No one from the group of 30 Japanese exchange students nor their host families from greater Dover were quite ready to say goodbye Wednesday night at Central Middle School during a farewell dinner for the contingent from Miyagi Prefecture, Delaware’s sister state.


No one from the group of 30 Japanese exchange students nor their host families from greater Dover were quite ready to say goodbye Wednesday night at Central Middle School during a farewell dinner for the contingent from Miyagi Prefecture, Delaware’s sister state.

The host families from Capital, Caesar Rodney and Polytech school districts as well as Campus Community School listened with joy as the Miyagi students, who struggled admirably with their English, played a series of trivia games with them featuring Japanese pop culture.

Among other topics, the Miyagi students spoke about pop stars Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, with her outrageous hairstyles that included a Christmas tree ensemble, and Fujimori Kojima, with student Tatsuki Kawarai demonstrating  one of Kojima’s dance moves.

The Japanese contingent also thanked Dover, Delaware and America for the outpouring of support they gave to Japan in the wake of last year’s devastating earthquake and ensuing tsunami.

Then, came the time for goodbyes and hugs that brought tears to the eyes of exchange students like Hitomi Shimada and her host family, including Polytech High School’s Noelle Mouhtarim. They had spent the past week together at Polytech.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s time to say goodbye,” Mouhtarim said.

The Japanese students were the first group to visit Delaware from Miyagi Prefecture since the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the northeastern coast of Japan on March 11, 2011. The exchange has taken place since 1999, with the exception of last year's rude interruption.

About 60 students came in all this year. A second group of 30 was scheduled to attend a farewell dinner Thursday night at Dover High School, student exchange coordinator Miki Smith said.

Smith, a Dover resident who was born in Tokyo, has been coordinating the exchange since she created it. In June of this year, students from Delaware are scheduled to travel to Miyagi.

The Japanese contingent's trip to Dover included visits with Gov. Jack Markell and Mayor Carleton E. Carey Sr., Delaware Department of State spokesman Christopher Portante said.

The students also visited Dover Air Force Base, from which much of the humanitarian aid to Japan was shipped. Delaware established a fund at the Delaware Community Foundation to help with the relief and rebuilding efforts in Miyagi, Portante said. More than $108,000 has been donated by individuals, businesses and organizations across Delaware.

Caesar Rodney Board of Education President Kathleen Haynes‘ family hosted one of the students, Kanae Okamura, who attended Caesar Rodney High for a week.

“It was wonderful,” Haynes said. “You learn that kids are alike everywhere. You saw them goofing around tonight.”

Exchange students like Karen Koike, Natsuki Sugawara and Sayaka Mito were assigned to Campus Community, Caesar Rodney High and Central Middle School, respectively. Speaking through Miyagi University of Education student Kohei Suzuki – one of the college students on the trip so he could help the younger students with their English – they said they enjoyed learning about American schools, food and fashion.

And the girls all appreciated how America had helped Japan after last year’s devastation.

“They reconstructed how they provided aid at Dover Air Force [Base],” Sugawara said, referring to Tuesday’s outing.

“It is a wonderful experience because we can communicate with a different country,” Koike said.

“People in Dover have been very kind to the Japanese people,” Mito said. “We received a lot of letters from America. Also, Iwanuma Mayor Tsuneaki Iguchi and Dover Mayor Carey have good relationships.”

On the American side of things, Caesar Rodney High student Cameron Hartley was thrilled that her family hosted Maika Ishikawa.

“I like Japan a lot so I was very excited to host,” she said. “Maika is very shy but we were very excited to meet each other. One day, it was like we were sisters. At this point, living with Maika is normal. So, I hate to see her go back to Japan.”