July 14, 2015
Category: ChampsVolunteers

Bringing Japanese Culture to Kalamazoo Students


Michiko Yoshimoto, WMU Soga Japan Center’s outreach coordinator with Dr. Stephen Covell, Chair of WMU’s Department of Comparative Religion and founding director of the Soga Japan Center.

Today we highlight Western Michigan University Soga Japan Center. This CIS higher education partner was one of eight organizations and individuals honored at the annual Champ Celebration.  CIS Board Member Bob Miller, along with O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School presented the award. 

Western Michigan University’s Soga Japan Centerpromotes Japan and Japanese culture to the wider community. Since 2013, the center has worked closely with CIS Volunteer services to enrich students’ understanding of Japanese culture throughout a number of schools. What began as a program offered to students in CIS Think Summer, grew into leading workshops at the CIS Leadership Transformation Summit and additional programming at Hillside and Milwood Magnet Middle Schools as well as Northglade, Spring Valley, and Northeastern elementary schools.

The center’s outreach coordinator Michiko Yoshimoto and her team of a dozen WMU student volunteers have a knack for tapping into students’ natural curiosity about the world. They expose students to a variety of activities such as: calligraphy, cuisine, traditional Japanese dress, martial arts, language, and origami. Students learn to sing Japanese pop songs, practice Japanese dancing and engage in discussions about the differences between traditional and modern Japanese society and culture, as well as the differences between Japanese and Chinese cultures.

Japanese Club at Northeastern Elementary School.

Japanese Club at Northeastern Elementary School.


One of the main ingredients of this successful partnership is Michiko herself. She has a long history of volunteer work. She joined International Workcamp in 1997 and went on to plant trees at a Cambodian orphanage, teach English to children in Thailand, and build a donkey fence in Rome. And now, through CIS, she shares her passion for and appreciation of culture with our children. “Michiko has a kind and open spirit,” says CIS Volunteer Coordinator Kaitlin Martin. “She is always asking, ‘What more can I do to help? Which additional schools can we service?’

Michiko’s sense of curiosity is contagious. When she introduced students at Hillside to calligraphy, they introduced her to writing hip hop lyrics. “American culture,” says Michiko, “is fascinating to me, and I learn a lot from students.”

This reciprocity is at the core of the Soga Japan Center. The mutual relationship of learning is part of the philosophy that sustains our work at CIS and enriches our children.

Michitoshi Soga Japan Center, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.