Students from Ridgewood, Japan share cultures

Ridgewood High School students and some of their peers visiting from Japan gather for a selfie during a potluck dinner hosted by the Frank family last week. From left to right: Risa Hirasawa (Ridgewood High school), Momoko Kameyama (Japan), Mako Ishimaru (Japan), Yumi Katano (Japan) and Ester Choi (RHS). The Japanese students were visiting the village as part of a cultural exchange program.

Building bridges – when it boils down to it, that’s a big part of what education is really all about.

The Kakehashi Project, operating with the slogan “The Bridge for Tomorrow,” extended that bridge to Ridgewood when 23 Japanese students visited the village as part of the cultural and educational exchange program.

The Kakehashi Project is the United States-focused portion of an effort by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan to “enhance bilateral youth exchange and mutual understanding” between the U.S. and Japan, according to the Ministry.

Ridgewood families hosted the Japanese students from Takamatsu High School from March 23 to 26. While in the village, the students “shadowed” fellow students at Ridgewood High School (RHS) by attending and participating in classes with them. The students will also visit San Francisco before returning to Japan.

The 23 Takmatsu students’ arrival in Ridgewood represents the second and final phase of the project. Last summer, 23 Ridgewood students took a 10-day trip to Japan, where they toured various parts of the country. They traveled through Tokyo and the mountainous Nagano Prefecture, exploring the cultures and educational foundations that have shaped that country.

Tokyo’s Fuchie High School served as the host school for the Ridgewood students. RHS was selected as one of just 47 American high schools to participate in the Kakehashi Project.

“The students were so excited and they learned so much. I was really amazed at how they conducted themselves,” said Caroline Richards, an English teacher at RHS and one of the chaperones on the trip. “They were so willing to explore and to try all kinds of new things. They learned so much about themselves.”

The 25 Ridgewood students who were selected to embark on the trip were originally scheduled to stay in Takamatsu, but a typhoon restricted travel to the area. Instead, they stayed in Tokyo for two days before trekking to Nagano for five more days, and then headed back to Tokyo before flying home.

Highlights from the trip, according to Richards and several of the students, included visiting Tokyo’s Akihabara shopping district, hiking in the Nagano mountains, meditating at a Buddhist temple, learning all kinds of new things at Fuchie High School and traveling to a fish market very early one morning to sample what they all agreed was the tastiest sushi they’d ever had.

Last Tuesday evening, March 24, the Japanese visitors gathered with Ridgewood students, teachers and residents for a community dinner, during which students from both countries gave presentations. The RHS students reviewed their trip from last summer, while the Takamatsu students discussed Japanese culture and history.

Additionally, Ridgewood’s senior brass quintet, dance team and Wadaiko drum team all performed.

“The experience of seeing a Japanese school was really interesting and different,” said RHS student Olivia Shammas. “We were given opportunities to try different activities, such as kendo, aikido, bookmaking and drumming. Everyone was really kind and welcoming to us. Being able to connect with the students on Facebook has allowed us to stay in touch with them and has helped us build a bridge to their country.”

Takamatsu’s students gave riveting presentations about their home country, ranging from the times of the Horyu-ji Temple (completed in 600 and considered to be one of the world’s oldest wooden buildings) to the Tokyo Skytree (a towering, 2,080-foot-high structure completed in 2012), Japan’s beautiful gardens and the sadou tea ceremony.

The lively “Tokyo Tour Guides” reviewed many aspects of the culture in a humorous, quiz-style presentation that even included some “time travel” back to the Edo Period, where they encountered both a samurai and a ninja.

The following night, after the students toured New York City, Ridgewood’s own Frank family hosted the “What Americans Like to Eat” potluck dinner at their home. Attendees delighted in a diverse menu that included mainstays from both Japanese and American cultures, such as fried rice, sushi, mashed potatoes, baked ziti and even a chocolate fountain for dessert.

The Franks, who hosted a Japanese student Haruna last week, are no strangers to exciting cultural exchanges. Deborah Frank, a senior at RHS, was one of the 23 lucky students to visit Japan last summer, and the family hosted a student, Megan, from the Shetland Islands of Scotland a few years ago. Eldest daughter Brittany Frank remains in touch with Megan and plans to visit the Shetland Islands in a few weeks.

“As a family who has hosted an exchange student before, I know firsthand how meaningful these relationships are,” family matriarch Sherry Frank told The Ridgewood News. “Our hope is to give Haruna and her peers visiting Ridgewood … the most memorable and most wonderful experience possible. Our hope is that we create a lifelong friendship and the love of travel.”

The Kakehashi Project began in May 2013 and ends with this final exchange of students from Japan to the U.S. These trips have been fully funded by the Japanese government through the Japan-U.S. Educational Commission.

Although the project is about to reach its conclusion, it is evident that not only were valuable educational milestones met and lasting friendships formed, but also that the bridges built through this program will continue to stand for a long time.

“All of us had a trip that was truly remarkable,” said RHS student Jack Donnelly. “We were exposed to a new culture and language that were completely foreign to us before. I know that, for many of us, thanks to the Kakehashi Project, this trip was the first of potentially many trips back.”

E-mail: herbert@northjersey.com

Source Article from http://www.northjersey.com/community-news/ridgewood-japanese-students-share-cultures-1.1299407
Students from Ridgewood, Japan share cultures
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