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Roseville families open houses to Japanese

Visitors learn there’s no typical American Christmas tradition
By: Sena Christian, Staff Reporter
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A Roseville teacher arranged for a group of Japanese parents and children to stay with local families to experience American Christmas traditions and, more importantly, to “make the world seem friendlier.”

While in the United States for only a few days, the 14 Japanese visitors stayed in houses big and small — and everything in-between — and enjoyed holiday traditions such as going bowling on Christmas Eve, seeing a movie at the theater and taking a walk through Marshall Gold Discovery State Park in Coloma.

One host family made tamales for Christmas dinner and another surprised their guests with a limo ride to see holiday lights.

“Some experienced a gorgeous type of Christmas, which is seen in the movies,” said Japanese visitor Keiko Sugimoto in an email to the Press Tribune. “Others experienced just an ordinary type of day on Christmas. Regardless of what type of experience they had, everybody appreciated everything.”

Sugimoto met Eileen Gordon-Hugman, the local home stay organizer and teacher at Heritage Oak Elementary School, while both attended Humboldt State University. They also worked together at a language school in Japan for three years in the 1990s and have remained friends ever since.

They agreed just recently to organize a visitation. Gordon-Hugman “begged and pleaded” with fellow teachers to host a family over the holidays, which she realized was “an awful lot to ask.” But some agreed.

What the Japanese visitors learned is there is no “typical” American Christmas tradition. Gordon-Hugman, who lives in Georgetown, took her guests — Keiko, husband Stephen and their 8-year-old daughter Hannah — to a service at her Methodist church.

The travel-weary family fell asleep in the pews and awoke at the end of the service as people held candles and sang “Silent Night.”

“In the end, the American families were saying thank you to the Japanese for enriching their own Christmas at home,” Gordon-Hugman said.

Only a few days before the Japanese visitors arrived, the mass shooting occurred in Newtown, Conn., but Gordon-Hugman chose not to talk about the tragedy, instead focusing on the good aspects of life in the United States.

As someone who has lived in North America, Europe and Asia, Gordon-Hugman said people should instead get their perspectives about the world not from the news but from visiting foreign places and people. She wants people to see the world as small and friendly.

“There are many, many more good people than there are bad,” she said.