By Ted Waddell
SULLIVAN COUNTY March 27, 2001 In a sense, the visitors from Kosugi Town in Toyama, Japan were following in the footsteps of their ancient bushi (samurai) forebearers as they left the shores of their native land and traveled to their Sister City of Sullivan County.
Historically, Kosugi Town was a wayfarers stop for bushi as they made their way to Tokyo, accompanying their fedual lords (tonosama) on their obligatory alternate year of residence in the capital city. This was required by the reigning shogun in tribute.
In 1990, Sullivan County and Kosugi Town became Sister Cities, and over the years the relationship has grown as more than 100 Japanese high school students have visited their counterparts in the county.
The program was instituted by the Sullivan County Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), in cooperation with the countys school districts.
This year, ten students and two teachers from Kosugi High School visited the area from March 6-24.
While in Sullivan County, the students stayed with host families and attended classes at local high schools for part of the day.
The students from Kosugi High School (and their host families) included Miwako Futagami (Nebzydoski), Emi Hara (Goodman), Yukari Okemoto (Castillo), Naoko Okuda (Bright), Kayoko Uchiyama (Whitaker), Ayumu Shimizu (Bryan), Seiko Takeuchi (Senol), Yoko Tamashita (Wagner) and Kaori Yamaguchi (Simpson). The teachers were Masaki Komori (Siegel) and Naoe Mabuchi (Hansen).
As part of the cultural exchange, the visitors traveled to Albany, where they visited the state capital and museum; observed maple sugaring and toured the castle at Frost Valley YMCA; toured the countys government center, where they sat in on a legislative meeting; and visited the site of the original 1969 Woodstock Festival.
On Wednesday, BOCES hosted a celebration dinner for the Japanese students, their teachers and local host families. The dinner was held at the BOCES complex in Liberty.
A highlight of the celebration was the presentation of a video filmed at Kosugi High School. Clips from the video showed viewers vignettes of daily life at the sister city high school: everything from judo classes to a fun-filled outdoor competition.
The exchange program is a wonderful opportunity for our kids to meet youngsters from a different culture, said Martin D. Handler, Sullivan County BOCES district superintendent.
Last year, Joe and Kerry Jo Nebzydoski hosted Saki Murata, a 16-year-old student from Kosugi High School. This season, the Nebzydoski family including Sarah, a 16-year-old sophomore at the Jeffersonville-Youngsville campus of Sullivan West; Adam, a 12-year-old 7th grader at St. Peters; and Emily, 13, an 8th grader at St. Peters welcomed 17-year-old Miwako Futagami, a student at Kosugi High School.
She goes to school with me in the morning, said Sarah Nebzydoski of her counterpart from the the Land of the Rising Sun. They taught a lot of the little kids Japanese songs and showed them how to write in Japanese.
It was a little tiring, but I enjoyed it, she added. She stayed with me in my room, and that was good practice for college.
According to Joe Nebzydoski, a local veterinarian, they used a Japanese/English dictionary to bridge the language barrier.
I throughly enjoyed it, he said of the cultural exchange program. The two children weve [hosted] were very polite, and they really tried to understand our language and ways.
Kerry Jos take on the exchange experience?
Its kind of like having a foster kid, she said.
While staying with the Nebzydoski family, Futagami cooked her own breakfast, did her laundry and every time she saw a dirty dish, jumped up from the table to wash it.
She loves Harry Potter, said Kerry Jo, adding that while staying with them, Miwako got to watch the Star Wars films, which she had never seen before, although shes read all the books.
Masaki Komori is an English as a Second Language teacher at Kosugi High School. While visiting Sullivan County as one of the groups chaperones, Komori stayed with Gary Siegel and his family in Liberty. Siegel is director of music at Liberty Central School District.
The students had a very good experience here, said Komori. Many of our exchange students have changed a lot after they came back to Japan. They began to study English harder, and dream of coming back to the United States again or visiting other foreign countries.
I would like to see more students from Sullivan County visit Japan to learn about our culture and the differences between the two countries, he said.
According to Sullivan County BOCES Assistant Superintendent Marcia Schwarz and Program Secretary Donna Bright, thats a dream that is poised to become a reality.
It would be a wonderful opportunity for our students to learn about another country, said Schwarz of the proposed July trip by local students to Japan.
In a letter to local officials, Kosugi Town Mayor Doi Yoshizou echoed similar hopes of continuing a good relationship between our two towns.
We here in Kosugi Town are anxiously waiting for the arrival of the students from Sullivan County, he said. We hope to show them the courtesy that you have shown our students.
This year, I want to plan an exchange of not only greeting cards by the elementary school students, but also an exchange of drawings by seniors to broaden the understanding of both our towns, he added.