Staff writer Koichi Ogawa encountered a surprise during a two-month tour across the United States with two other Japanese earlier this year. Ogawa, 61, was visiting a friend in California who told him that an acquaintance from Montana would come down with some artwork. Ogawa was expecting to meet someone showing off his own paintings, but when Ted Boice came in, he was carrying a box that contained something Ogawa never expected. Inside the box were about 40 paintings and a few pieces of calligraphy sent by a Japanese elementary school to a Montana elementary school around 50 years ago. “I was so surprised to see these things and was very touched by them,” Ogawa said. The color paintings, kept in very good condition with each pasted on cardboard, depict lively scenes of Japanese New Year’s festivities, such as card-playing, kite-flying and “mochi” rice-cake pounding. “We don’t see those scenes at New Year’s anymore … those paintings made me recall my childhood when New Year’s was so much fun,” Ogawa said, noting he is probably about the same age as those who drew the paintings. According to Ogawa, the paintings first came to Boice’s attention while he was renovating the S.D. Largent School in Great Falls, Mont. Boice saw the paintings in a library and rescued them from abandonment. He has kept them ever since. When Boice heard that three Japanese men were visiting his friend in California, he realized he had an opportunity to have the paintings explained to him, Ogawa said. One of the paintings,which appears to be the cover of an album, has a label showing it was sent from Aikawa Elementary School in Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture, through the Junior Red Cross of Japan, in reply to an album sent from S.D. Largent School in 1949. The cover begins with an “appeal,” in Japanese, asking what the students study in America and what they do for New Year’s. Although neither Aikawa Elementary School nor S.D. Largent School has records of the album’s exchange, the Japanese Red Cross Society said album exchanges with foreign schools had taken place since 1922 as an international exchange activity of the Junior Red Cross. Masahiko Takenaka, an official of the Junior Red Cross, said the American Red Cross helped rebuild the Japanese organization after the war. They assisted by promoting participation of young people in voluntary services and international exchanges and by enhancing other activities. “I would imagine that the album was sent as part of that process, although we don’t have records of each school’s specific activities,” Takenaka said. Junior Red Cross activities are carried out through public and private schools on a voluntary basis. Today, about 9,500 elementary, junior high and high schools across Japan are members of the Junior Red Cross. Ogawa, who has traveled overseas several times since retiring at the age of 55, conducted a search for the creators of these works by using copies after returning to Japan.”Because many people in America helped me when I was traveling, I wanted to do something in return,” Ogawa said, adding that he wanted to “share the joy” with Boice, who wanted to know who worked on the paintings and what they were doing now. So far, Ogawa has found two — a man living in Yamanashi Prefecture and a woman in Saitama Prefecture. The Yamanashi man, in his early 60s, was identified because he signed his name to his work of calligraphy. He could not recall the work or his school sending an album to America, Ogawa said. The Saitama woman, who declined to be named, said she was “very happy and moved” when Ogawa called her about the painting. Ogawa later sent copies to her. “I had forgotten about it … I was so moved that the American school kept the paintings for 50 years,” she said, recalling the day when a teacher said her school was sending paintings to America. Ogawa said he hopes to find other authors through the school’s roll lists and the Red Cross.”When I find more, I want to go and visit them,” he said. “And I hope that some day these people will be able to visit Montana, as I would if I were one of them.”

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