A Very Fishy Artform

Rachel Breitweser ’03

Out on a lanai in the Sidney and Minnie Kosasa Community, students select from a variety of fresh-caught fish – but not to eat. It’s for gyotaku, the Japanese art of fish printing. First they gently apply paint and dab off the excess. Then, they carefully lay a piece of thin rice paper over the fish and smooth it down, making sure to press down on the fins to capture all the details. Finally, the students’ eyes widen as the paper is slowly lifted off, to reveal a mirror image of their fish.

This is one example of the second grade’s yearlong study of Japanese language and culture, part of the innovative grades 2 – 5 curriculum. In second grade, students learn Japanese vocabulary and sayings, study customs, experience wearing kimono, and visit the Japanese Cultural Center. They also learn about the history of Japanese people in Hawai‘i as part of lessons on immigration, where they trace their own ancestors’ journey to the Islands. In third grade, students focus on Hawaiian language and culture. In fourth grade students welcome fellow students from partner school Keio Yochisha Elementary School in Tokyo, Japan, for a valuable cultural exchange. These themes help students discover their heritages, embrace diversity and discover empathy, ultimately setting them up to become future global citizens.

The engaging hands-on lesson of gyotaku bridges science, art, culture and history. Gyotaku dates back to the mid-1800s as a pre-photography way of recording fisherman’s prized catches. Before trying it on their own, students received instructions and a demonstration from a very special guest, Hawai‘i’s best known gyotaku artist, Naoki Hayashi.