Ketchikan students get a taste of Japan

In this photo taken March 29, 2014, Gero City students in the Gero-Kanayama student exchange program, Kosuke Ikemoto, left, and Koki Kobayashi, center, watch as Himari Sawada helps Chasina Klein try on a yukata at The Plaza in Ketchikan, Alaska. (AP Photo/Ketchikan Daily News, Hall Anderson)

KETCHIKAN — The 27-year relationship between Ketchikan and Gero-Kanayama, Japan, continues to hold strong.


Students from Gero and Kanayama middle schools visited Ketchikan during 10 days in March to take part in the annual education exchange. Former Ketchikan resident Tony Hatano-Worrell served as chaperone for the eight students, making this his seventh year serving as chaperone in the program.

Hatano-Worrell said he has lived in Japan for nearly 21 years. He originally moved there to teach English to elementary students, and added the exchange program to his repertoire over time.

He said this year’s students started each day at Schoenbar Middle School to attend a morning meeting and visit some of the classrooms. He said the Japanese students were able to attend a picnic at Ward Lake, visit all the local schools and the Ketchikan Police station, and see much of the community while they visited

Gero City students in the Gero-Kanayama student exchange program, Kosuke Ikemoto, left, and Koki Kobayashi, center, watch as Himari Sawada helps Chasina Klein try on a yukata Saturday at The Plaza. Staff photo by Hall Anderson

A highlight of the trip was the visit to Saxman, where they were able to meet Joe Williams and Nathan Jackson.

“The students usually meet one or the other, but this year they were able to meet them both,” Hatano-Worrell said. “Joe gave them a tour and Nathan showed them some carving. They were excited about that. The kids are fascinated with the Native culture and art.”

He said the students were able to perform for the local students, and teach a little about Japanese culture.

The students were able to share a few facets of their culture with the community at Japan Day, held this past Saturday at The Plaza. The students showed visitors how to do origami paper folding, Japanese calligraphy and how to dress in a traditional yukata, which is a casual summer kimono. Many members of the community came to the mall specifically to see the Japanese students, but many passers-by indulged their curiosity and stopped to participate in the festivities.

Schoenbar eight-grader Chasina Klein purposefully attended Japan Day to learn more about the culture, and said she was excited for the Japanese students to come because she is traveling to Japan in June as part of the exchange.

“Them coming here made me more excited about going there,” Klein said. “Seeing how excited they are to be here, taking pictures of things we think are weird because we’re used to it —that’s what we’re gonna look like over there.”

Klein has been taking Japanese language at Schoenbar for two years, but said she had a little difficulty speaking with the exchange students in Japanese.

“It’s harder to understand them when they are in conversation, but you can pick out certain words,” Klein said.

Klein’s mother, Gail Klein, said she is grateful and excited for the opportunity her daughter has to visit Japan.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity really, to go on a trip like this with friends and to meet the kids beforehand,” Gail Klein said. “I’m thrilled that she gets to go.”

Hatano-Worrell said that through the years the two cities have been able to put differences behind them and build a bond.

“The communities have become really tight-knit,” Hatano-Worrell said. “We’ve had all kinds of bumps along the way, things that would have destroyed the exchange and offenses were made, and every time they have forgiven and moved on and grown together. It is really a great and valuable program.”


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