Japanese visitors get taste of two cultures: American, country

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

Communication can be tricky for the Japanese students who are visiting Sweet Home and their hosts, but overcoming that barrier is one of the main reasons they’re here.

Fifteen Josai University High School students are visiting Sweet Home and the Northwest from July 13 to July 21 as part of a bi-annual exchange program between Josai, located in Tokyo, and Sweet Home High School. Every other year, Josai sends students to Sweet Home for two weeks. In between, Sweet Home sends students to Josai.

One of the main reasons for the exchange is language.

“The one thing is the English language for us,” said teacher Takeshi Kiyomi. He was the first Josai teacher to visit Sweet Home and is on his fifth visit to Sweet Home in 20 years. “We want to expose the students to English speaking surroundings.”

The students stayed with several host families around Sweet Home, but the language barrier didn’t cause too many problems.

“It takes a few minutes,” host mother Patty Thomas said, and when the communication gets too tough, her exchange students will go to a reference using their phones, which appear much higher-tech than American phones, or look up words in a dictionary.

All students in Japan learn English from age 12 to at least age 20, Kiyomi said. “Maybe we have knowledge of English grammar and the ability to read English, but when it comes to speaking or hearing, it is difficult.”

Japan is an isolated, homogenous country with no borders, and English is not used daily there, Kiyomi said, although English conversations are common during school.

Exposing the students to the language in actual use helps them to understand it, and learning English is important to the Japanese, he said.

“Maybe 100 years ago, we first met the American people,” Kiyomi said. “We were forced to open our country. Our people were shocked” to see how advanced the Americans were at that time.

The Japanese recognized the importance of learning the English language to build their own knowledge, he said. It is also important at times in using computers, and the United States has a dominant influence all over Asia.

Japan’s isolation also means few opportunities to meet other cultures.

“This gives students a strong consciousness of who they are,” Kiyomi said. They are able to compare and contrast their own culture to another.

In the case of Josai students, the exchange is really more like two, Sweet Home teacher Steve Hummer said. The exchange is actually between American and Japanese students and also between “country and city kids.”

When they’re in Sweet Home, they learn to fish, and “when we go to Tokyo, they teach us to ride the subway,” Hummer said. “It’s fun to see somebody roast their first marshmallow.”

Roasting hot dogs, Hummer said, the hot dogs would fall into the fire or the visitors would stick four hot dogs on the same stick, blackening the outside while leaving the inside cold.

The same thing might happen with a kid from New York City visiting Sweet Home, Hummer said.

Thomas said it was her family’s first time hosting an exchange student, she said. “My daughter’s going to be going (to Josai). We thought it would be a nice experience to have them stay here.”

Her daughter, Page Thomas, an incoming senior, plans to join the two-week trip next summer to Josai right after graduation. Her younger daughter, Rachel Thomas, an incoming freshman, may go as well.

Her two Josai students, Shoki Yoshino and Yasunari Iwai, have had a busy schedule between planned group activities and family activities. They’ve been to work with Tom Thomas, who works for Timberline Logging, and watched the yarders operate and then run the shovels. They’ve fished; shot guns; attended the parade, Logger Olympics, rodeo and fireworks; swimming at the local pool, bowling at Sweet Home Lanes; eaten at Sam City and shopped Valley River Mall in Eugene. After the Logger Olympics, they even tried pole climbing.

Iwai’s Dad is a gardener, so he has run shovels before but nothing as big as Timberline’s, Thomas said. He said it was like a big video game.

“Each time we got done,” Thomas said, it was “‘Very exciting, very exciting.'”

They’ve enjoyed everything they’ve eaten, Thomas said, except cashews; and when they were asked what they wanted for dinner, they chose spaghetti.

“It’s been so wonderful,” Thomas said. “It’s like they’re part of the family. They’re very polite. Everything you do, they say thank you. We’re going to miss them.”

The full group traveled all around the state for a variety of activities, including a visit to the Oregon Capitol, hiking trips and shopping. They stayed at Clear Lake and Kah-Nee-Ta Resort on the Warm Springs Reservation.

They also enjoyed taking English lessons almost daily from Sweet Home English teacher Deborah Handman, Hummer said. Handman lived in Japan with her missionary family and could communicate with the students in their own language.

The trip to Kah-Nee-Ta was among the highlights for the students. While there, they kayaked on Lake Simtustus.

“That’s probably one of the better things we’ve done,” Hummer said. They saw an eagle’s nest and had huge water fights.

Again it comes down to Japan’s geography and isolation, Kiyomi said. Japan is mountainous, and “mostly they live in Tokyo, so they don’t know the open space like this.”

Seeing the horizon on land at Kah-Nee-Ta was a new experience for his students, Kiyomi said.

Josai student Raita Izaki agreed about the scenery and said he enjoyed the nature, calling it “beautiful.” The land horizon was impressive, and “when at night, very beautiful. Stars very good.”

With the lights of Tokyo, most stars are not really visible to these students.

Thomas said her guests enjoyed slipping out to look at the stars and the moon.

Izaki also said that he enjoyed the good people of Sweet Home and Oregon.

The trip will end in Seattle, where the Josai students will watch the Mariners play the A’s, Hummer said. The Mariners tradition started with the addition of Japanese player Ichiro Suzuki to the team.

“I appreciate the host families’ hospitality,” Kiyomi said. “Also, I appreciate Steve Hummer because he has spent a lot of time for this program. I hope the people of Sweet Home will accept our students forever.”

Kiyomi said he saw a man working around Sweet Home who asked Kiyomi if he was one of the Josai teachers and told Kiyomi that his daughter had gone to Tokyo for a year.

“The town is small,” Kiyomi said. “I have many friends and acquaintances here. It’s very warm-hearted. I appreciate the people in your Sweet Home.”

Hummer said. “Once you start doing (participating in the program), it’s a lot of fun. I encourage people to do it.”

The Thomas family will do it again, Thomas said. They may take on a yearlong exchange student.

Hummer is still seeking host families for the yearlong part of the program. He may be reached at 401-4456.

Hummer has been running the Sweet Home side of the exchange program since 2000.

The program has been in operation for 26 years.