Eric Paulsen / Eyewitness News
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NEW ORLEANS -- Last month on a Monday night, eight students from O. Perry Walker High School and their counterparts with the Tipitina's intern program got a lesson in Japanese culture and language in preparation for their trip to Japan, a journey that will bring two cultures together in the celebration of music.

None of these kids has ever been to Japan. Most have never been out of the country. So they are very excited and eager to learn more about a culture they know very little about -- especially the language.

Much of this trip got its origins when an earthquake and tsunami devastated northern Japan. The folks at the Tipitina's Foundation wanted to help out, so they got in touch with a Japanese musician who has played New Orleans for years, Yoshio Toyama.

Toyama said there was a great need for help in a small town, in the Sendai region. The foundation sent money there, not knowing at the time years before that the people of Sendai had sent help here after Hurricane Katrina.

It made for an unbreakable bond. Two communities hit by disaster, lending each other a helping hand.

Toyama, who's called the Satchmo of Tokyo, proposed the idea of a cultural exchange of young people. The Tipitina's Foundation and the Japanese foundation made it happen.

Originally the trip was supposed to be Donald Harrison traveling with eight Tipitina's interns, but the Tipitina's Foundation wanted to expand the program and invited eight O. Perry Walker band members to join them in japan.

It was a chance to bring the music of New Orleans there, and meet the kids of the small town who were helped after the tsunami.

Earlier this week we caught up with four of the Tipitina's interns who are all excited to be on this trip and playing concerts in several Japanese cities, bringing two countries together through music. And there is no doubt what they'll play.

'New Orleans second-line music, soul music, funk, everything,' said student Darryl Staves. 'Jazz, swing.'

Over at O. Perry Walker this week, the eight students going on this journey got together with their parents to pack for their trip to Japan. They have their instruments, matching outfits, new luggage and iPads to do homework all donated to help them on this trip.

And while it's the trip of a lifetime for these kids, it's all about the music.

'Music just needs to be in my life,' said student Julius Hill.

For 17-year-old Devin Lee, the story is the same. This is a dream come true.

Lee, who's never even been on a plane, knows this is the trip of a lifetime, and he understands this band will go to Japan with a message.

'That music is universal,' Lee said. 'You know, it doesn't matter what you play, how you play it. It's all the same.'

O Perry Walker Principal Mary Laurie said they at first were calling this a once in a lifetime trip, but then reconsidered, because these kids have a lifetime of opportunity ahead of them.

'So we changed that, and we said 'You know what this is?'' she said. 'It's the first of a lifetime.'

For these 16 young New Orleanians who will journey overseas, New Orleans and America will be well represented in Japan, the land of the rising sun.


Eric Paulsen will accompany the students on their trip to Japan and have reports in later editions of EyewitnessNews.

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