DC JET Alums Bring Fukushima Youth Taiko Group to the USA

Michelle Spezzacatena and Darryl Wharton-Rigby

DC JET alums Michelle Spezzacatena and Darryl Wharton-Rigby are the poster-children of Return on JET-vestment. They’ve been working around the clock for the past few months to bring over a youth taiko group from their JET furusato of Kawamata, Fukushima-ken. The community of Kawamata has been evacuated from their town due to their proximity to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility. Michelle and Darryl have devoted every second of their free time to orchestrating the trip of a life-time for the kids of Kawamata.

And now a few words from Michelle herself:

Darryl and I were both teachers in Kawamata Town. I was there from 2002-2005, we overlapped by a week, and then Darryl was there from 2005-2007. Thanks to the joys of Facebook we were able to keep in contact throughout the years. After the earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster, Darryl and I were talking about how we could help our Japanese hometown. The idea of bringing the taiko group here was born out of those discussions.

We brought the idea to the Japan America Society of Washington DC which immediately fell in love with it too. Thanks to the generous financial support of the US Japan Council, the project was fully funded. We have been working with Anna Cable (USJC), Ambassador Malott (JASW), Marc Hitzig (JASW), Shigeko Bork (former Kawamata resident now living in DC) and Masako Mori (Diet member from Fukushima) on the project. Darryl and I are the co-coordinators and have been doing most of the heavy lifting. We are also officially part of the TOMODACHI Initiative.

The Kawamata students will be here from April 7-17, 2012 and they have a jam packed schedule. They will be doing a homestay program, performing at numerous locations including the National Cherry Blossom Parade/Sakura Matsuri/Kennedy Center, sightseeing and hopefully a meet and greet with the new Orioles player, Wada-san, and a Orioles/Yankees game-day performance at Orioles Park. Darryl and I are excited to be accompanying and hosting them the entire time they’ll be in the US.

To read more about this story in CNN International, click HERE.
To download/ print the below press release, click HERE.


CONTACT: Michelle Spezzacatena, 301-233-7199/ [email protected]


Washington, DC [March 1, 2012] — The National Cherry Blossom Festival and the Japan-America Society of Washington DC have invited 13 student members of the Yamakiya Taiko Club from Fukushima, Japan to join the centennial celebration of Japan’s gift of the cherry blossom trees to the United States.

The students, ages 12-20, are from the Yamakiya District of Kawamata Town in Fukushima Prefecture. In May 2011 they had to leave their homes in Yamakiya because of the high levels of radiation emanating from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. It is unclear when they will be able to return home.

Despite these circumstances, the Yamakiya Taiko Club, which has won first prize in a number of national competitions, has stayed together. The students continue to practice taiko drumming at a school in Kawamata Town.

The students’ visit, which will take place April 7-17, is supported by the U.S.-Japan Council and the American Embassy in Tokyo under the TOMODACHI Initiative. The initiative invests in the next generation of Japanese and Americans by creating opportunities for cross-cultural exchange, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

Arrangements for the visit are being spearheaded by Michelle Spezzacatena and Darryl Wharton-Rigby, alumni of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET) who taught in Fukushima. The effort also has involved a number of Fukushima natives, led by Shigeko Bork of Washington DC and The Honorable Masako Mori, a former DC resident and now a member of Japan’s Diet.

While in the U.S., the students will perform at The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage in Washington, DC on April 16. They will appear in the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade and at the Sakura Matsuri – Japanese Street Festival on April 14.

During their 10-day visit, the students will join the National Japan Bowl, an academic competition for American high school students who are studying Japanese. They will also visit high schools in Virginia and Maryland and meet students from Morgan State University (Maryland). There will be sightseeing opportunities in Baltimore and Washington, DC.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is the nation’s greatest springtime celebration. The 2012 Festival, March 20-April 27, includes five spectacular weeks of events featuring diverse and creative programming promoting traditional and contemporary arts and culture, natural beauty, and community spirit. The 2012 Festival commemorates the 100th anniversary of the gift of the cherry blossom trees and the enduring friendship between the United States and Japan.

877.44.BLOOM // nationalcherryblossomfestival.org
@CherryBlossFest // facebook.com/CherryBlossomFestival

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