Montbello High School Drumline prepares for their trip to Japan

The Montbello High School Drumline — an awesome precision drumming group — is traveling to Japan for a once-in-a-lifetime cultural exchange, on the new United 787 Dreamliner’s direct flight between Denver and Tokyo. After performing at the home of U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos, the students will travel on to Takayama, Denver’s Sister City, to perform for schools and in a concert hall with a famous taiko drum group.

The Montbello group was invited by Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, who had traveled to Takayama himself when he was a high school student, and who was a principle player in bringing the direct Tokyo flight to Denver International Airport.

So Hancock greeted the students at a June 1 orientation when they were introduced to some of the basics of traveling to Japan, including a first taste of Japanese food. The group was excited and open-minded, learned how to use chopsticks and enjoyed their bento box lunches, and even tasted sashimi — raw fish, trying tuna, salmon and even octopus.

The Drumline will be a highlight of the inaugural of the daily direct flight, which Hancock and Denver officials expect will be a boon for business as well as tourism and cultural exchange in both directions.

The flight was originally scheduled to launch in March, but was delayed over problems with the innovative Boeing airliner’s battery.

The Montbello musicians will experience a life-changing trip after patiently waiting out the delay. They raised funds for the trip, with help from sponsors. They’ll experience Japan from the perspective of both the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (the most famous hotel in the country) and spending several days with families in homestays in Takayama. For some of the students, this will be the first time on a plane, never mind traveling internationally.

I’m sure they’ll never forget this experience. And who knows, like Mayor Hancock, maybe years from now they’ll pass it forward and help build stronger ties between Japan and the U.S. — and Colorado, and Denver.

Here’s a video I shot of the Drumline performing earlier this year for an event organized by the Consulate General of Japan at Denver. The reception and performance celebrated a group of high school students from the Tohoku region that was devastated in the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, who spent a week at Littleton High School:

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