Bienvenidos, youkoso, and welcome, Japan

Students from Kawakami, Japan — Watsonville’s Sister City — and one of their chaperones, Koji Kuribayashi (far left), tour the Watsonville Public Library Wednesday. — Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

Watsonville hosts 14 from sister city Kawakami

WATSONVILLE — Fourteen middle school students from the small agricultural community of Kawakami, Japan, arrived with their chaperones Wednesday in Watsonville, their sister city.

Having completed the roughly 5,000-mile flight and a slog through customs, the students, from Kawakami Middle School, will now plunge into a weeklong visit with new sights, sounds and tastes, in addition to a drastically different culture and language.

“I want to try something American, like an American hamburger,” said Saeki Ito, 13. “The buildings and the streets look really different here.”

When asked if he listens to any American music Saeki pondered the topic deeply and finally said he liked the music of popular superstar Taylor Swift.

He and the visiting group started their first day in Watsonville, thanks to the guidance of Robb Mayeda, Sister City committee member, at the Public Library on Main Street. Other stops included the Police Department, Fire Station No. 1 and the Watsonville Buddhist Temple.

Though their week is largely dominated with full immersion in area schools, their host families typically shuttle them in their free time to area attractions like the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. 

The trip is part of Watsonville’s Sister City exchange program, now in its 31st year. The Japanese visitors played host to Watsonville middle school students in May.

Kawakami is a small mountain town an hour away from Nagano and is well known in Japan for its strawberry and lettuce harvests.

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