Emi Suzuki set out to teach the pupils at St. Edmund's School in the Town of Tonawanda the Japanese art of origami, or paper folding.
But instead of folding traditional birds and animals, some of the children wanted to fold little ninja weapons.
Suzuki is part of the Japanese School Internship Program sponsored by the International Internship Program based in Seattle. The program was designed to give students and educators a fresh way to learn about Japan and its people, said Sheila O'Leary, St. Edmund's assistant principal. Miss O'Leary said Miss Suzuki has been teaching kindergarten through eighth-grade pupils about Japanese culture since the beginning of May.
"She teaches everything from how to eat with chopsticks to Japanese ceremonies and festivals," Miss O'Leary said.
One day recently, for instance, Miss Suzuki was instructing kindergartners in eating their animal crackers with chopsticks.
Miss O'Leary said older pupils are learning about weightier subjects, like Japanese government and geography.
Miss Suzuki said she has been teaching origami to all grade levels.
"They like origami so much," she said.
Some children, she said, have wanted to fold nothing but paper ninja gear instead of the traditional cranes or grasshoppers.
Miss Suzuki taught in a Louisville, Ky., public school from October to April before coming to St. Edmund's.
"This school is a private school," she said of St. Edmund's. "It's very different from Kentucky schools."
She said the teachers at St. Edmund's are younger than those she encountered in Kentucky. She also said the classrooms in the Kentucky school had no windows.
When she showed her Kentucky pupils photographs of Japanese elementary pupils, the children were surprised that their Japanese counterparts wear uniforms. The St. Edmund's pupils, in their uniforms, were not surprised at all.
Miss O'Leary said St. Edmund's pupils have welcomed their Japanese visitor warmly. "They love her," Miss O'Leary said. "They're just mesmerized by her."
Miss Suzuki said the feeling is mutual.
"So nice," she said. "They're very shy . . . like Japanese students."
The teachers were a bit more hesitant in accepting Miss Suzuki at first, Miss O'Leary said, but that hesitancy did not last long.
"Once we met her and saw how she worked with the students," Mis O'Leary said, "we could hardly get enough of her."