Kites, kimonos and culture. The Contemporaries of the Azalee Marshall Cultural Activities Center held a “Journey to Japan” Tuesday as part of a program that introduces local students to other world cultures.

The Contemporaries’ “Hands-On” program has been active for the past 20 years. The group selects a different world culture every year to share with children who come through the doors.

“Each year, we choose a culture that, hopefully, the children don’t know that much about already. This year, we’ve chosen Japan,” Contemporaries chairman Beverly Kermode said.

Over the next month, third-grade classes from throughout the area will file into the CAC to experience a taste of Japanese culture. The event is broken into four stations with various activities.

Students took to the CAC’s stage Tuesday, donned in kimonos and paddy hats to act out a Japanese folk tale. Students were able to learn a traditional fan dance, construct their own fish kites and observe several artifacts of Japanese culture.

Kermode said the event is a way for students to actively learn in a way that a classroom may not provide.

“In almost every case, we really try to have something where the children do something hands-on. That way, they get to experience instead of just listening to somebody,” Kermode said. “They get to do something, which I think makes it more meaningful for the children.”

Tarver Elementary teacher Lindsey Valish said this type of instruction offers different educational opportunities than a classroom can provide.

“Through a textbook, you can sit there and read and try to imagine, but here, they’re actually getting to touch and feel and walk around,” Valish said. “It’s a whole different experience outside of the classroom. I can tell by their faces they’re really enjoying it.”

Tarver third-grader Christian Hill said he enjoyed the dance section the most.

“My favorite part was the fans,” Hill said.

He also said he enjoyed learning about the significance of the cherry blossom in Japanese culture.

“I learned that when the leaves fall on the pink trees, cherries grow out of them,” Hill said.

Kermode estimated that more than 2,000 students will participate in the program this year.

“In this area of Central Texas, our children really don’t have as many opportunities. In most cases, our children are kind of isolated,” Kermode said. “I think (Hands-On) gives them a global awareness.”

The Contemporaries aren’t only reaching out to children. Kermode hopes the programs will spill over to adults in the community as well.

“Part of the idea is to get parents and community members involved in the Cultural Activities Center,” Kermode said. “If the kids find out about it and get their parents excited about it, then hopefully they’ll come do some other family activities.”

The Contemporaries were chartered in 1969 and today have more than 100 members. The organization has donated nearly $2 million to the CAC since its inception, including more than $65,000 last year.