GREENFIELD — Despite differences in language and tradition — not to mention the 6,500 miles — 13 visitors from Kakuda, Japan, are making countless connections with Greenfield residents this week.
The 10 students and three chaperones from Greenfield’s sister city arrived in the U.S. on Aug. 14. Since then, they have toured schools, the courthouse, parks and shops. The visit is part of an annual tradition in which the cities send residents who want to experience a different culture and share details about their own.
Second-graders at Weston Elementary School offered the group a warm welcome on Monday morning by lining the sidewalk outside the school and clapping as the visitors arrived. Inside the school, the group floated among classes, making introductions and doing activities with the students.
Terry Miller, social worker at Weston, said the visit presents a valuable opportunity for both Japanese and Greenfield students.
Story continues below gallery
“It introduces our children to the Japanese way of life and introduces their students to our way of life,” Miller said. “It’s a way of proving to them that even though both cultures have a different way of doing things, we’re all still the same.”
Auto supplier Keihin North America serves as the connection between Greenfield and Kakuda, which is about 150 miles northeast of Tokyo. The Japanese city hosts Keihin’s headquarters, while Greenfield is home to Keihin Indiana Precision Technology.
At the heart of the sister-city bond has been an active cultural exchange program that dates back 25 years.
In June, Greenfield sent eight students and chaperones overseas for the program, which mirrors the U.S. visit.
Tony Campbell, a board member of Sister Cities of Greenfield, has hosted several visiting students from Kakuda and said that, despite the language barrier, communication has never been an issue.
“Whether by pointing or gesturing, we always find a way,” he said. “They’re able to pick up really quickly on whatever we’re doing.”
Campbell has visited Japan three times as a chaperone with the program. During those trips, he said, he was struck by his host family’s hospitality.
On the most recent trip he made to Kakuda three years ago, Campbell said, one morning, he mentioned offhandedly to a member of his host family he was craving a can of Coca-Cola. She disappeared out of the house shortly after and returned an hour later with a Coke in hand.
“She rode her bicycle probably five miles to buy me that soda,” he said. “They’re very friendly people and will go to any length to make sure that you’re taken care of. It’s remarkable.”
Shane Bryant, principal at Weston, led the visitors from class to class during the visit on Monday. He said he was impressed by the connection the students seemed able to forge in a short time.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s impressive to see how outgoing and engaged the (Japanese) students are,” he said.
As part of the group’s tour of the local government, Kakuda students and chaperones met with Greenfield Mayor Chuck Fewell on Tuesday morning.
He said the exchange provides both sides an experience that’s impossible to attain otherwise.
“It’s important to experience a culture by actually going there and seeing things for yourself,” Fewell said. “Anyone can look up pictures or information on the Internet, but it’s nothing like the experience you have by being there personally and seeing, … doing or tasting something.”
Most of all, Campbell said, the exchange presents a different side of life — one that many people overlook.
“There are so many different ways of doing things that a lot of people overlook,” Campbell said. “Both sides get so much out of this trip. It really rounds you out as a person.”