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Coming to America

Nine Japanese students visit West Linn in the wake of the quake
by: LINDA HUNDHAMMER Momo Kazaki, 16, from Kochi Minami High School enjoys West Linn High School. “I love English, and I am getting to use my English in conversations,” she said.

While they were boarding their flight in Narita on March 10, the 8.9 earthquake hit - rocking the airport, the plane and the entire country of Japan.

For the nine Japanese students from Kochi Minami High School who are visiting their sister school, West Linn High School, this week, the country they left on March 10 will hardly look the same as the country to which they will return.

'We were getting ready to get on the plane when the earthquake hit,' Momo Kozaki, 16, said. 'It seemed like it was shaking for a very long time. Then, we had to stay in the plane for five hours. The airport was closed, so we could not go back to airport. It was very scary.'

'It is very hard to be away from Japan now; I am worried about my country,' said Shiho Yokoyama, the Kochi contingency's teacher and leader. 'We couldn't get any information at first, but now all of the girls have talked to their families, and everyone is safe. Kochi is in the southeast part of Japan. The quake felt like it was very close, but it was actually quite a long way away.

'I have talked to my own family, but I don't think they are telling me everything about what is going on in Japan. They want us to enjoy our time here in the United States.'

So that is exactly what they plan to do.

The Kochi girls were greeted at the Portland airport with gift bags loaded with lotions, socks, maps and a Starbucks card. They were taken to the homes of their host families, most of whom have students in the WLHS Japanese class taught by Lois Reimer.

On Saturday night, the group enjoyed a welcome party at the home of Li Lanz.

'The houses here are very, very big,' Kozaki said. 'My house is very small.'

They ate American food, including hot dogs and hamburgers, played some music and hung out with their new American friends.

Their plans for the remainder of their time in West Linn include a trip to Multnomah Falls and Mt. Hood and some serious shopping.

'Things are cheaper here,' Mina Yokogawa said. 'So far, we have bought some (stuffed) bears and some perfume.'

The purpose of the trip is to let the Kochi girls experience firsthand the 'American atmosphere - the differences and similarities in the cultures.'

'One thing I notice is that Americans treat their children very differently,' Yokoyama said. 'They call them sweetie, dear and princess. Japanese parents do not do this. But Japanese parents take baths with their children and sleep with their children.'

The teenagers have not noticed much of a difference in their American counterparts thus far. Their fashion styles are similar, and they like a lot of the same music.

'But we eat rice and miso soup for breakfast,' Kozaki said. 'That is different.'

To share their Japanese culture with their host students, the Kochi visitors will perform a traditional Kochi dance in a semi-kimono and demonstrate origami and calligraphy. They will also share traditional Japanese toys and snacks.

The Kochi girls' American adventure will end on March 24. A lot has happened to Japan since their departure just a few days ago - an 9.0 earthquake, 300 aftershocks, a tsunami, a volcanic eruption and a potential nuclear meltdown. For the nine teenage girls who left Japan on the day of the quake, a bittersweet homecoming awaits them.