The fourth-grade students huddled around tables in an elementary school classroom Wednesday morning in Franklin, paying close attention to instructions from students who traveled from halfway around the world to meet them.

Students from Kuji, Japan, are visiting Franklin for a week, the result of a decades-long sister city relationship. The most recent set of annual visits began in 2007 and have continued every year since. The purpose of the visits to Franklin, and the recent trip Franklin students have made to Kuji, is so students can learn about everything from customs and traditions to what they do for fun.

Ten students and three chaperons arrived in Franklin on Tuesday. They toured downtown Franklin with the Historic Artcraft Theatre being one of their favorite sights. The students are staying with host families in Franklin.

While there are not any concrete plans to send another group of Franklin students to Japan, school officials have said they would like to see another trip happen in the next couple of years.

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On Wednesday morning, the students split into two groups and visited Webb and Needham elementary schools.

This was the first time Webb Elementary teachers and students were hosting the visitors, Principal Cheryl Moran said.

The chance to interact with students from another country is an opportunity these students likely would never get outside of school, math teacher Betsy Davis said.

“All we get to do is read it in a book,” she said.

The Kuji visitors taught the students origami, a traditional Japanese art form of folding paper into shapes such as flowers or birds, to share a piece of Japanese culture.

One of the visiting students, Reo Kichiya, 14, stood in front of the class demonstrating each step of making an origami crane out of a single sheet of paper. Two Franklin students, Miley Waugh, 10, and Delaney Fletcher, 9, sat at the end of a table while one of the Japanese students, Riru Komukai, helped the fourth-graders fold their paper correctly.

After each fold, the five Kuji students and their chaperone went around the classroom to assist the students, many of whom were doing origami for the first time.

The two girls joked about what the folded paper looked liked during each of the steps to become a crane. First it was a frog, then grass and a chicken before it reached its final form.

“I’m artistic; I like art,” Fletcher said.

While teachers gave the students some preparation for the visit, including learning some basics about Japanese culture, language and geography, the students took it on themselves to learn more,  Davis said.

After all the origami cranes were completed, the visiting students handed out origami ninja stars to the class.

The trip to Franklin is a learning experience for the students from Japan as well.

One of the best parts of the trip for the students is the opportunity to practice speaking English in public, chaperone Atsushi Odashima said.

“It’s a very exciting experience for them,” he said.

Odashima is a member of the board of education in Kuji. One of his observations of the school system in the U.S. is that teachers have more freedom in what subjects they teach and how they teach them.

The Kuji students will visit Franklin Community Middle School today and Franklin Community High School on Friday. They will have Saturday to explore the community with their host families before leaving early Sunday morning to spend a day in Chicago prior to returning to Japan.

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Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2702.