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'School of the Rising Sun' : Surroundings Are American but Classes, Traditions Are Strictly Japanese

November 13, 1986|CLAUDIA PUIG | Times Staff Writer

Monthly tuition--$67.50 for high school students and $49.50 for first- through ninth-graders--covers the cost of textbooks which are sent from Japan. Each school has an extensive library with volumes ranging from traditional folk tales to biographies of such Westerners as Florence Nightingale and Thomas Edison, and a dog-eared copy of John Fitzgerald Kennedy's life story. The West Los Angeles campus has 5,000 books available for weekly lending, according to librarian Fatsuko Fujita.

Students are sometimes given homework assignments, but the emphasis is placed on class work, said Assistant Principal Kimiko Lin. Teachers avoid overloading students who already have a full slate of classes during the week.

"If they just come here every Saturday, without studying, that keeps them speaking the Japanese language," Matsumoto said.

The school's informal polling of Asahi Gakuen alumni shows that those students who attended regularly through high school graduation did better when they returned to Japan than those who attended sporadically, Matsumoto said.

Although spending six days a week in school can be tough, students said that the opportunity to see their friends shored up their motivation. Many even cited their friends as the primary reason for attending.

"I have American friends and enjoy American school," said 11th-grader Aya Yamaura. "On Saturday I can come here and meet my Japanese friends."

Rapt Attention

On a recent Saturday, while other children were playing with friends or watching the Smurfs, well-behaved fourth-graders at Asahi Gakuen watched televised science experiments narrated in Japanese. Their rapt attention deteriorated into quiet fidgeting as the program came to an end. Videotaped lessons--from a library of about 70 history, geography and science cassettes--are often used in teaching younger students, Lin said.

"Most of the younger children can understand Japanese very well," said fourth-grade teacher Kuniko Seto. "But for some raised here it's a little bit hard. Students raised in Japan are a little more advanced."

Propelled by cultural pride, even parents who do not expect to return to Japan send their children to Asahi Gakuen, as Seto plans to do.

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