University of Vermont

Asian Studies Outreach Program

Japan Pop Culture Day at UVM for Middle School Students

Jeipoppu, Manga, and a "Let it Go" in Japanese helped 80 students understand the US's love of Japanese culture

A week after Randolph Union Middle and High School hosted a group of students from Japan, eighty students from Randolph Union Middle School traveled to UVM to expand on their knowledge of Japan with a day on Jeipoppu (Japanese pop culture). The Asian Studies Outreach Program in the College of Education sponsored the event. After a brief tour of campus, the students were brought into the Sugar Maple Ballroom of the Davis Center where the Chair of the Asian Studies Program, Dr. Erik Esselstrom, greeted them.

"You are the youngest group of students I have presented to in a while," begun Dr. Esselstrom, showing the students a picture of himself from his younger days as a middle school teacher in Japan. "I was always interested in Japan, so I knew that I would need to travel there to learn more about the culture." The presentation gradually moved towards a discussion on Japanese pop culture, which included slides and videos of popular manga comics and songs. When asked if the students were familiar with any of the manga, a few excited hands shot up in the air. The 90 minutes of the presentation went by quickly, as students and teachers learned about the history and significance of Jeipoppu, and were shown how Japan and US culture leans upon each other from time to time.  

At the start of the J-POP song lesson, music instructor Megumi Esselstrom invited the students to listen to hear sing the introduction to the famous "Sakura, Sakura" song and share how the song made them feel. The students grew quiet and leaned into the music being played live on a piano by Megumi-san, and tried to decipher the soothing lyrics being sung to them in Japanese.

"Is it a lullaby?" one student asked. After a few more guesses, Megumi-san shared the lyrics on the overhead projector, and told the importance of the cherry blossom in Japan. With the lyrics in Japanese to the classical song being projected overhead, all students made valiant efforts to sing along with Megumi when she started playing the song a second time.

"I think you will know this song better." Megumi-san said, as she began to play the ever-popular notes of the "Let it Go" song from the Disney animation, Frozen. "This time, let's see if you can sign it in Japanese." With the words of the popular song projected overhead, the students very excitedly started singing the song that many knew by heart in English, placing emotional emphasis in all the correct spots all the while singing the song in a foreign language for the first time ever. By the end of the song, teachers and students were impressed by their ability to sing a Japanese song.

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