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Japanese exchange students visit Idyllwild

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Four Japanese exchange students visited Idyllwild in March and stayed with local host families. From left they are Momoka Sato, 14, Yukako Ogawa, 14, Nene Saito, 12 and Akane Osawa, 14. Photo by Jenna Hunt


Yukako Ogawa surprised her Idyllwild host family with a homemade Japanese dinner with ingredients she purchased in her home country of Japan.

Ogawa, 14, was visiting Idyllwild for one week at the end of March with other teens through an exchange program with the Hemet Unified School District.

Topaz Summerfield and her daughter Sable, 12, hosted Yukako Ogawa, 14, of Japan in their Idyllwild home in March. Photo by Jenna Hunt

“She made us a wonderful Japanese dinner last night and it was the best miso soup I’ve ever tasted,” said Topaz Summerfield, of Idyllwild, who hosted Ogawa during her exchange trip. “She is a delight.”

Summerfield and her daughter Sable, 12, took Ogawa hiking, made pottery at Earth ’n Fire and shopped throughout Idyllwild. Sable improved communications by using technology to talk with her new friend by using the translator function on her iPhone, she said. Ogawa said she hopes to someday live in America.

“Her English is quite good,” said Summerfield.

The visiting Japanese teens are from Marumori, Japan, which is the sister city to Hemet. Marumori is a mostly rural city of about 15,500, officials said. Idyllwild’s late March snowstorm surprised the visiting teens who enjoyed playing in it.

Ogawa and three other teens Nene Saito, 14, Akane Osawa, 14 and Momoka Sato, 14 were placed in Idyllwild with host families with children of similar ages who attend the Idyllwild School, said Nobuko Christensen, the exchange program liaison with HUSD.

All of the teens have had about two years of English classes, she said. Christensen, who is from Japan and now lives in Idyllwild, said the experience is wonderful for the students.

“I was an exchange student also,” said Christensen, who moved to the United States in 1971.

Last year’s Japan exchange program was cancelled due to the earthquake and following tsunami disaster, Christensen said. Marumori is located about 35 miles from the area hit by the tsunami, she said.

All four of the teens visiting Idyllwild said they loved the mountain landscape.

Osawa said her favorite thing about Idyllwild was the taste of the delicious tap water.

“It was smooth on my throat,” she said through a translator.

Osawa stayed with David and Yumi See of Idyllwild and their three children. Both David and his wife Yumi were born in Japan.

“It was easier on us with the communication,” Yumi said. “Our kids also got to learn more about Japan and her culture, so it’s great for them.”

Saito, who stayed with Michelle Brower and her family in Idyllwild, said one of her favorite things was playing in the large amounts of snow. She also said she liked to play with her host family’s mastiff dog.

“She’s really sweet and likes to ask questions,” Brower said. “The things we take for granted she notices.”

Momoka said she was pleased to meet so many nice people in America.

“I loved the kindness of the people here,” she said through an interpreter. “I thought America was a dangerous place with guns and violence.”

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