Japanese Students Visit During 20-year Anniversary of Annual Arlington-Nagaokakyo Exchange Program

This year’s Golden Week visit by students from Nagaokakyo, Japan was extra-special since it marked the 20th anniversary of the student exchange program. This year, 16 eighth and ninth grade students and their four chaperones were welcomed into 17 volunteer host families for activities and cultural events and exchanges with elementary, middle, and high school students.


The first event was a reception held at the home of Program Manager Joanne Routenberg on the arrival date of April 23. Prior to the visit, Ms. Routenberg held an orientation for the hosts so that they could meet, ask questions, understand the expectations, and review the upcoming visit schedule. At this time, each host family received a “paddle” with the picture of the guest or guests they would be hosting. This made it easy for the visitors to connect with their host during the reception.


The visiting students had the opportunity to visit the Dallin Elementary School, Ottoson Middle School, and the high school during their time in Arlington. At Dallin, all students convened in the gym for an assembly and gift exchange with the Japanese guests. There were Welcome Speeches by Dallin Principal Thad Dingman, Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Homan, and Ms. Routenberg, followed by remarks from the Nagaokakyo Student Leader and the Mayor of Nagaokakyo. After the gift exchange, Dallin students sang, the Japanese students sang and danced, and Mr. Dingman performed on guitar.


After a pizza lunch, the Japanese visitors spent time in the second grade classrooms where they shared origami and calligraphy and introduced the Kendama, a wooden skill toy popular in Japan. Fifth grade Dallin students led the visitors on tours of the school. The students and their chaperones departed for an afternoon tour of Robbins Library and the Fire Station before heading to ACMi studios.


At Ottoson, the visitors shadowed OMS students, performed a song and dance, and then participated in a culture and game class and a dance class. The visit to Arlington High School began with a pancake breakfast and a brief cultural and gift exchange and tour of the school. After that the guests visited several English Language Arts, Multicultural Learner, and World Language classes where they shared information about life, culture, and schools in Japan with the AHS students. In the words of AHS English teacher and visit organizer Justin Bourassa, the time the visitors spent at AHS “...was really lovely!”


Each day was also packed with local cultural activities that included Harvard Square, a visit to ACMi studios, Eagles Restaurant, Quincy Market, Kimball Farms, Lexington, and Concord. The group even stopped in on an Arlington Town Meeting! Time was allotted to tour Fenway Park and attend a Red Sox Game (the Sox won) and for a tour of Wilson’s Farms in Lexington, which Ms.Routenberg says “...they loved.” Everyone also got a day to spend individually with their host families. The farewell event was held on April 30 with a potluck dinner at the Bitteker Family’s home on Spy Pond. It was a beautiful night with student performances and an award ceremony.


The Japanese students who came were chosen from a pool of up to 100 applicants. They are considered goodwill ambassadors that strengthen the friendship between the two communities. Each is required to attend study sessions in preparation for the trip. The next trip by Arlington students to Nagaokakyo is happening in July this summer. The trip is being coordinated by Mr. Bourassa and OMS English teacher Rebecca Walsh Bradley. It is a 10-day homestay  and is open to middle and high school students.


Ms. Routenberg reports that the exchange is a wonderful experience for the visitors and their host families, and everyone has a great time. Long term bonds are formed, and host families often repeat for several years. She shares the following story: “On Feb 26, 2013, I received an email from Chris Walters, writing to express his interest in the program. He was offering a private room with a private bath to host a student from Nagaokakyo. His son Henry was in 6th grade at the time and was signed up to go to Japan that July. 

Fast forward 11 years. The Walter’s family has hosted Japanese students for several years, their son Henry has graduated from college, speaks Japanese fluently, and lives in Nagaokakyo teaching English. This is just one of 100’s of stories about how this program has benefited our community and positively impacted personal lives.”


The 40th anniversary of the sister-city relationship between Nagaokakyo and Arlington was also celebrated during the Golden Week visit. Mayor Kengo Nakakoji came from Nagakakyo along with a delegation that included the Chair of the City Council Tazuko Shiraishi, Chair of the Friendship Association Tsutomu Kohara, the Secretary of the City Council Eiji Jinden, and the Mayor’s secretary and visit coordinator Sonoe Toyama. A dinner was held at Town Hall to mark the anniversary, and a Yoshino cherry tree was planted on the grounds of the Arlington Police Department.

The Arlington Nagaokakyo Sister City relationship was officiated in 1984, following 10 years of youth visits to Japan led by Dick Smith. As Ms. Routenberg reflected on the success of the unique youth exchange program, she had this to say: “I am truly humbled to be part of the team carrying the torch in Dick Smith’s memory. It’s changed my life and it will most certainly continue to change the lives of those who participate in the program.”
Nagaokakyo students, the Mayor, and his town delegation in front of the Dallin Elementary School.
Nagaokakyo students, the Mayor, and his town delegation in front of the Dallin Elementary School.