Josai visitors experience new things during this year’s trip to Sweet Home

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

The 2019 Josai exchange group ended their 13-day visit to Sweet Home with a first: a visit to the Jamboree.

“We came later this year,” said Takashi Takahashi, international school liaison at Josai Gakuen, the Tokyo prep school that has sent students to Sweet Home and hosted visits from Sweet Home High School students for 37 years. “That has allowed us to visit the Jamboree.”

The 11 Japanese visitors who remained last week, 10 students and Takahashi, who is known colloquially on both sides of the Pacific as “Taka-Taka,” spent most of Friday at the festival, getting a look at a side of Sweet Home none of them have seen before.

Their visit is a bi-annual affair, with Sweet Home students scheduled to visit Josai next summer.

Typically, Josai, an elite prep school in Tokyo, also sends students annually to Sweet Home to spend the full school year, but because of a change in the all-important college entrance exam in Japan, which high school seniors spend months preparing for, none are coming this year, Sweet Home Josai Coordinator Suzette Andersen said, though she had three on this visit who have expressed interest in coming back for a year-long stay.

The Josai students arrived for their summer visit on July 22, two days after their summer break began, accompanied by Takahashi and their new principal, Sakae Saito.

Their trip started quick, with a stop at the Woodburn Factory Outlets mall. They were supposed to visit Multnomah Falls as well, but the landmark’s parking area was closed, so they couldn’t go, Sweet Home Coordinator Suzette Andersen said.

Their hosts included members of the Josai Club at Sweet Home High School, who spent their days hanging out with the visitors, accompanying them on excursions and showing them around town.

The visitors and hosts participated in a scavenger hunt of selfies around Sweet Home on their first day here, and had lunch at A&W.

They made a couple of stops at Sugar Vibes, but both of those mornings had been busy and the selection wasn’t what it often is. Their visit to Voodoo Donuts in Eugene was very rewarding, said Takahashi, who, Andersen noted later, is a donut lover.

Other trips included the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Newport waterfront, a Corvallis Knights baseball game and a rafting outing on the McKenzie River.

That was a first, Takahashi said.

“The nature was very beautiful and the water was very fresh,” he said. “They enjoyed that.”

The visitors had a good time, Andersen each.

“Everything we did, the kids would say, ‘This is is the most fun,'” she said. “They just love seeing nature.”

Also new this year was the attendance for the principal and four teachers from Josai. Andersen said the school seems to be putting emphasis on having its teachers get a firsthand look at Sweet Home.

On Thursday night, Aug. 1, they had their traditional “Sayonara Party” at the home of former Josai Club member Josh Juza, who spent the last year in Japan as an assistant English teacher at Josai’s high school.

He and his parents, Lori and Dan, hosted two of the four boys who made the trip.

Takahashi said less Josai students made the trip this year due to a lack of host families in Sweet Home.

“In the past, many Sweet Home people have been host families,” he said, noting that he could have brought double the number of students this year. “Recently, I don’t know why, but the number is decreasing. It’s really hard.”

He said the local coordinators of the program are doing “really well,” giving the students a taste of life in rural America.

Andersen said the Jamboree complicated things for some would-be host families, who were getting ready for the festival during the second week of the Japanese visit.

This was her third stint coordinating the visit from Japan. She said she was personally introduced to the program on a previous visit by holding a cooking class in her classroom at the high school, where she teaches family/consumer sciences.

This year, she said, other high school teachers got involved. Physical education teacher Lindsey Haggas, who helped plan the outdoor recreation and business teacher Ammon Mills hosted a session in which students used laser engraving equipment in his classroom to personalize hydro flasks.

“Without the teachers’ cooperation, there would be no visit,” Andersen said.

She said the participation from local teens was at an all-time high, at least in recent years, enabling the host students to engage almost one-on-one with the visitors.

“The Americans embraced it. One of my favorite things is that we have some really dedicated high- schoolers who come and interact.

“We had kids that came because their friend was involved, and now they’re saying ‘I’m going to Japan next year.”

At least eight Sweet Home students have said they’re going, she said. They will visit Josai next summer.

The experience is good for both the visitors and the hosts, said Takahashi, who was once an exchange student himself. Since the Josai students are from one of the world’s largest, most urbane cities, while Sweet Home offers a small-town experience that is a world away from what the Japanese visitors experience on a daily basis, he said.

“Tokyo is a very metropolitan city, a concrete jungle,” he said. “Many skyscrapers. Many of these students were born in Tokyo.”

He said interacting with the foreigners is a benefit to Sweet Home students as well.

“Talking with foreigners is a very important thing for them, to think about their futures, what they are going to be.”