The two countries, which share a long history of economic and diplomatic cooperation, have built unique relationships between Japan and California, with 105 sister cities.
On Aug. 26, officials conferred at Stanford University for a dialogue on the United States and Japan alliance, discussing topics of trade, education, health care and the current national political climate.
Heita Kawakatsu, Shizuoka prefecture governor, attended the symposium, representing Iwata and 35 other cities and towns.
Born in 1948 during Japan's economic and infrastructural devastation in the aftermath of World War II, Kawakatsu said he was lucky to have the opportunity to travel to England for his education and, later in life, to the United States on professorial visits.
Kawakatsu said that building students' global knowledge beyond their "textbook" education through travel has become increasingly important.
He emphasized the importance of individuals visiting other countries to understand their cultures, values and languages, especially during one's formative years, adding "the earlier, the better."
"To learn himself or herself is to go to the other side (and see) different nations," Kawakatsu said.
According to Kawakatsu, the program is an incredible experience for Japanese students, who gain insight into American lifestyle and education and stay in Mountain View.
"It is opening the new era of the 21st century," Kawakatsu said of the region.
Likewise, visiting Iwata, students explore a "beautiful and diverse" region that Kawakatsu described as a miniature California.
With a history dating back to 700 CE, Iwata has evolved into a manufacturing, production and agricultural hub while offering a surrounding of Japanese alps, cherry blossoms and the Pacific coast.
Nicole Higley, Japanese teacher at Mountain View High School and coordinator for the exchange program, said her students are constantly in "awe" of Japan, including its beauty and stark differences to California.
According to Higley, everything from the kindness of the people and the cleanliness of its cities to Japan's societal norms and food leave an impression on her students.
Most importantly, she noted the "life-changing" experience that students have when they stay in the homes of Iwata families.
"People have left this program having a new family," Higley said. "Every time I've gone, at least one of the kids returns to Japan and sees their (host) family again."
The Mountain View delegates will visit Kyoto, Hiroshima and Tokyo before spending six days at Iwata Minami High School, according to Higley. Delegates will also prepare lessons about American culture to teach in classrooms at Iwata.
For Kawakatsu, the exposure to a different education system is just as crucial an element as the cultural exchange of the program.
At the symposium, two United States officials discussed American teaching methods, including the incorporation of STEAM into school programs and its more interactive style of teaching, through which students openly ask questions and converse in addition to lectures.
On Thursday, Sept. 5, Japanese officials including Kawakatsu visited Mountain View High to observe classrooms and the campus.
As the sister cities look to the future of the relationship, Kawakatsu said he hopes that the exchanges taking place can transcend beyond cultural barriers, to include comparing the cities' education system and technologies.
Kawakatsu added that promoting friendship and acceptance between the two regions is especially important with the rise of populism and "nationalistic, chauvinistic ways of thinking."
Higley, who has lived and taught in Japan, said the country has become a second home to her. She views the program as a critical step in bridging cultural gaps and building understanding and empathy.
"The more friends you have in different parts of the world, the less likely we are to engage in international conflicts," Higley said.
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