Japanese band making final visit to Blaine

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By Jami Makan

The Soshin Girls School from Yokohama, Japan will be performing on Sunday, March 24 at 2 p.m. at the Blaine Performing Arts Center, 975 H Street.

Admission is free and open to the public, with donations of cash or non-perishable food items to the Blaine Food Bank gratefully accepted.

The Soshin Girls School is located in the city of Yokohama within Japan’s Kanagawa prefecture. The school was founded with seven students by an American missionary in 1887, and since then, it has grown in size to 1,000 students in grades 7–12.

Members of the Soshin Wind Orchestra are participating in this year’s week-long visit to Blaine. Their itinerary includes performing for Blaine’s elementary school, visiting Ferndale and Anacortes high schools, taking a ride on the Plover ferry and visiting the Peace Arch.

The group is led by Mr. Kazuhiro Abe, an English teacher and the band director at Soshin Girls School.

The Japanese students will stay with host families during their visit to Blaine.

This will be the final concert of the Japanese band exchange program with the Blaine School District.

The exchange program started in 2003, with the first group from Blaine High School going to Japan. A Japanese festival was looking for an American band to participate, and Blaine High School’s band was put forward as a suggestion. “At that point, it wasn’t going to be any kind of continuing program,” said Leslee Smith, one of the organizers.

Another key organizer is Yumi Sudo, who is from the Tokyo area and is now based in North Vancouver, B.C.

Following Blaine’s performance, one of the bands they met in Japan came over to Blaine as part of a week-long visit to Vancouver, B.C.

“The Japanese band heard about what a great community Blaine was, and it was unique for the Japanese students because they would be able to visit a second country by making the short drive down to Blaine,” said Smith.

The relationship gradually blossomed into an annual exchange program, thanks to the efforts of Smith and Sudo.

Each year, a different Japanese band that was visiting Vancouver would come down to Blaine to perform. Eventually, the visits expanded to include overnight stays in Blaine.

Whereas the Japanese bands came almost every year, Blaine students went to Japan in 2003, 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2017.

Smith and Sudo are now retiring, which means the program will come to an end. “There is a lot more risk management involved and a lot more things that have to be considered by school districts,” said Smith. “For someone new to start, it would be very difficult and wouldn’t be the same. The reality is that’s why no one’s taking over for us.”

Smith and Sudo are grateful for the support the exchange program has received over the years. “We both want to say Domo Arigatou Gozaimasu to the City of Blaine and Blaine School District for the tremendous support,” said Smith.

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