Thunderous drums resonated throughout the Saipan World Resort’s Wave Jungle stage last Saturday as members of the Dako-on performed their award winning traditional drum performance.
The Dako-on is a renowned drum group from Seisa High School and has already performed in a number of venues in Japan and around the globe. The group was a part of 200 other exchange students from three Seisa high schools in Japan that stayed on island for a few days to participate in Marianas High School’s 37th annual Cultural Heritage Day and even enjoy some of Saipan’s prime tourist destinations, like the Thursday Street Market.
This year’s batch of Japanese students marked the 28th year of the school’s “Participate and Learn” cultural exchange program with MHS.
MHS principal Cherlyn Cabrera said the program keeps improving every year. “There is a lot of excitement from both parts [MHS students and foreign students].”
The exchange students also visited San Antonio Elementary School.
About 7,500 Japanese students have visited Saipan under the PAL program over the past two decades, according to Seisa board chair Hajime Inoue. He told Saipan Tribune that the ultimate goal of the organization is to “make peace and have the students make friends despite cultural differences.” He added that many of the students enjoyed their short stay and plan to visit in the near future
Program director Koniko Sasaki shared that several Saipan students will be traveling to Japan next January to ski. Students from MHS were not able to participate in the ski trip last year due to financial constraints, according to Sasaki.
Education Commissioner Dr. Rita A. Sablan said the administration and school will work diligently to make the trip possible because it would be “a great experience for the kids.”
When asked why PAL designated Saipan as its main destination for student exchange, Sasaki said its close proximity is an integral factor when it comes to selecting an exchange destination.
“Saipan is rich in World War II history and hundreds of Japanese citizens were a part of the island’s history as well. They can learn a lot,” she added.
Learning Saipan’s history and exchanging culture is something that she said will promote peace between Japan and the rest of the world. “We like to teach our students not to fight anymore and that there should be no more war. We tell them to seek peace and that we have to respect others,” she said. “That is why we are here.”
Seisa School principal Hajime Kanako was also at the closing ceremony last Saturday to bid their Saipan counterparts farewell. “MHS is the best school for our program. People are good, kind, and hospitable. They have good character, which makes us very happy,” he said.
MHS junior Raelyn Rangamar said that communication with her Japanese partner was an obstacle but it was still fun for her. “I think it is a good way to make new friends and that it is really fun to get to know all of them.”
Her Japanese partner, Takatuki Suzuki, said that his short stay on Saipan was “good.”
Another MHS student, Benedict Obanbo, said the experience was “alright and pretty fun.”
Ayumi Nakijima, a 9-year Dako-on performer and Seisa High School student herself, said that her experience on Saipan was unforgettable. “Everyone was so welcoming and clapped for me,” she said. “I had a good time.”
Of course, all good times must come to an end. The 200 Japanese exchange students and their Marianas High School student counterparts concluded the night with a poignant song performance of Michael Jackson’s Heal the World.” Misty-eyed students from Japan and Saipan hugged each other that night and said their last good-byes, with hopes of seeing each other next year in Japan’s ice-cold weather and powdery snow.