by Lou Mancinelli
When Mt. Airy resident Yuki Flores came from Japan to the West the first time in 1995, it was for an exchange program teaching English in a small Canadian village. There was one convenience store, which tripled as a post office and gas station.
She was 25, and this was a chance for her to study English and introduce Japanese culture — Origami, calligraphy and Japanese dress — to villagers in a new country. “I also learned Canada culture,” she said. “Rodeo, wagon ride, horse riding, taking care of chickens (my host family had many chickens), curling and ice hockey.”
The program lasted one year, after which Yuki returned to Japan. Flores lived with a Canadian family, doing dishes and laundry — something her mother did for her back home in Kamakura, about a 40-minute train ride from Tokyo.
Flores, 45, will teach Origami Art for Valentine’s Day through Mt. Airy Learning Tree on Saturday, Feb. 7, at Grace Epiphany Church, 224 E. Gowen Ave. in Mt. Airy, from 10 to 11:30 a.m.
With the class, she hopes students will learn basic skills of Origami and be able to create their own art. (Origami comes from the Japanese words “Oru” meaning “to fold” and “kami” meaning “paper.” And that’s exactly what it is — folding paper into the shapes of familiar animals and other objects!)
The class will use “a special paper such as Japanese washi paper with special design” to make a crane, a classic image associated with the craft. “For us, it’s a kind of natural thing,” Flores said about Origami. If a student was in the hospital, she recalled, his Japanese classmates might be assigned with making 1,000 cranes out of paper and delivering them to him.
Once students know the basic techniques of Origami, are aware of the importance of patience and paying attention to each detail and direction — making sure, if directions say fold in half, the fold is exactly a half —then making cranes, a heart message card or a heart rabbit becomes a matter of practice.
“Then you will understand any Origami book,” Flores said. You’ll know when your folds are off because when you’re done, it just won’t look completely right. “The holding is simple,” she said. “You need the patience to do detail.”
Patience is what many students she worked with in Canada — the one local school ran from K through 12, with fewer than 60 students in all — lacked, at least younger ones. She’d have to entertain as well while she taught. The biggest thing she learned in Canada, besides strengthening her knowledge of her own culture, was getting by on her own.
“In Japan my mother did everything for me,” Flores said. “I was one of the spoiled ones.” But the opportunity gave her the chance to improve her English and share parts of her own self, like the calligraphy she’d been studying outside school for 15 years. It is something Flores said was common in her generation.
In college Flores studied English literature, but when she finished, she faced a slow economy. She took a job in Information Technology, and the company paid for her training. She has remained in the field ever since, working in Tokyo for several years. Nine years ago Yuki, 45, married Dean Flores, whom she had met in Hawaii through a mutual friend, and moved to Mt. Airy, where he was from.
One major difference for Yuki about life in the U.S. is that she now has a sizable front and back yard. If she and her husband had something comparable in Japan, it would be prohibitively expensive. Her parents’ home had a small side yard. “Having a house is the most luxurious thing in Japan,” she said.
Yuki is currently a Computer Helpdesk Manager for the International Association of Healthcare Practitioners (IAHP), a professional network of more than 100,000 therapists. She fixes and maintains computer equipment and does computer training. She received a 2008 Brazilian Medal of Honor from IAHP for being the “Best Employee of the Year.”
For Flores, the biggest challenge in Philadelphia has been making new friends. The only people she knew when she came were her husband’s family. But other aspects of American life seem right at home. “I thought American has more relaxed life than Japanese,” she said, “but I found that American works so hard as well, and I don’t find any big difference between them.”
For more information about Yuki’s Origami Art for Valentine’s Day, contact firstname.lastname@example.org