From University News Services 
Yume Hidaka, Japanese cultural ambassador through University of Iowa International Programs, shows residents of Oaknoll Retirement Residence in Iowa City how to make origami decorations.
A new Japanese outreach program coordinated by University of Iowa International Programs aims to build understanding and knowledge of Japanese culture and language.
The Japan Outreach Initiative (JOI) is a program supported by the Laurasian Institution and the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, which funds the position of a Japanese cultural ambassador for two years. Yume Hidaka, a Kagoshima native, serves in that role and is available to give programs and presentations on Japanese culture on the UI campus and in communities across Iowa now through July of 2012.
The goal is to serve as many Iowa communities as possible. Although there is no cost to have Hidaka present a program, small honoraria are welcome in order to help cover travel expenses. For out-of-town visits, it is hoped that local hosts will provide hospitality.
Hidaka will spend a third of her time on the UI campus working with Japanese-language students and serving as a guest lecturer. For the rest of her time, she will give presentations on Japanese culture and current issues to students in kindergarten through 12th grade in schools as well as to business communities and at senior citizen centers, retirement homes, libraries, and service and arts organizations.
“I am looking forward to visiting as many schools and community groups as possible to give people the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of Japan,” Hidaka said.
The 28-year-old Japanese cultural ambassador will share different facets of her country and culture through interaction, demonstrations and dialogue. This includes giving Japanese language and calligraphy lessons, sharing Japanese culinary arts, showing how to make “kado” (flower arrangements) and origami and facilitating peace and human rights discussions.
According to Karen Wachsmuth, UI International Programs outreach coordinator, the purpose of the program is twofold: to promote interest in the study of Japan and to cultivate a new group of individuals in both Japan and the United States who will take leading roles in grassroots exchange.
“The ultimate goal of the program is to build lasting relationships between Japanese citizens and Iowans, relationships that will last beyond the two years of Ms. Hidaka’s residency,” Wachsmuth said.
Wachsmuth, who is arranging Hidaka’s visits, hopes the program will have a lasting impact in Iowa, given the growing interest in Japanese language and culture, especially on the UI campus.
Interest in Japanese language has grown substantially in recent years, with more than 200 UI students currently enrolled in Japanese languages courses, Wachsmuth said. In addition, the Iowa Department of Education reports that 11 Iowa high schools offer Japanese language courses.
Hidaka’s involvement with the program coincides with a personal interest to reach out and share her culture.
“I was always interested in going outside of Japan to talk about my country,” she said. “Not just language but I wanted to talk about cross cultural communications and topics related to peace education.”
Hidaka is certified in global citizenship studies including peace education. With an undergraduate degree in Spanish language and literature and a minor in English, she has taught Japanese intensive language courses to high school and college students. She has also done graduate-level study in the area of conflict resolution. Her most recent work at Seisen University in Tokyo was with the study abroad office, facilitating student exchange between Japan and other countries.
The JOI is made possible by a joint effort between the Laurasian Institution and the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership. For more information on the JOI, visit http://www.laurasian.org/joi/ .
On Saturday, Sept. 18, Hidaka is scheduled to speak at the statewide United Nations Iowa Peace Initiative Conference at Loras College in Dubuque. The event is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free and open to the public. For more information, visit http://www.dbqdayofpeace.org .
STORY SOURCE: University News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500
MEDIA CONTACTS: Karen Wachsmuth, International Programs, 319-335-0345, firstname.lastname@example.org ; Lois Gray, University News Services, 319-384-0077, email@example.com ; Writer, Tiffany Hung; Photo by Karen Wachsmuth.