After a decades-long relationship, Olympia’s sister city delegates from Japan finally got an up-close look at local education in action.
An 11-person group from Kato City arrived Thursday and toured a few Olympia sites, including City Hall and the Hands On Children’s Museum. On Friday, the delegates visited Capital High School, Jefferson Middle School and McLane Elementary School.
This week’s trip marked the first time Kato representatives witnessed local schools in session. Past delegations have typically visited during the summer.
One of the delegates, Kenzo Fujimoto, is Kato City’s superintendent of education. Fujimoto and his contingent met with Olympia school officials and observed several classrooms.
Through an interpreter, Fujimoto noted the differences between schools in the U.S. and Japan. American students have more options and choices in their education, he said, whereas Japanese students adhere to a more standardized curriculum.
American schools offer a variety of electives such as ceramics, fitness and woodshop. On the contrary, Japan’s schools focus on specific fields such as English or theater, he said. In another contrast, Japanese students must pass a high-pressure entrance exam to enter high school, whereas U.S. students are required to attend high school.
Fujimoto may bring a few ideas back to Japan for consideration, he said. He was intrigued by the after-school programs and parental participation at Olympia’s schools.
Four Capital High School students from Yuko Nelson’s Japanese class joined the delegates Friday afternoon at Jefferson Middle School, which houses a shrine Kato City gave to Olympia. Nelson said this was a good opportunity for her students to sharpen their Japanese conversation skills.
“I wanted them to see if they could communicate,” said Nelson, who will send a handful of students to Kato City this summer as part of a mutual exchange program.
Before departing Sunday, the Kato City delegation will wrap up its visit with Oshogatsu, a Japanese New Year celebration that runs 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday at The Olympia Center.
Olympia School Board member Allen Miller, who is also board president of the Olympia-Kato Sister City Association, accompanied the delegates this week. Miller traveled to Kato City in 1998 and 2008. He views this month’s visit as yet another opportunity to strengthen the relationship between the two cities. Students in these sister cities often become pen pals who exchange emails and art projects, he said.
Olympia and Kato City (formerly the Town of Yashiro before a 2006 merger) signed a sister city friendship agreement in 1981. The nonprofit sister city association works to foster closer ties and exchanges between the two cities.
Check it out
The Kato City delegation will wrap up its visit with Oshogatsu, a Japanese New Year celebration that runs 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday at The Olympia Center, 222 Columbia St. NW. The event features food, music, dancing, calligraphy, a raffle and traditional Japanese activities. A special ceremony at noon will include the creation of mochitsuki, a Japanese rice cake.
The event is sponsored by the Olympia-Kato Sister City Association. To learn more, visit celebratejapan.org.Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 firstname.lastname@example.org @andyhobbs