Okinawa students experience hula, Valentine’s Day

PUHI — On the eve of Valentine’s Day, kumu hula Leilani Bond thought it appropriate to teach students hula from a love song.

The 16 students from the Okinawa Christian Junior College worked diligently, combining classroom work and actual handson dancing led by Bond, who patiently worked through the verses of “E Ho’i I ka Pili,” a love song from her third CD.

Bond said the students each received a copy of the CD, “Na Hana A Ke Aloha,” through officials at Kaua’i Community College, and immediately discovered a Japanese song, “Koi,” that they could associate with.

Bond explained that she was touched by the rendering of that song while in Japan, and brought it home to translate it into Hawaiian.

But in that process, she decided that it would be best left in its native tongue, she said.

“The students really like your class,” said Makoto Arakaki, the group members’ chaperone, following their two-hour session Monday.

“Last year, the students all said this was their favorite class, and as a testament of their sincerity, some of them joined a hula halau in Okinawa,” Arakaki added.

Bond’s popularity was contagious, as the students lined up for autographs and photos with the local celebrity following the class.

On Valentine’s Day yesterday, the visiting students made chocolate-dipped strawberries, said chef Clarence Nishi as he watched the group of students line up at the KCC cafeteria during the lunch break.

The OCJC program was been headed up by Arakaki for at least five years, but Brian Yamamoto, one of the KCC coordinators for the exchange program, said the visitation has been going on for at least 10 years.

During their two-week stay here, the students, who voluntarily sign up at the college, are immersed in a variety of activities enabling them to get a cross-cultural experience.

The group members arrived on Saturday, and in the day before their actual college experience started, they visited the Fern Grotto, and toured Smith’s Tropical Paradise.

Monday’s itinerary called for a morning session with Bond, who taught them hula, followed by a lauhala-weaving session led by Debbie Tuzon.

KCC instructor Hiroko Merritt took the lead Tuesday, as she worked with the students on Japanese/English exchange before handing the group members over to Nishi, who worked with the group’s members on Hawaiian cooking.

“Simple kine,” Nishi smiled. The visitors prepared laulau, some fish dishes, and the chocolate-dipped strawberries.

Also on the students’ itinerary was a tour to the National Tropical Botanical Garden led by Yamamoto, a home-stay experience with members of volunteer host families who may or may not bring the students to experience the annual American Culinary Federation (ACF) Brunch on Sunday.

The President’s Day holiday is the opportunity for the students to explore the Koke’e area, Yamamoto said.

A visit to local schools as well as the Kaua’i Museum, and the mayor’s office, rounds out the group’s schedule, as they prepare to leave on Saturday, Feb. 26.

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