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NORMAL - Keiko Seki Hawkins was raised in Japan but has lived in the Twin Cities for 20 years. "I'm very happy living here and wanted to return something to the community," she said.

So when she learned the Children's Discovery Museum was looking for members of the Twin Cities' Japanese community to help plan activities in conjunction with a new traveling exhibit, "Japan and Nature: Spirits of the Seasons," Hawkins was one of several who jumped in with both feet.

She donated calligraphy paper and is volunteering to teach origami, the art of folding paper.

She also arranged to have a collection of Hina dolls brought from the University of Illinois' Japan House. It's the first time the collection has left the Urbana-Champaign campus.

"I was lucky," she said. "One of my best friends is working at the Japan House."

Hina dolls are traditionally given to the first daughter in a family during the Girls Festival on March 3, Hawkins said. The U of I collection depicts the hierarchy of ancient Japan and includes an emperor and empress, ladies in waiting, musicians and warriors.

The collection will be on display at the Children's Discovery Museum from the debut of the Japan exhibit on Saturday through June 23. The exhibit itself will continue to Sept. 9.

The Japan House also will bring its popular Japanese tea ceremonies to the museum twice this Saturday and twice on June 16. Space is limited to 20 participants each, and the $5 tickets will go on sale at 11 a.m. Saturday.

But the activities don't stop there.

Museum staff and the Twin Cities' Japanese community have lined up a variety of hands-on activities throughout the time of the traveling exhibit. A complete list of June and July activities are available on the museum's Web site at www.childrensdiscoverymuseum.net.

Bethany Thomas, the museum's education coordinator, said the committee created a Japanese language booklet so children can learn to write a few Japanese words, learn numbers to 100, and say the nursery rhyme "Three Blind Mice" in Japanese.

Children also will receive a "passport" when they visit the exhibit, which features the four seasons in four different regions of Japan: spring in Fukuoka, summer near Lake Biwa; fall in Kyoto; and winter in Sapporo.

Heather Young, public affairs coordinator for the museum, said children can get a different stamp in their passport each day they return to the exhibit.

In July, children can learn Obon dancing - something popular at a Buddhist summer festival in Japan.

"It's a special dance that's very easy to learn," Hawkins said.

Between the exhibit and the activities, Hawkins said children will get a better understanding of Japan.

"We have a rich culture," she said. "Kids only know Japan for Nintendo and PlayStation. We have much more than that."


Japan exhibit

What: "Japan and Nature: Spirits of the Seasons," a traveling exhibit at the Children's Discovery Museum

When: Saturday through Sept. 9

Cost: Free with admission to the museum ($4 for those 2 and above; free for under 2) except for the Japanese tea ceremony, which is $5 per person.

Special events: Recital of Japanese songs by Marisa de Silva at 1:30 p.m. Saturday and June 16; Tea ceremony by Japan House at 2 and 3 p.m. Saturday and June 16. For a list of other special events and activities connected to the exhibit, go to www.childrensdiscoverymuseum.net

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

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