April 1, 2014
By Christina Corrales-Toy
Liberty welcomes Japanese visitors
Alex Tachiyama, a Liberty High School senior, was lucky. He got to partake in a Thanksgiving dinner twice in the past six months.
He celebrated the gluttonous holiday in November with the rest of the nation, but he also munched on helpings of turkey and mashed potatoes again in March.
The March feast was for the benefit of his foreign visitor, Kazuyoshi Hirata, as 20 Liberty High School families hosted 24 students from Japan through a cultural exchange program.
“We want to show them what it’s like to have that type of dinner, because that’s a very American thing,” Tachiyama said. “That’s why they’re here, to see how Americans live.”
The Liberty families welcomed their visitors from Shingu High School at a special ceremony March 22 at Redmond High School.
It was the second part of an exchange project that sent Liberty Japanese teacher Matt Harvey and a group of his students on a 10-day visit to Japan this past summer.
During that trip, students spent time in Tokyo and lived with families in a total cultural immersion.
“The Liberty students really had a great time in Japan,” Harvey said. “Now, it’s our turn to accept students into our community.”
State Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, of Seattle, welcomed the Japanese students at the March 22 event, and shared with them some of the history between Seattle and their country.
When Santos mentioned former Seattle Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki, and current pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, the group smiled and audibly reacted with familiarity to their homegrown talents.
The Japanese visitors stayed just a few days before leaving for the East Coast leg of their trip, but not before they got a chance to visit Liberty High School.
They gave presentations in the Japanese, Spanish and French classes, before shadowing their host student in the final period of the day.
“Together, they got a comprehensive view of what it’s like to go to Liberty High School for a day,” Harvey said.
Liberty families also had free days to do tourist-type things with their visitors. Tachiyama said he took Hirata to Bellevue Square to try bubble tea and showed him around downtown Renton.
“When people go to visit a foreign country, most of the time they’re just in a hotel or something, but being able to stay with a family and eat what they eat, play games, watch TV, whatever it is, is really where they will get the essence of authentic America,” Harvey said.
The exchange was part of the KAKEHASHI Project, aimed at building stronger relationships between future Japanese and American leaders through a youth exchange.
“Just as Japan was, for me and my students, one of the greatest trips of our lives, it’s the same for them,” Harvey said. “This is going to be one of the greatest experiences they’ve ever had, and it’s wonderful that it can happen in our community.”