Japanese students sample America in Spokane Valley

Japanese students perform traditional dance and drumming during a cultural presentation, August 6, 2012 at New Life Church. Compass USA is celebrating 25 years of bring Japanese students to Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Japanese students perform traditional dance and drumming during a cultural presentation, August 6, 2012 at New Life Church. Compass USA is celebrating 25 years of bring Japanese students to Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Nao Kawae, 15, said he tried a Ding Dong during his first trip to America.

“American snacks are too sweet for Japanese,” he said. “It’s very sweet.”

His friend, Takeshi Mochizuki, 15, said he was surprised by portions.

“American food is very big,” Mochizuki said.

Other than that, the two are enjoying their first trip to the United States. The students of Showa Shuei, a school in Chiba, Japan, came to Spokane through Compass USA, an educational exchange program to help students with their conversational English. Local churches invite the students to use their facilities for classes, and many families from each church participate in the host program.

To say thank you to their hosts, 60 of the students presented Japanese Culture Night on Monday at New Life Church, 10920 E. Sprague Ave.

Regional director Sandy McNamara said students have been visiting Spokane for 25 years. The first year, there were only 20 students. This year, there were 140.

“We grew quickly,” she said.

They take English classes in the mornings and participate in activities in the afternoons during their three-week stay. They have been to Silverwood and Lake Pend Oreille, took a tour of Spokane and went horseback riding.

She said the key to helping the students learn is pairing them up with local host families to include them in their daily lives.

The students are 15 or 16 years old. Each of them is placed with a family that shares similar interests. McNamara said each family attended an orientation before students arrived July 21.

She said the students not only get a chance to learn conversational English and American culture, they share their own culture with their hosts.

“The families learn a lot,” McNamara said.

For Joy Painter, this was the third time she has been a Compass USA host. Painter said she has hosted foreign travelers before – the first was a teacher from East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But Painter didn’t host a student – she hosted one of the adult chaperones. Painter said hosting an adult means they can do more adult activities, like visit Arbor Crest.

“We just get along,” Painter said of her guest.

At Monday’s Culture Night, students who attended classes at three Spokane Valley churches – Opportunity Presbyterian Church, Spokane Valley Church of the Nazarene, and Spokane Valley Fourth Memorial Church – gave a drumming and dance performance, a demonstration of Japanese martial arts with wooden swords and a slideshow of Japan.

Everyone split up into groups after the presentation for hands-on demonstrations of Japanese calligraphy, or kanji, origami and wooden toys. The toys were flat wooden blocks that were stacked in a column. Children hit the block at the bottom of the stack with a mallet to knock it free, but the rest of the stack was left standing.

In another room, everyone learned how to use chopsticks, had target practice using rubber bands and played with a kendama – a wooden toy with two cups and a ball connected with a string.

The third room had demonstrations of paper wrestlers. Paper sumo wrestler figures were folded in half and placed on a paper platform. Two players tapped on the platform until one of the wrestlers fell over.

Everyone moved back into the auditorium for a dancing demonstration to wrap up the evening.

Miki Takeya, 15, said she is enjoying the scenery of Spokane during her trip. In Chiba, which is not far from Tokyo, the city lights often block views of the stars. She said the grocery stores here are very large, and the food is big, too.

“Everything is a surprise,” she said.

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