For the past two weeks, students at West Point Elementary School, 3788 W. 300 North, have welcomed more than 1,000 visitors from Japan. The visitors, actually hundreds of self-portraits of Japanese youngsters attending four elementary schools in Shirotori, Japan, line the halls of the West Point school like brightly colored wallpaper.
A videotape of the Japanese children in action accompanied the hand-drawn pictures when they arrived at the school. Meanwhile, a 24-pound box of pictures and a video depicting West Point students is on its way to Japan.It's all part of a cultural exchange masterminded by former West Point resident Bruce Wilcox, who teaches English in Japan, and his sister-in-law, Stacy Wilcox, a West Point teacher.
According to Stacy Wilcox, the wonderful thing about the pictures and tapes is that cultural similarities are almost more noticeable than cultural differences.
Stacy Wilcox said she expected the Japanese schools to be somewhat regimented. But those kids acted just like the American students did in front of their camera. Although some were shy, many were boisterous. They giggled, flashed peace signs, made rabbit ears and crowded in front of the video camera lens.
Many of the Shirotori drawings showed blue uniform-clad youngsters competing in traditional Japanese games like kendo and in flying carp streamers, riding unicycles or wearing dragon costumes - activities that would seem quite foreign to an American child. But just as many of the pictures focused on versions of jump rope, hopscotch, marbles and soccer similar to those played in Western countries.
Each grade level at both the Japanese and West Point schools selected a theme for their illustrations and videotapes. Japanese topics included games, holidays, scenery and cleaning.
According to the taped presentation, there are no custodians in the Japanese schools, but the children and teachers take pride in doing "soji" to keep their classrooms and school grounds immaculate.
At lunch time, the children set the tables and serve the food. Then after eating, they all brush their teeth to tape-recorded instructions.
Among the American themes were P.E. (physical education), American symbols, Utah history and Western history. Farm animals showed up often in the Utah children's drawings.
Stacy Wilcox had previously sent the Japanese students a video of local kids riding horses.
"They couldn't believe we could actually own a horse and ride it," she said.
Students from both countries also focused on ideas encouraging international understanding. Haru Suzuki, an American citizen of Japanese descent who visited the exhibit in West Point, explained that many of the inscriptions beneath the Japanese pictures contained phrases like, "Let's be friends."
One such painting showed a dark-haired child with oriental features reaching out to a blond-haired girl. Both children had broad smiles on their faces, and the caption said it all: "When I grow up, I would like to have many foreign friends."