A warm breeze blew into Tokyo last week and on its wings were 35 of Konishiki’s Kids.
The elementary school children, from the Oahu neighborhood where Konishiki grew up in Hawaii, were invited to Japan by the former sumo wrestler through his foundation, Konishiki’s Kids, with the assistance of 10 corporate sponsors.
The Jan. 20-26 trip was a chance of a lifetime and the first opportunity for many of the children to travel outside Hawaii.
This is the second time the big man with an even bigger heart has given sixth-graders from the Nanakuli and Waianae districts the opportunity to experience Japanese culture.
In 1997, 35 children also visited Japan from the area’s seven schools.
There was no program in 1998 due to Konishiki’s busy schedule after retiring from the national sport in November 1997. But realizing the lack of opportunity local people still have to leave the island, he established the foundation last year and began organizing this year’s trip.
The trip included a day at the winter sumo tournament and a visit to Konishiki’s former stable; skiing in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, and a bullet train ride; a visit to a Japanese elementary school, Tokyo Disneyland and shopping.
Dustin Birn, 11, of Kamaile Elementary School, said, “The experience of meeting famous people, learning more and doing our best because we have been given the privilege to go places has helped us to see how other people live.”
The children’s adventure wasn’t all fun and began long before they arrived at Narita airport on Jan. 21. The opportunity was open to all who attend Kamaile, Leihoku, Ma’ili, Makaha, Nanakuli, Nanaikapono and Waianae elementary schools, with each represented by five students.
The lucky travelers were picked based on an essay explaining why they deserve to be a Konishiki kid, an application form, two letters of recommendation and check lists completed by two adults vouching for their character. Quite a tall order for 11- and 12-year-olds.
Nine boys and 26 girls successfully met the challenge. “We wanted them to realize there are bigger and better things out there and that they should try new things,” said Paxton Higa, a sixth-grade teacher and chaperon from Nanakuli Elementary School. “We made the event a big thing for those who were coming to Japan and others who were left behind,” he said in explaining the method the schools used to make the trip a memorable experience for all the children.
Those who remained in Hawaii were also introduced to the country and its customs, making the trip exciting for all the students at the seven schools and not just those who made the journey.
One of the trip’s requirements is for the Konishiki kids to take what they have learned and share it with others in Hawaii. “I feel happy that I have the opportunity to be a Konishiki kid, and now I see a bigger world and more opportunity in the future,” said Stephanie Reyes, 11, of Kamaile Elementary School.
Before the trip, the students raised up to $300 each in spending money through a chili, brownie and cookie sale. The rest of the expenses were shouldered by corporate sponsors.
The 35 children and seven chaperons on the trip immersed themselves in the culture, learning everything from how to use chopsticks to the basics of Japanese language and etiquette. They also visited a Japanese cultural center where they were taught traditional arts such as calligraphy, origami and flower arranging.