Mountain View, Iwata foster diplomatic ties through exchange program | September 6, 2019 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - September 6, 2019

Mountain View, Iwata foster diplomatic ties through exchange program

by Nisha Malley

A delegation of local students has begun preparing for its visit to Japan next year, where they will take in the sights of the Tokyo metropolis, visit historical world peace museums in Nagasaki, and exchange cultures with students at Iwata Minami High School.

Now in its 27th year, the program has become a longstanding tradition for the sister cities of Mountain View and Iwata, Japan. The exchange alternates each year: Students from Iwata stayed with Mountain View families in March, attended classes at Mountain View High and visited spots like California Academy of Sciences. This school year, 25 MVHS students will visit Japan in April.

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.


There are no comments yet for this post

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Choose a category: *

Since this is the first comment on this story a new topic will also be started in Town Square! Please choose a category that best describes this story.

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

All your news. All in one place. Every day.



On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Register now