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Daruma no Gakko Celebrating Its 40th Anniversary

Students engage in a tug-of-war at Daruma no Gakko’s annual Sports Day at Canyon Trail Park in El Cerrito. (Photo by Kehli Akagi)

BERKELEY — Daruma no Gakko, a four-week summer program designed for children to learn about Japanese American heritage though a unique curriculum, is celebrating its 40th year this summer.

Teacher Shanna Suzuki helps her student, Alex Bowen, 9, at Daruma no Gakko. (Photo by Kehli Akagi)

The idea for Daruma no Gakko began in 1978 with 10 Japanese American women educators who established a program designed to develop strong, positive self-images and identities through the study of Japanese American history. The program highlights Japanese culture through songs, language, festivals, art, food and cooking, as well as field trips.

“As one of the 10 founders of this program, it is just amazing to see this program still thriving and relevant, and hearing our students singing in Japanese is the most rewarding and moving experience for me,” said Emiko Katsumoto of El Cerrito, who is one of two founders still actively involved with the program. She has been in charge of Daruma no Gakko’s music program for the past 15 years.

“Daruma no Gakko is a special place, and I am so lucky to have had the privilege to be a part of it,” said Lorin Kagehiro of Orinda, who attended the program during the early 1990s. “In those summer weeks, my classmates and I learned about our cultural history, culminating in a spotlight on the false imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. I still remember interviewing my grandparents about their experiences, never realizing how precious those conversations would be to me today.

Miles Aki proudly shows off the noren he made at Daruma no Gakko. (Photo by Kehli Akagi)

“Many years later, my memory of participating in the sixth-grade evacuation simulation is so clear. How could I possibly pack my life into one small suitcase? The lessons about what was lost, how our grandparents made joy out of desert dust, and how the community rallied together, are treasures I carry with me.”

Daruma no Gakko, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, runs this year from June 18 to July 13. It is open to kindergartners through incoming sixth-graders and now offers an after-care program. It is held at the Berkeley Methodist United Church, 1710 Carleton St., Berkeley. For more information, go to

Janie Nehira of San Francisco, Emiko Katsumoto of El Cerrito, and Judy Kono of Berkeley reunite at Daruma no Gakko’s Gakugeikai program. (Photo by Kehli Akagi)

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