Swapping cultural experiences


Japanese kids love to flash a peace sign whenever their picture is taken.

Story by Jack Brockley 
Photos in Hawaii by Tony Novak-Clifford

Muumuus, kimonos, leis and jeans. Koto music and hula dancing. Volcanoes and paper cranes.

This past year, 14 Hilo, Hawaii, High School Key Club members swapped cultural experiences with 12 Sumoto, Japan, students through an exchange coordinated by Sister Cities International and the Kiwanis Club of East Hawaii. It was, the Key Clubbers report, an adventure never to be forgotten.

In August, the Sumoto teens visited Hawaii, where they attended classes at Hilo High School, shopped for jeans and muumuus and watched lava flow at Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park. By the end of their stay, the visitors had become friends, and their farewell dinner broke out into a luau. With flowered leis draped over their floral-patterned kimonos, the Japanese girls joined their Hawaiian hosts for a hula dance.

Hawaiian students pay their respects to Sadako Sasaki, an innocent victim of war, with 1000 paper cranes.

In October, the exchange was reversed and Hilo teens traveled to Sumoto.

“Each day, we saw many historical and cultural sights, including shrines, peace memorials, the Mazda car factory and the Marugami castle,” says Key Clubber Cody Pinzon.

One of the most memorable experiences was a tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, according to Jamae Valdez Balagot, also of the Hilo Key Club. There, they visited a memorial to Sadako Sasaki. As a two-year-old child, Sasaki was blown through a window of her home when the atomic bomb was dropped near her home on August 6, 1945. She survived, but 10 years later she fell ill with leukemia as a result of the radiation exposure. During her hospitalization, she vowed to fold 1,000 paper cranes, which according to Japanese legend would grant her one wish. She died on October 25, 1955, and remains a global symbol of the innocent victims of war. At the base of her statue an inscription reads, “This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world.”

“Japan was a wonderful learning experience filled with a lot of memories and joy worth sharing with others.”

“Something we prepared for as a group was making cranes for Sadako,” Balagot says. “It was a wonderful experience to witness the tragic past of the Hiroshima bombing. We paid our respects to Sadako by placing 1,000 paper cranes by her statue. We were fortunate enough to see students singing to her statue. It was such a beautiful sight.

“Japan was a wonderful learning experience,” Balagot adds, “filled with a lot of memories and joy worth sharing with others.”

This story originally appeared in the March 2015 Key Club magazine

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