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Japanese language teacher Akiko Miura works with Japanese students to choose what class they would like to attend with the students at Zama American High School. The annual event lets Japanese students experience the differences in the two school systems.
Japanese language teacher Akiko Miura works with Japanese students to choose what class they would like to attend with the students at Zama American High School. The annual event lets Japanese students experience the differences in the two school systems. (Jim Schulz/Stars and Stripes)

CAMP ZAMA, Japan — They were bashful and talked about the things teens love, mostly sports and music. Whatever language they spoke, some things were the same.

Japanese-language students from Zama American High School welcomed a class of ninth-graders from Aletheia Shonan Junior High School in Chigasaki for a cultural exchange Thursday.

“They laugh at the same kinds of jokes. Even though we’re from different cultures … we’re all human,” said 11th-grader Paul Fenoglio from Camp Zama.

“You get to actually see the similarities between us,” said 10th-grader Justine Matsuoka from Sagamihara Housing Area. “They’re normal teenagers just like us.”

The students began with a short introductory period and then joined the Americans for lunch in either the school cafeteria or the food court. They ended by joining the American students for a class.

“We try to get a cross-cultural experience,” said Akiko Miura, host-nation teacher at Zama, who organized the event with friend and Aletheia Shonan teacher Ayumi Usui. The Japanese school’s students had visited Yokosuka Naval Base in the past, but that program was canceled after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

“They want to experience American-style school life,” Miura said.

Aletheia Shonan student Akio Mutaguchi, 15, said he was nervous when he had to introduce himself to the group at the beginning of the day. “I couldn’t speak very well,” he said in Japanese.

To prepare for the visit, the Japanese students learned about the history of the U.S. bases in Japan.

“We told the students that they are going to visit America in Japan,” said Aletheia Shonan teacher Naoko Shiori.

Students on both sides said they learned a lot about their counterparts.

Yukako Ueda, 15, had never met Americans her age. She was surprised to see American students driving when they took her around the base.

“I couldn’t speak that much,” she said. “When they explained in English, they spoke slowly and I thought they were nice.”

Kiriko Ono, 15, said she thought American students were “cool.”

“Everything, from their looks to how they acted,” Ono said.

Most of the students, although shy, seemed to enjoy the visit. “I am having fun and everyone’s funny,” said Tomoki Kanai, 15.

He visited a home economics class and tried ice cream.

The Zama students also gave their visitors goodies such as chocolate-chip cookies and popsicles.

The students from Zama American High School will visit Aletheia Shonan early next year.

“I’m looking forward to seeing their school,” said B-J Doswell from Atsugi Naval Air Facility.

The exchange, he said, offers a chance to learn about Japanese students and “to make a few more friends.”

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