McMinnville welcomed 12 residents from its sister city of Mikawa, Japan last week for the first time since a massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit in March 2011 causing the Sister Cities exchange program for junior high students to be put on hold.
“Last year was the first year that was interrupted due to the earthquake and tsunami,” said organizer Melany Crothers.
Sister Cities has allowed McMinnville’s and Mikawa’s youth to explore Japanese and American cultures during a short stay with a host family since 1993. The cities alternate as hosts of the event.
McMinnville Mayor Norman Rone and his wife, Elizabeth, have been involved since the beginning and have loved watching the program grow stronger.
“It’s created a cultural exchange that never would have been available without this program,” the mayor said.
This year McMinnville welcomed 10 students and two chaperones for a week. The group arrived stateside in Washington, D.C., on July 31, and after a brief stay in the nation’s capital, reached McMinnville on Tuesday.
The group toured downtown McMinnville, Yorozu, Centertown Elementary School, and Warren County Middle School. In addition to touring, the group enjoyed kayaking, bowling, and volleyball.
Sharon and Chris Hargrove held a picnic for the group Wednesday. Neal Cox, along with grandson Byron, and friends, Bill Christian, Erbie Flynt and Joe Waters, brought Tennessee Walking Horses to the Hargrove’s farm for everyone to ride and enjoy.
Sister Cities served as a sort of family reunion for the Crothers family as they welcomed the brother of a student who had stayed at their home before. Next year, they plan to send their son to Japan with the same family.
“There will be lots of tears shed Sunday night,” said chairman Beverly Crouch on the departure of the Japanese students from their host families.
Added Leigh Ann Stewart, who welcomed exchange student Akari Sato into her home, “This week with our Japanese visitors has been an incredible experience for our entire family. We have enjoyed all of the group activities, and the family time spent with Akari has been special. Having three daughters and welcoming Akari into our home, it is evident that even though our cultures may differ, girls are girls.”
Her daughter Chelsea said, “I was able to make friendships that will last a lifetime.”
Sister Cities has fostered life-long friendships in the past, and this year seems to be no different.
“I like Tennessee people,” said exchange student Kana Kikuchi when asked about her stay.
Mikawa Junior High School principal Tadashi Akiba hopes to welcome Warren County students to Japan next summer.