At a Franklin elementary school earlier this week, students greeted visitors from Japan with a handful of Japanese words they’d learned that morning.

The local students wanted to be able to say common phrases to their visitors, like hello and thank you.

During their six-day stay in Franklin, the group of Japanese students visited the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Climate Control factory, four local schools, and toured the community with their local host families. The program began more than a decade ago as part of an effort to build ties between Franklin, where many Japanese companies have chosen base parts of their U.S. operations, and Kuji, Japan.

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At the beginning of each year, the Japanese city has sent a group of students to visit. The students typically will visit a handful of schools in Franklin, but this was the first time the group had gone to Union Elementary School. The seven students and their three chaperones got a tour of the building and then settled into the music room to perform a dance to Japanese pop music for several classes of Franklin students.

The Kuji students were responsible for planning the presentations and activities they did with students, chaperone Atsushi Odashima said. The students also shared some popular dances, origami and other aspects of Japanese culture, he said.

“This is a great experience for students at Union,” principal Katie Smith said. “It helps provide both students a new educational experience and provides them with opportunities to learn things they may not know about from each other’s cultures.”

The seven students and their three chaperones began their stay this week in Franklin with a tour of the downtown area, visiting iconic sites such as The Historic Artcraft Theatre or the Johnson County Courthouse, as well as many downtown shops.

For 17-year-old Ena Osawa, her favorite part of visiting downtown was getting to see all of the cute, little shops. Her fellow Kuji student, 13-year-old Mao Horikawa, enjoyed going on top of the Johnson County Courthouse and the view it provided of the area.

Getting to try new foods was another favorite part of the trip for the Japanese students, with popcorn, fried shrimp and french fries being some of their favorites.

The visitors stayed with six host families, some of whom have been involved with the program since it first started.

For one of the host families, Dee and Andrew Woods, this is the 11th year they’ve opened their home up to the Kuji visitors.

“We have a better understanding of Japanese culture,” Dee Woods said. “I think the best lesson is just offering your home and making new friends because it will last a lifetime.”

One of the biggest changes since the program started has been the increased ability to communicate, now that families and students can use smartphones and translation apps to quickly figure out how to say a certain phrase, Dee Woods said.

Before, figuring out how to communicate the right phrase might have meant needing to make a phone call to Greg Moore, who organizes the Franklin side of the visit and speaks Japanese. Now, they can punch in a phrase on a phone and have a translation in a matter of seconds, she said.

Alisha and Chris Mahin became host families after their 15-year-old son, Owen, went on the lone trip Franklin students have taken to Kuji back in 2015. Owen, now a sophomore at Franklin Community High School, said he enjoys being on the opposite end of the trip and being able to show the students around his hometown.

“We wanted to extend the same hospitality that he had received,” Alisha Mahin said.

By the numbers

Here’s a look at the students visiting from Kuji this weeks:

Number of students: 7

Ages: 13 and 17

Number of girls: 6

Number of boys: 1

Number of chaperones: 3

Number of host families: 6

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