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Sarah Simons, right, an eighth-grader at Kadena Middle School, spends first period translating English words into Japanese words with her exchange partner for the week, Ai Shimamura, left, at Yamauchi Junior High, Okinawa.

Sarah Simons, right, an eighth-grader at Kadena Middle School, spends first period translating English words into Japanese words with her exchange partner for the week, Ai Shimamura, left, at Yamauchi Junior High, Okinawa. (Megan McCloskey / S&S)

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Some Kadena Middle School students are getting a taste of Japanese school life this week — not all of which the kids actually want to taste.

“I got a packet with a dried fish yesterday that was whole and had the eyeballs and everything,” Sarah Simons, 13, said Tuesday about her lunch. “I gave it away.”

Simons and six other Kadena eighth-graders are participating in a student exchange with Yamauchi Junior High. Most of the Kadena students are finding that Japanese schools are wildly different.

Like lunch, for example.

At Yamauchi the students eat family-style and serve the meal themselves. There is no lunchroom or janitorial staff — the kids clean the school.

“It’s not that bad because it’s already clean. Like there’s no gum all over the floor,” Daronna Finley, 13, said of pitching in with the tidying. “Our kids (Kadena students) don’t have to clean, so they don’t care. They just put things wherever.”

The classes are almost double the size of those in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools and the students wear uniforms.

The principal of Yamauchi, Hirokuni Shimoji, said he encourages the program because he wants his students to think internationally and be able to communicate with anybody. “I want to be the one learning English, but I’m too old now,” he laughed.

The program, in its second year, has grown in popularity with the Kadena kids. There was twice the number of Japanese students who wanted to attend Kadena than there were spots available, but only one Kadena student went to Yamauchi last year, said Henry Meyer, a DODDS-Okinawa school district spokesman.

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