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Oct. 14, 2012 @ 11:03 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Through the vibrant, colorful worlds of manga, anime and video games, today's American teenagers are tightly knitted to those powerful mediums of Japanese pop culture.

On Sunday afternoon, the cross-cultural exchanges between Japan and the U.S. were further explored as the Marshall Memorial Student Center basement was the site of "Japan Day: Voices From Japan, Reflections on the March 2011 Disaster."

Filled with food, dance, music, games, crafts and presentations, the program honored the visitation of a group of 25 students from the Toride Seitoku Girls High School in Ibaraki, Japan, who are staying with area host families as part of the Kizuna Project.

In the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, this project, sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, hopes to dispatch as many as 1,300 young people from the disaster-affected areas of Japan to North America, as well as bring in as many as 10,000 high school and college students within a year to Japan.

Sherine Ibusuki, who works with The Laurasian Institution of Seattle, is coordinating the trips for the Japanese students.

Currently, 124 Japanese high school students are scattered in Ohio, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

After touring stops in New York and Washington, D.C., where the students were greeted by Joe Manchin's office, the Ibaraki students have made their way to Huntington, where they are staying with 24 area host families.

Ibusuki said the Ministry hopes that by sending students from the impacted areas to North America, and by having students visit it will dispel myths of the region being radioactive and will encourage more tourism and cultural exchange.

"Today has been a great eye opener because they are like, 'Oh my gosh, students do feel the same everywhere,' " Ibusuki said. "Our students were so nervous getting off the plane and then they heard from Miho (Egnor) that their students here were nervous to meet them, too. So, I think they really know what the meaning of this is."

After a presentation by the Japanese students, local high school students from Huntington High School, Cabell Midland, Fairland and St. Joseph spoke about Huntington, then their experiences this summer traveling to Japan.

"I felt the Japanese people helped me realize how very beautiful and precious Japan is," said Mickey Crisp, a Cabell Midland High School student. "I learned many cultural differences and the importance of understanding those differences. ... I know people who don't like other people, and they don't even know why. I think it's very important to travel and to learn and to become tolerant of other people."

The afternoon program was organized by the W.Va. Department of Education, Cabell County Schools, the Japan Outreach Coordinator (Azusa Hanah Yamada), the Japan Club of Marshall University and the Japanese program in the Department of Modern Languages in the College of Liberal Arts, under the direction of supervisor Natsuki Fukenaga Anderson.

Parents Daryl and Carol Adkins, who are hosting a student, said although their daughter Abigayle is in the Spanish club, they volunteered to be on the list as a host family, as their daughter loves Japanese culture.

Saturday, they took their student to the Tsubasacon, the anime, manga and gaming convention at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena, where the girls spent hours.

"It's been a lot of fun already. She's just incredibly polite, and quiet and reserved -- quite a difference from the normal students living at our house," Daryl said with a laugh.



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