Kaneko Day Camp a summer tradition

by Erin Dahl,

  • Kaneko Day Camp
  • Kaneko Day Camp
  • Kaneko Day Camp

In Japan, pigs don’t oink, cats don’t meow and roosters don’t cock-a-doodle-doo.

Instead, Japanese people use a whole different set of words to describe the sounds animals make — which is part of what Salem-area youths learned at a joint Willamette University and Tokyo International University of America (TIUA) program last week.

Since the early 1990s, the two universities have hosted Kaneko Day Camp, an annual weeklong event that attracts about 40 elementary and junior high students, who learn a mix of Japanese words, songs, dances and customs.

In addition to teaching American children about Japanese culture, the program also helps the camp’s Japanese counselors and teachers — students in TIUA’s American Studies Program at Willamette University — develop confidence in their abilities.

“They teach about Japan while speaking in English,” says Sarah Shinn, associate director of Student Life at TIUA. “It’s really fun to see them become leaders.”

Fostering Cultural Awareness

Liam Bragg, 9, who has participated in the Kaneko Day Camp for three years, keeps coming back because he’s fascinated by the Japanese culture.

“I really like basically everything,” Liam says. “I especially like origami, which is folding paper into things like hats and cranes. You turn paper into something real.”

Ten-year-old Brandon Harpster has enrolled in the camp for three years for different reasons. Half Japanese, Brandon is curious about his family heritage. Plus, his mom takes him to Japan once a year, and he wants to know how to talk with the people he meets there.

Brinsley Hammond-Brouwer is most intrigued by the cultural differences between Japanese and American people. In her experience, Americans tend to say what’s on their minds — and loudly. But Japanese people — or at least the ones she’s met —never lose their cool.

“Japanese people are usually so polite and quiet, which I admire and enjoy,” the 12-year-old says. “It’s not that they’re shy. Many are outgoing. It’s just that they aren’t pushy or rude, and they carry themselves differently.”

Embracing New Experiences

Since arriving in Salem in February for the American Studies Program at Willamette, Japanese students Satomi Seki and Riku Hatano have immersed themselves in American language, history and culture. Through the day camp, they discovered yet another learning opportunity — and a chance to share something about themselves in the process.

“When I teach Japanese culture, the children are happy and curious,” Hatano says. “We want children to like Japan and want to go there.”

Seki agrees, adding that she especially enjoyed chatting with her American students — who turned out to be great teachers themselves.

“They are easy to understand because they don’t use slang,” she says. “I learn so much English from them, and I teach them Japanese. I like the exchange.”

For more information about TIUA and its history with Willamette, go to the English Language/American Studies Program landing page.