Local students will be folded into an international, culturally-enriching event this week when they learn about Japanese culture through the art of origami.

Japan Airlines is hosting ‘Jal Soraiku’ Thursday, July 12 at Roosevelt elementary school.  Through ‘Jal Soraiku’, hosts from Japan Airlines volunteer to visit local schools grades kindergarten and up to teach students about Japan culture and Japan Airlines.  Around 170 transitional kindergarten through 5th-grade students throughout the Santa Monica Malibu Unified school district will be on hand to attend the event as part of the districts after school program.

The airline reaches 349 airports in 54 countries and has over 700 staff members that are origami plane instructors certified by the International Paper Plane Association, who use their paper folding and plane flying skills to “bring smiles to children”.

Chiho Ernst, Assistant Manager at Japan Airlines, said the airline accomplishes informative, hands-on cultural education by bringing in these professional origami artists from Japan to teach students how to make paper airplanes (hikoki). Concurrently, the students are treated to a brief
overview of the land of the rising sun and fun facts about the culture.

Ernst says in the iPhone era, the interactive learning method has proven effective for students around the world.

“So many kids today go towards tablets and video games for fun,” Ernst said. “Origami and history is a fun, educational way to teach Japanese culture that [students] won’t forget.”

Along with the free cultural education and origami folding skills, students will also engage in an origami folding competition at the end of the day with gifts given out to the winners as well as the other participating students. “We do this in Japan occasionally and we want students to enjoy that here, too,” said Ernst.

A Santa Monica resident, Ernst has a daughter who attends Roosevelt, who she says is one of the few Japanese students in both her class and school. Ernst says she helped bring the program to Santa Monica in hopes that children in the community could have a fun way to understand and celebrate Japanese culture, collectively.

“It is just summer session at one school, but this is just the beginning for us,” she said. “We want [children] to know Japan more and Japanese culture. We want to be educational, not promotional.” Ernst shared a quote from Shinju Suzuki, of Japan Airlines, summating the event: “[We] aim to fly our origami planes as a way to fly our dreams towards the sky.”
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