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Japanese students spend a weekend with CK families

Students from Shukutoku Sugamo Junior High School in Tokyo performed the Fishing Village dance at Olympic High School Friday. Performers of the traditional Japanese dance sway back and forth and glide their arms portraying ocean waves; swing around and pull an invisible fishing net; the dance finishes with three pyramids signifying three boats coming back to the shore full of the day’s catch. - Photo by Jesse Beals
Students from Shukutoku Sugamo Junior High School in Tokyo performed the Fishing Village dance at Olympic High School Friday. Performers of the traditional Japanese dance sway back and forth and glide their arms portraying ocean waves; swing around and pull an invisible fishing net; the dance finishes with three pyramids signifying three boats coming back to the shore full of the day’s catch.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

Principal Bob Barnes stumbled a little bit over the Japanese phrase he learned in order to greet the 31 ninth-grade students visiting Central Kitsap last Friday.

“I attempted to say ‘Welcome to Olympic High School,’” he explained, to muffled giggles, after he opened the assembly at the Forum.

The 14- and 15-year-old students from Shukutoku Sugamo, a private junior high school in the Tokyo area, flew to Washington last Wednesday and spent two days in Seattle. Afterwards, Eckstein Middle School in Seattle hosted a group of them and another group arrived at OHS early Friday afternoon.

Barnes and Shukutoku Sugamo vice principal Masahiro Saisho exchanged gifts and students from both schools exchanged performances — the Trojan band played and the exchange students presented a traditional dance and sang a piece made popular by a Japanese rock group.

One of the Shukutoku Sugamo students gave a brief speech in English and two OHS juniors, Caitlyn Roehmholdt and Cliff Maher, welcomed the school’s guests with a speech in Japanese.

Roehmholdt and Maher are two of the three CK students who will travel to Kure, Hiroshima prefecture, later this summer for a month-long exchange program between Kure and sister-city Bremerton. The speech they gave at OHS Friday was a practice run for the many Japanese talks they will have to give on their own trip.

This time their audience was a mixture of Japanese and English native speakers, as about 70 OHS students, teachers and host families came to the assembly.

OHS Japanese instructor Doug Morihara said there were 23 host families to take in the Japanese students for a weekend of U.S. cultural immersion. Some of the host families were those of students from his Japanese classes who wanted a chance to practice their Japanese as much as the visiting students wish to improve their English.

“More interestingly the cultural interaction is the focus,” Morihara said. “There are some host families that don’t speak any Japanese.”

Sara Leshley was a host mother who came to the early afternoon assembly to meet the students. Her son, junior Nathan Leshley, was one of the OHS students who isn’t taking Japanese. But Nathan was born in Japan during one of his father’s two tours of service at Yokosuka Naval Base.

The Leshleys have lived in Bremerton for six years now and host two exchange students every year from a different program.

“We always hosted students from Japan since we have that connection with the country,” Sara Leshley said.

“One of the reasons we host is we were treated so kindly by Japanese and we were shown so much grace and kindness that any opportunity we have to pay that back will never be enough,” she added.

When Morihara explained to the host families that the Japanese students are shy and even when invited will not help themselves to food though they may be starving, Leshley nodded knowingly.

It is a cultural trait for the teenage Japanese students to be shy at meal times, she confirmed. At the same time, they are eager to learn as much about U.S. culture as they can in the course of their short field trip.

“Their reading ability is phenomenal, in English, but their listening and speaking ... they need practice with,” Leshley said.

Normally, the Shukutoku Sugamo students visit England during their trip abroad, but decided to come to the United States for the first time this year, Morihara said. They contacted Olympic High School because of Central Kitsap School District’s strong Japanese language program.

Hiroko Havekost, Kitsap coordinator for the Portland-based Azumano Agency which organizes Japanese exchange programs, admitted she may be biased because she lives in the area, but said CKSD schools are among the best for Japanese language studies in the area.

Senior Monica Robinson helped coordinate the welcoming assembly for the Japanese students. A fourth-year language student in Morihara’s class, Robinson said she has actually been speaking Japanese all her life. She was born in the same naval base as two of Leshley’s three children and Robinson is half Japanese.

Though she could not host one of the Shukutoku Sugamo students herself, because her mother had just returned from a visit to Japan, Robinson was excited and chatted with host families she knew, asking if she could stop by and visit their students.

The Japanese students and their host families received tickets to Friday evening’s Mariners baseball game and had the rest of the weekend free, returning to OHS Monday morning for breakfast and to shadow a few classes.

Havekost, who served as a resource for the host families and exchange students, was at OHS to send the visitors off. Everyone had such a good time, member of the Shukutoku Sugamo group said they wanted to come back next school year for another visit, she said.

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