Successful Student Exchange

This year’s exchange with year eight students between Okazaki and Newport Beach is now all over. The students all had a fun time learning about each other’s culture.

The exchange involved ten teenagers and was a great success. The students from Okazaki came to our much smaller city, whilst our students were staying in a much larger city. Okazaki has a population of nearly 400,000 people, but as you can see in the video below, it isn’t a busy mega city like many of the Japanese metropolis areas.

Okazaki Snow in December

Our local teens were able to experience different aspects of the Japanese culture when they were over there. The biggest lesson many of them learned was the level of respect required when living in a Japanese household. It is very different to the USA with the adults of the Japanese family having full authority over teenagers. Our kids found the rules to be quite strict in regards to being at home at a certain time, advising the adults where they were going and what time they expected to be home. Meals were generally all eaten together in a formal setting rather than in front of the TV like many of our teens experience at home.

One thing that our students noticed was the very different pop culture. The cartoons (known as Anime), the music culture is incredibly different and also the style of dress of teenagers is a far cry from the types of clothing worn in the USA. Our teens did notice how difficult the language was to pick up and also reading. Not many things are in English in Okazaki being a smaller, regional city. Even though many of them have been studying Japanese starting in elementary school, there is a big difference when it comes to actually being integrated into the culture and language and many of them struggled with communication.

Japanese Teens in America

We also enjoyed chatting to the teenagers that came over from Japan. Thankfully we have a fluent Rotarian in the Balboa club. The Japanese kids were quite shy initially and as expected, incredibly respectful. They very much enjoyed the outdoor events that were held where they were able to get together every few days with their fellow teens. Many of them were quite amazed at how large the USA really is – especially how long it takes to drive such long distances. Most of them enjoyed a camp out that we organised for them, but some were, understandably, a little freaked out by the open wilderness. I guess that is something we take for granted growing up outside the large USA cities.

All in all the students really enjoyed the exchange. Some were glad that it was only for a week though as they weren’t sure they could stay for a lot longer. Each and every one of the students though relished the opportunity they had been given to take a glimpse into life on the other side of the world in what is very much the opposite of cultures.

Happy Holidays

As the end of the year comes close, we would like to wish our fellow Americans a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Please stay safe in your travels and enjoy time with your family and friends. We would also like to thank the local Rotary Groups, particularly the Balboa club for your support of our exchange and sister city programs.

If you are wondering whether Christmas celebrations are being held in our sister city, here are some snippets of what happens in Japan at Christmas time:

  • Christmas is celebrated despite only 0.5% of the country being Christian
  • It is celebrated on Christmas Eve not Christmas Day
  • The male of the house (as a general rule) brings home Christmas cake to be eaten on Christmas eve with the family
  • KFC (yes Kentucky Fried Chicken) have done an incredibly successful marketing campaign to make the Japanese think that westerners have a chicken Christmas dinner. People pre-order their ‘Christmas dinner’ at KFC and then line up on Christmas eve to pick up their order.


  • Presents are exchanged, but generally this is mostly between those in a romantic relationships. It is actually more like Valentines Day in this respect. Teddy bears, rings and small but expensive gifts can be given

There is also an unusual twist to the Christmas cake thing. They are heavily discounted on the 25th of December so that they are all sold out by the 26th. This has led to many young Japanese women being labeled as ‘Christmas cakes’. If they are not wed by their 25th birthday, they are then classed as being heavily discounted in order to be married asap before they turn 26. Fascinating.