When 16 young residents of Wilsonville’s sister city, Kitakata, Japan, recently arrived here, their two biggest concerns were language — and food.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The students from Kitakata visited Lowrie Primary School Nov. 5. The slide in the library proved to have universal appeal.The students were in town for 10 days, from Oct. 29 through Nov. 7. Because none of the teenagers is fluent in English, they worried about being able to communicate with their host families. And although they were eager to sample American cuisine, many weren’t convinced they would enjoy a steady diet of foreign food.

Fortunately, the students discovered common languages that allowed them to relax and enjoy the experience of visiting a foreign nation. Their host families were pleasantly surprised to find they could communicate with their exchange students in a multitude of what they called “universal languages.”

Jim Kamikawa hosted Miyu Igarashi at his home with the help of his wife, Shelly, and daughters Kylie, a ninth-grader at Wilsonville High School, and Sydney, a seventh-grader at Athey Creek Middle School.

The foursome gradually broke down barriers with Miyu after discovering what Kamikawa called the international languages of music, shopping and sports.

Movies and video games serve as common languages for many of the exchange students and host families, too.

Miyu’s food expectations came as a surprise, however.

“We’re an Asian-American family, so we eat rice, noodles and teriyaki all the time,” Kamikawa said. “The students came to enjoy American culture, so we stayed away from that.”

“I thought we’d be a good buffer, a gentle bridge,” Shelly Kamikawa said. “She wanted the full American experience.”

For Miyu, that meant a steady diet of hamburgers, hot dogs and barbeque.

Kenya Kawaguchi stayed with the Parks, a West Linn family that includes parents Rob and Kris and their son, Ty, a fifth-grader at Stafford Primary School. Kenya is the youngest of his family, with two older brothers. He relished the chance to play older brother to his host brother Ty.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Kenya Kawaguchi and Ty Park each enjoyed being a brother during the Kitakata students visit Oct. 29 through Nov. 7.“I’m an only child,” Ty said. “I always wanted a brother and sister. I usually just stay home, do homework and see friends.”

That routine changed when Kenya joined their family.

“There’d be some mellow time, and then he’d get both Nerf guns and start shooting me,” Ty said. “I’d try to run away, but it never really worked. It was just an amazing experience that I’ve always wanted to have, and I hope I can do this again someday.”

“I enjoyed playing with Ty,” Kenya said through an interpreter. “Apart from playing, this was an opportunity for me to share my culture and for your family to share their culture with me. And I really enjoyed that.”

He enjoyed it so much, in fact, that he was already making plans to return.

“I would like to come back again. Please have ready for me a room, somewhere to shower and a plate of tacos,” he joked.

During their stay here, the students celebrated the 25th anniversary of the sister-city relationship between Wilsonville and Kitakata.

During the past 25 years, hundreds of children from Kitakata and Wilsonville have visited one another’s homes, gaining invaluable intercultural lessons beyond those possible from a typical tourist visit.

Mayor Tim Knapp hosted a breakfast at city hall Oct. 30 to honor the delegation.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The 16 Kitakata students visited with Lowrie Primary students Nov. 5.The students also visited schools, CREST (Center for Research in Environmental Sciences and Technologies), the Columbia River Gorge, the Oregon coast and a pumpkin patch.

Their visit and activities were coordinated by the Wilsonville Sister City Association.

For more information, contact Bev Schalk at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The Japanese teenagers enjoy the slide as much as Lowrie's younger students do.

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