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Wednesday, April 11, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Smiles Light Up Campus Dedication -- Kimono-Clad Officials A Smashing Success At Edcc Branch In Japan

-- KOBE, JAPAN

On the left side of the outdoor stage was an 1,800-pound wooden bird, looking downright bewildered as it stared into three square blocks of blue-suited, strait-laced Japanese well-wishers.

In the center, 100 Edmonds Community College students and instructors stood shoulder to shoulder, their mouths smiling but their eyes performing uncanny imitations of those of the bird by their side.

And on the left was the neatly arranged Kobe City Firefighters Marching Band, decked out toes to tassels in fire-engine red and playing ``Anchors Aweigh'' like they knew it by heart.

Faced with that astounding mix under a big-top tent with 2,000 good friends who don't speak their language, 30 Snohomish County officials did what any red-blooded Japanese Branch Campus Dedicators would do.

They smiled.

Edmonds Community College President Tom Nielsen started the whole affair yesterday to help commemorate the opening of the college's branch in Japan. Called to the stage to participate in a Japanese tradition - sake-barrel bashing - Nielsen donned a brightly colored ``EDCC Japan Campus'' kimono, which looked slightly ridiculous with his three-piece suit.

Next on stage were college trustees Vaughn Sherman, Karen Miller, Charles Kee, Edith Lawrence and Majel Wilson. They, too, wore kimonos, as did congressional aide Bruce Agnew, Lynnwood Mayor M.J. Hrdlicka (pronounced ``hard liquor'' by the Japanese interpreter), and state Sens. Gary Nelson of Edmonds and Gerald Saling of Spokane.

Moments later, they were joined by a dozen Japanese counterparts, who passed out large wooden mallets. On the count of san (three), the mallets crashed down on the wood lids of the sake barrels, shattering them with a loud, staccato SPLAT! and spraying four front-row photographers with enough sake to make their hair smell like fermented rice through next week.

The act brought cheers from the crowd and smiles to the sake-bashers, all of whom were soaked with the stuff from the waist down - except for Hrdlicka, who later admitted he'd done this twice before and knew how to direct the liquid away from himself, thus onto someone else.

And it introduced a party atmosphere to what had been a day of formal celebration of an unprecedented educational venture. College administrators who had been consumed by the project for months finally relaxed.

From then on, proceedings that had begun with a quiet, indoor Shinto ceremony transformed into an outdoor Japanese lawn party.

Hundreds of Japanese high-school and college students dressed in matching white uniforms served fresh seafood and other Japanese dishes at more than 100 tables under a 100-yard-long white tent, which Jean Gardner, the governor's wife, dubbed ``The Bite of Kobe.'' Thousands of multicolored balloons were released, drifting upward past a lane lined by large EDCC, American and Japanese flags.

Hirotoshi Mizota, the Japanese businessman who built the branch campus, gathered his family and posed for photos in front of the bird, a cedar totem carved by 98-year-old sculptor Dudley Carter of Redmond. The bird will be the first of many pieces of Northwest art to be placed outdoors at the campus.

The branch campus is expected to attract Japanese students seeking intensive English training and a two-year transfer degree to ease their entrance to American universities.

A delegation of 100 from Washington state traveled to the opening of the campus, which will launch courses for 550 Japanese and 50 American students next week.

As the party wound down two hours later, Japanese and American students stood around a table together, laughing and speaking the universal language of youth - beer and laughter.

``College kids really are the same,'' Hrdlicka said. ``I don't care where they are.''

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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