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connecting with Japanese kids: how sweet it is


Ann Arbor-Hikone Exchange 2009

Ann Arbor-Hikone Exchange 2009


“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” — Mark Twain

Or, as my teen son summed it up on Facebook (not quite as eloquently, but I must admit, it captured the sentiment): 

“There’s a fr__kin’ sweet Japanese kid at my house!” 

 How sweet it was.  We had a great week hosting Kohei, our fourteen year old exchange student from Hikone, Japan. 

Prior to his visit, I worried about whether our home was welcoming or clean enough, how we would communicate, and whether he would eat well or miss his home.  I wanted to make sure he had a great time, that he appreciated our fair city, and that we pretended to act like a normal American family.   Or maybe even better than normal, whatever that is.     

There was no need to worry.  Kohei was delightful, and he spoke terrific English, to our great relief.  He was social and engaging:  playing football with the neighbors, riding ripstik with my younger son, and teaching my daughter magic tricks.  He deemed all of my food “delicious.”   Of course it was–even the squash soup and the boxed mac ‘n cheese.  I hope my own kids were paying attention.

By opening our home to a visitor from afar, we learned so much.  The state of my house wasn’t so important; by the end of the week it was as messy as usual.  Despite language hurdles and minor cultural differences (learning to work the shower, doing neat little bundles of laundry each day, or miso soup for breakfast), we’re not so different.  Teens don’t need major entertainment.  They are happy hanging out with friends, wherever they are.  They like to flirt and tease each other, just like our kids.   They enjoyed seeing the local sights, but more importantly, they wanted to make connections.  

When I asked Kohei what he wanted to do most while he was here, he promptly said, “I want to make lots of friends.”   

Mission accomplished. 

At our Sayonara (farewell) party, the Japanese host, Mr. Ikegami, framed it like this: 

 ”I cannot change the war of the past, but it is my duty to make sure it never happens again.”

If we are honest, we all have our history and prejudices.  Conflict with the Japanese is not in my personal history, but it is for many who still feel the sting of World War II.  But regardless of the differences, if we make a friend–a real connection–it becomes impossible to hate or paint broad negative assumptions about an entire group of people.  Because we’ll always remember that one friend who was so kind.   

So now we have a dear friend in Japan, who my son will visit in just two weeks.  I must agree with my son:  It’s very (is it okay to say fr__kin’?) sweet

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3 comments to connecting with Japanese kids: how sweet it is

  • sue

    Pam –

    I’m so glad your time with Kohei was so enjoyable! :) I trust your son had an equally wonderful time in Hikone, as well.

    Your post put a huge smile on my face – because it’s not about how nice a house we have, how clean it is, or how perfect our hosting skills are; it’s about the relationship and simply being willing to open our homes and hearts to others.

    Bravo, my friend. Brav-o.

  • You sound like you made him feel like he was in a home… not just a house.
    I’m here because of a comment I noticed on Cindy La Ferle’s blog… I’m in the midst of reading her book. She is amazing.
    Anyway, small world sometimes in this vast blogland. I also noticed that you have Heather of the EQ in your blogroll… she astounds me with her writing and heart. As does Ann Voskamp… and well
    Nice to “meet” you, and looking forward to reading more.

  • [...] eighth and ninth graders (and two teachers) to our sister city of Hikone.  He’ll live with our friend Kohei, explore Kyoto and Hiroshima, and embark on the adventure of a lifetime.  I’m not [...]

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