant time in both countries, said Wissmar.

"We usually spend about two months out of every year in America," said Wissmar. "But we are staying a little longer this year because we wanted our daughters to experience American schooling and Halloween."

According to, in recent years, western-style Halloween decorations and traditions are becoming popular in Japan. It's said that Japanese o-bon is similar to Halloween. O-bon is a traditional festival where individuals visit graves and bring back their ancestors' spirits to homes and offer special food and other hospitalities. While there are no costumes involved, ghost stories are often told during the time of O-bon.

Wissmar, 45, who was born on the crab shaped island of Iyo-city near the inland sea of Japan, has two children at Sally Mauro this year; Selina in the fourth grade and Aileena in the second grade. It was Aileena's classmates that received the presentation.

She began her cultural lesson with a slide show giving the students an opportunity to view Japan, rather than just hearing about it.

Wissmar started by telling the children about boys and girls day in Japan which are celebrated on May 5 and March 3 respectively. These holidays are marked by many children's activities with the iris taking special meaning for the girls and the carp taking special meaning for the boys.

"The carp is a symbol of strength in Japan as it is said that the carp is so strong it can swim up the waterfall," she explained to about 70 Helper students. "Traditionally, families fly carp kites with a carp representing each son."

Wissmar then went on to show photos of the cherry blossoms which in Japan exemplify the transient nature of life, due to their short blooming cycle.

According to, cherry blossoms also symbolize clouds due to their nature of blooming en masse, besides being and enduring metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life, an aspect of Japanese cultural tradition that is often associated with Buddhist influence.

"The transience of the blossoms, the extreme beauty and quick death, has often been associated with morality; for this reason, Sakura are richly symbolic and have been utilized often in Japanese art, magna, anime and film, as well as musical performances for ambient effect.

Following the slide show, Wissmar introduced the children to the Japanese art of origami, or folding paper.

Origami is the ancient Japanese art of paper folding to create any object using geometric folds and creases without cutting or gluing the paper, she said.

Wikipedia, explains that origami only uses a small number of different folds, but they can be combined in a variety of ways to make intricate designs. The most well-known form is probably the Japanese paper crane.

Wissmar allowed the children to try their had at the ancient form making paper helmets and cranes.

"It is my dream and my passion to see our cultures meld," concluded Wissmar. "One day I would like to take some English students to Japan and then bring some Japanese students back to America. Me and my husband wish to create a bridge between my hometown in Japan and his hometown here in Utah."

In addition to her presentation to the second grade class, Wissmar has been available at the school's library for cultural questions for the past month. She also is willing to commit to other presentations at elementary schools in and around Carbon County.

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