GREENFIELD – Wakana Higuchi was shocked to see her host family wearing their shoes in the house.
In her hometown in the heart of Japan, it is customary to leave shoes by the front door, to exchange them for slippers that won’t get the floor dusty or dirty. As the 13-year-old settled into her temporary home in Greenfield, she found this bit of U.S. culture the most jarring, she admitted this week, speaking through an interpreter.
Wakana hails from Kakuda, Japan, Greenfield’s sister city. She and nine teens traveled from Kakuda this week for nine days of cultural immersion in Indiana, an annual tradition for the local Sister Cities program.
The organization has promoted cultural exchanges between Kakuda and Greenfield fore more than 25 years. Hundreds of students and chaperones have traveled between the two cities since the program’s inception in 1990, said board member Jim McWhinney.
The partnership between the two cities was sparked by a business connection, officials said.
Auto supplier Keihin Corp. is headquartered in Kakuda, a city located about 150 miles northeast of Tokyo; Greenfield is home to one of the company’s U.S. factories.
Keihin built its Greenfield facility in 1988, and the two cities signed the sister cities agreement two years later, according to the Sister Cities website.
The student exchange program began then and has continued for 27 years, McWhinney said. Only once was a trip between the two cities cancelled, he said: a tsunami in Japan forced organizers to call off one exchange.
This year, a group of students ages 13 to 16 traveled with three chaperones from Kakuda, a northern Japanese city of about 30,000 people.
During their visit, students and chaperones will see Greenfield and take trips to various sites in Indianapolis, including Conner Prairie, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and state government buildings, board member Nikki Baker said. Tuesday, they spent the day touring Greenfield-Central schools and meeting with students of all ages.
Wakana is staying with Greenfield-Central High School freshman Julianne Hatcher and her family during the delegation’s visit. Julianne stayed with Wakana’s family in June, when a group of Greenfield residents visited Kakuda.
Julianne admits she too was surprised by some of the cultural differences between the two cities, especially since she wears shoes at home.
Despite the cultural differences, the Japanese students said they’ve enjoyed their visit to Hancock County.
Yukina Saito, 15, said she’s glad to have had the chance to visit different schools in the area. She is also eager to eat lots of good food, especially tacos, she said.
To conclude their visit, the students and chaperones from Kakuda will be the guests of honor at the annual fundraising walk benefiting the Sister Cities organization.
The fifth-annual Sister Cities of Greenfield 5K Run/Walk, slated for 9 a.m. Saturday, begins at the Sister Cities Park next to the Greenfield Police Department, 116 S. State St., Greenfield.
Registration: 8 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. Saturday
Run/walk start: 9 a.m. Saturday
To register, visit: secure.getmeregistered.com/get_information.php?event_id=126507
The event begins at the Sister Cities Park next to the Greenfield Police Department, 116 S. State St., Greenfield.