Some visitors are roaming Franklin this week, observing classrooms, meeting city leaders and playing in the community center.
Ten years after their first visit, residents and students from Franklin’s sister city of Kuji, Japan, have made their annual trek. Nearly 20 residents from Kuji, a city of about 35,000 people more than 400 miles north of Tokyo, are staying with host families, some of whom have gone to Kuji in previous years.
Kuji Mayor Joji Endo, his wife, residents such as the city chamber of commerce president and about 10 teens made the trip. Since 2006, a group of Kuji residents and students have tried to visit Franklin annually.
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Endo, his wife and other residents left Thursday morning, but 10 teenage students will be visiting Franklin schools and staying with host families until Sunday, said Franklin resident Greg Moore, who is assisting with the trip. Moore has visited Kuji in the past, and taught Franklin students about Japanese culture before they traveled to Japan last year.
Students, residents and diplomats arrived Tuesday afternoon and had a welcome dinner paid for by the city of Franklin at Franklin College, Franklin College spokesperson Deidra Baumgardner said. On Wednesday, the mayor of Kuji toured the college campus as well as Northwood Elementary School, Franklin Community High School, Franklin Parks and Recreation community center and the police and fire departments. Franklin College officials specifically wanted to show the Japanese visitors the library on campus since highlights of Franklin College graduate Thomasine Allen’s history is on display, Baumgardner said. Allen was a missionary in Kuji for more than 30 years and established the sister city designation between Kuji and Franklin more than 50 years ago, Moore said.
While half of the Kuji group was at Franklin College, the students were spending time at Northwood and Creekside elementary schools and Custer Baker Intermediate School, Moore said. Students were taken to music and gym class, since those classes transcend the language barrier, Moore said.
On Friday night, the teenagers will play games such as kickball at the Franklin Parks and Recreation community center, Moore said. Students will have the rest of the weekend free with their host families before returning to Japan, Franklin director of communications Angie Longtin said.
In October, 10 Franklin students traveled to Kuji for the first time in more than a decade, funded through a Franklin Rotary Club grant. Seven of the 10 students that went to Kuji in the fall are now playing host to Japanese students this week, Moore said.