Japanese students visit Southwest

Students Honoka Yamamoto (left) and Himeka Miyoshi (center), of Kasugaoka High School in Osaka, Japan, perform in a skit March 1 at Southwest High School. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Twelve students from Japan performed a skit, led a trivia quiz and hosted a series of activities for Southwest High School students on March 1.

The students dressed as different anime characters as they performed before hosting the activities, which were centered around different aspects of Japanese culture. Hundreds of Southwest students from various classes participated.

The Japanese students, from Kasugaoka Senior High School in Osaka, were at Southwest as part of an annual exchange program between the two schools. A group of Kasugaoka students visits Southwest each spring, and a group of Southwest students visits Kasugaoka each summer.

Planned activities for the Japanese students included a field trip to St. Paul, shadowing host students and participating in a Japanese class at the University of Minnesota. The Southwest Foundation helped cover some of the costs of the activities.

Southwest has participated in exchange programs with Japanese schools for about 25 years, according to longtime Japanese teacher Kyoko French. The partnership with Kasugaoka started in 2006, and the schools officially became sister schools in December 2013.

Southwest High School student Dmitry Wurst participates in an activity led by Himeka Miyoshi of Kasugaoka High School. Photo by Nate Gotlieb
Southwest High School student Dmitry Wurst participates in an activity led by Himeka Miyoshi of Kasugaoka High School. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

French, who was a teacher in her home country of Japan before moving to the U.S., founded Southwest’s Japanese program in 1991. She mostly taught pre-algebra in her first year at Southwest before eventually building up the Japanese program to the point that it became her full-time focus.

Nowadays, Southwest has seven levels of Japanese, from introductory to International Baccalaureate. Students can also take College in the Schools Japanese to earn credit from the University of Minnesota.

French said there are about 140 students currently in her five sections of Japanese classes. She also leads an after-school Japanese culture club that participates in an annual Japanese culture competition with students from Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Southwest 10th-grader Alex Nafziger and 12th-grader Noah Hunsicker participate in the club and finished in second place at the competition, held Feb. 16 at Normandale Community College. Nafziger, who visited Kasugaoka with Southwest this past summer, said she took Japanese because she wanted to try a language harder than French or Spanish. She’s currently in the fourth level of Japanese at Southwest and plans on taking IB Japanese as a 12th-grader.

Hunsicker, who has taken Japanese all four years of high school, said he didn’t want to take Spanish, French or American Sign Language. He said students who learn Japanese essentially have to learn three different alphabets.

Ninth-grader Nathan Wilson, a Japanese 1 student, said he took the course because he’s a big fan of Japanese culture and because he didn’t want to take a language his siblings had taken. He said he intends to stick with it through high school.

Wilson was one of Southwest students hosting a Japanese student during the visit. He said he expected his family would take its student to the Mall of America several times as well as different restaurants that show off Minnesota culture.

The students from Japan were scheduled to stay in Minnesota through March 5.