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US 1st Lady Gets Taste of Japan’s Ancient Culture in Kyoto

US first lady Michelle Obama poses for a photo with the Akutagawa High School Taiko Club during her visit to Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine in Kyoto, in western Japan, Friday, March 20, 2015. Taiko are a a broad range of Japanese percussion instruments, and have a mythological origin in Japanese folklore. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
US first lady Michelle Obama poses for a photo with the Akutagawa High School Taiko Club during her visit to Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine in Kyoto, in western Japan, Friday, March 20, 2015. Taiko are a a broad range of Japanese percussion instruments, and have a mythological origin in Japanese folklore. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

ELAINE KURTENBACH, Associated Press

KYOTO, Japan (AP) — U.S. first lady Michelle Obama was treated to a serene classical Noh performance and then tried taiko drums as she ended her visit to Japan on Friday with a taste of traditional culture in Kyoto, one of the country’s ancient capitals.

Mrs. Obama viewed the Noh performance at Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple founded in 780 that is one of the most famous sights in Japan, sitting on a forested hill overlooking the city.

Local college students in kimono performed a brief piece of Noh, a classical Japanese musical drama that usually employs elaborate costumes and stylized masks to symbolize roles of women, ghosts and other characters.

While at Kiyomizu-dera, a UNESCO World Heritage site, whose name means “clear water,” Mrs. Obama also observed a traditional tea ceremony. She then traveled across town to the 1,300-year-old Fushimi Inari Shrine, a place of worship for Japan’s other major religion, Shinto. There are 30,000 such shrines in Japan that venerate the guardian god of abundant harvests, prosperity and family safety. The Fushimi Inari is renowned for the many crimson torii gates lining paths through its leafy grounds.

There she watched a rousing performance by the award-winning Akutagawa High School Taiko Club, who drummed, jumped and gesticulated with all their might.

“You guys are good!” she said. “That’s good exercise. Wonderful.”

The students then invited Mrs. Obama to join them, and performed a number as she and a student drummed on a big, round taiko drum.

Soon after, Mrs. Obama left Japan, one of Asia’s richest nations, for Cambodia, one of Asia’s poorest.

The U.S. first lady arrived in Japan on Wednesday for a visit that has focused mainly on cooperation in the “Let Girls Learn” initiative to support girls’ education in the developing world. President Barack Obama and his wife recently announced the program, which will devote millions of dollars in aid to girls’ empowerment projects.

“Does this kind of work sound exciting to you? If so, you should consider joining the Peace Corps,” Mrs. Obama said in a travel blog posted late Thursday. “You can also make a difference by tutoring a classmate, or reading to a younger sibling, or volunteering through your school or place of worship.”

Cambodia is one of the 11 countries to be included in the “Let Girls Learn” program, which is being run by the Peace Corps, with support from counterpart organizations including the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers.

This is Mrs. Obama’s first visit to Japan, as she did not accompany the president on his state visit last year. The visit is seen partly as a way of making up for her absence then, and as a sign of closeness between the allies.

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Follow Elaine Kurtenbach on Twitter at twitter.com/ekurtenbach

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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