Fourteen Japanese students — nine girls and five boys — visited Sequim in early October as part of the annual student exchange between Sequim and Shiso City, Sequim’s sister city in Japan.
The students toured the schools in the Sequim district, attended classes for two days at Sequim High and on Tuesday evening, Oct. 4, entertained their host families and said goodbye.
This year Sequim students won’t return the favor. Karen Junell, who coordinates the program, pointed out that Japan still is suffering from the triple disasters of March: an earthquake followed by a devastating tsunami that led to a nuclear crisis.
While Shiso was largely unaffected by the immediate chaos and destruction, its citizens are playing a part in the nationwide struggle to rebuild.
That includes shuttling Shiso workers into and out of the disaster zone to provide hands-on help.
This is the third time since the program began in 1995 that Sequim won’t be sending students, Junell said. She said in the wake of 9/11 and later during the SARS scare Sequim students didn’t make the trip.
“This is a fun, educational exchange,” Junell said. “And right now it’s not fun.”
Junell also said that in March and April, when fundraising ordinarily would be in full swing, concerns remained about possible nuclear contamination.
“It’s easier not to start and then have to stop,” she said.
Next year Sequim High will double up, sending both freshmen and sophomores to Japan.
While speaking to the Tuesday night crowd through Sequim interpreter Ryoko Toyama, a smiling Kenzo Tanaka, a clerk in the Shiso Board of Education, left no doubt about his city’s commitment to the program.
“Next year you better come to Shiso,” he said.