Amidst exotic fresh flower displays and 400-year-old suits of armor, volunteers for America Japan Week can be seen milling from one person to the next, explaining the finer points of Japanese culture and tradition.

Approximately 1,850 Japanese have come to Salt Lake City at their own expense to be part of the week's festivities, and more than 400 Utah residents have offered their time and services as well.One volunteer, Tomoko Moses, said America Japan Week has been a "pure people event" because people who have come from Japan for the fair are not professionals. Instead, they are people who have "come because they love art, not because of money. They want to share their hobbies; their folk art."

Moses, a native of Japan, attended Brigham Young University and has lived in the United States since that time. Her job is to coordinate volunteers for the exhibits. She said there are over 400 translators; 200 are returned missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 150 are Japanese-Americans and about 50 are Japanese exchange students or Japanese who live in the United States now.

Moses said most of the Japanese who have come to Salt Lake City for the fair don't speak English so there has been "some miscommunication, a lot of guessing and a lot of last-minute running around" but things have, on the whole, run smoothly.

"The Japanese-Americans have been very supportive and are the foundation of this activity. They have volunteered many hours of work," said Moses.

Hideaki Kembishi, Japan's chairman for America Japan Week said, through an interpreter, that the Japanese hope to accomplish two things by participating: to give the world a feel for the Japanese culture and what it's all about and to feel an internal sense of accomplishment. "The people are constantly practicing their dances and demonstrations, and these fairs are a great target to prepare themselves for," he said.

Kembishi has attended four or five other Japan weeks in Europe, and said he has never seen as much enthusiasm and excitement as the volunteers in Salt Lake City have displayed.

"This time we're very pleased. There is such a large number of people attending and the volunteers are so enthusiastic and helpful. Some of our volunteers have already gone back to Japan and they all indicated they were very pleased."

Toshio Murai, co-chairman with Kembishi, said through an interpreter, "We feel the Salt Lake people are just warm and caring. We can also feel a lot of enthusiasm from local volunteers. They are all anxious and willing to help."

Speaking through an interpreter, Yoshio Takahashi said the reason volunteers bring their wares such a great distance, using money out of their own pockets, is so people in Utah and the United States will have a better understanding of Japan and its culture and traditions. "Hopefully it will build a friendship between Utah and Japan," said Takahashi, Matsumoto's assistant director of public information.

Moses said Salt Lake City has set a good precedent as this is the first Japan week to be held in the United States. "People were so surprised - they didn't expect such a welcome. The Japanese say they feel welcome."


(Additional information)

Discover Japan: An education supplement about Japan is available with classroom orders for the Deseret News from the Deseret Newspapers in Education department, 237-2140.