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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Japanese guest highlights country’s bond with Riverdale

By Sarina Trangle
Posted

Shigeyuki Hiroki, ambassador and consul general of Japan, and his staff couldn’t help but applaud last week during his visit to PS 81 when they received an unexpected welcoming in their native tongue.

The school’s librarian Nikki Grochowski, who had clearly done her homework, greeted the group with a hearty “Kangei shimasu.” Judging by the big smiles and clapping hands, the gesture was much appreciated.

Mr. Hiroki had requested the Feb. 14 visit to the Riverdale Avenue school because he knew it had educated generations of Japanese-Americans during the 1970s, 80s and 90s and he wanted to do more research on the roots of the Japanese community in New York. 

While the school’s Japanese population has waned significantly over the last two decades, in the 1970s, the influx of Japanese-speaking students was so high that PS 81 needed to create a new English as a Second Language program to meet their needs. 

Beginning in the 1970s, Riverdale became a prime real estate target for many Japanese companies that needed to find homes for their employees. Japanese businesses began looking elsewhere when more apartments were turned into co-ops.

One of the first, and most famous, Japanese students to go to PS 81 was Masako Owada, who became the princess of Japan when she married Crown Prince Naruhito Tsugunomiya in 1993. She attended PS 81 for at least two years in the early 1970s, according to Phyllis Tandlich, a retired PS 81 teacher.

Ms. Tandlich described Princess Owada as a model student in a Jan. 21, 1993 Riverdale Press story about the wedding. 

“She was a great little student, but she understood English better than she spoke it,” Ms. Tandlich said in the article. “We had a class picture taken when she was my student … I just sent it to her to congratulate her.”

Mr. Hiroki joked of the princess, “She has a Riverdale accent.”

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