Ten Warren County students recently took the trip of a lifetime to McMinnville’s sister city of Mikawa, Japan.
The trip was in conjunction with the Sister Cities student exchange program, which has allowed McMinnville’s and Mikawa’s youth to explore Japanese and American cultures since 1993, except for 2011, when the program was suspended following an earthquake and tsunami which happened in Japan. The cities alternate as hosts.
Students making the trip were junior Bella Smith, sophomores Ryan Nokes and Mitchell Woodlee, and freshmen Trey Crothers, Lauren Hennessee, Abigail McKinley, C.J. Rogers, Chelsea Stewart, Nicholas Williamson and Hannah Wright.
The students were joined by chaperones Melany Crothers and Jennifer Wright. Crothers is a Sister Cities board member and both women are teachers at Centertown Elementary.
The group traveled 14 hours to be with their host families.
“The hardest thing about the trip was the 14-hour plane ride. It was actually 24 hours with traveling and waiting time added. But, it was worth it,” said Crothers.
The visitors to Japan had a full itinerary which included meeting the mayor on the first day, as well as touring Tokyo and cruising the river, touring an elementary school, learning to play ground golf, which reminded the students of a mix between croquet and miniature golf, and being honored guests at a banquet where the group performed a baseball-themed skit.
The second day, the group toured a junior high school, toured Yorozu Engineering Corporation, learned judo and had a natural hot springs foot bath, called an onsen.
The third day, the group visited the Sea of Japan and an aquarium known as holding the world record for having the most jellyfish. The group tasted jellyfish ice cream and most proclaimed it to be “good and crunchy.”
In addition to jellyfish ice cream, the group tasted delicacies such as tongue, shark fin soup and grilled chicken heart.
“All of the kids were really good sports about eating and trying new things,” said Crothers.
During their stay, the students also learned samurai training, visited a silk farm, cooked their own meals on Hibachi grills, saw 800-900-year-old trees, visited pagodas, shrines and Mt. Haguro, picked blueberries at a blueberry farm, visited the emergency management building and went through earthquake preparedness practice.
One highlight of the trip was the fireworks show following a summer celebration and parade. Crothers said the Japanese believe summer signifies the return of their ancestor’s spirits.
“The one-and-a-half hour fireworks show was amazing. It was set to music and they had fireworks shaped like a smiley face and Mickey Mouse,” Crothers said.
C.J. Rogers said, “I wanted to experience their culture and day-to-day life. They practice their religion every day and every night. I noticed things that are different and also things they do that are similar. They drove on the opposite side of the road. They also go to school a lot. They only have a two-week summer break.”
Jennifer Wright said, “I loved seeing their schools. They are beautiful and well taken care of. The students have to clean the schools themselves. It is one of their class periods, cleaning the school. The students must take off their shoes at school. They have slippers to put on but their floors are immaculate. Also, their school cafeteria food was delicious. Some of the schools are located on the beach. They even have scuba diving as one of their classes.”
The students learned of other differences between Japanese and American students. “The girls there cannot have sleepovers. The schools want to keep everyone out of trouble. The girls cannot paint their fingernails and cannot have their ears pierced,” said Wright.
According to Wright and Crothers, the Japanese students only have a two-week break from school in the summer. “Really it is not a break,” said Wright, “The students still practice things such as calligraphy, band and sports such as judo, ping pong, volleyball, tennis, soccer and baseball. Sometimes they practice all day, even during summer break.”
Crothers said the Japanese and American students learned to communicate by sharing things they have in common. “The girls looked as fashion magazines together and the boys played sports together,” Crothers said.
Bella Smith said, “They learn English from an early age. One of the girls I was with wants to be a hotel concierge in America so she practices English a lot.”
In order to be accepted into the Sister Cities exchange club program, students must fill out an application in the spring and be approved to participate. The student is then paired with a student approximately the same age and will be taken into the host family’s home for the time he or she is in Japan or the United States.
Mikawa and McMinnville alternate students so Mikawa’s students will travel to McMinnville in 2014.