Roseville students learn Japanese customs, language

Local teenagers travel to Maesawa, Japan as part of a cultural educational studies program in June
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Jori Vajretti learned that bowing is an important custom in Japan. The practice serves as a greeting, sign of gratitude and show of respect. Vajretti discovered that teenage boys tend to be shy and Japanese people don’t hug very often. She also observed the different way they unwrap presents. “When they open presents, they don’t tear open the wrapping paper,” she said, “They peel it off slowly and fold it and then look at the gift inside.” The 14-year-old traveled to the city of Maesawa, Japan for a 10-day cultural educational studies program in June. She was one of 14 students, mainly from George Buljan Middle School in Roseville, to participate in the program, which has been around since 2000. “I thought it was an absolutely amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Jori said. “We were treated so nicely and exposed to Japanese life.” During the trip, students attended classes at Mesawa Junior High School, studied Japanese language and learned about the country’s art and music. But they also enjoyed plenty of fun adventures too, such as a visit to the Fujiwara No Sato museum and historic park, a bus tour of Tokyo and a stop at the Iwate sports festival. They attended a professional baseball game and rode a bullet train that traveled at 180 miles per hour. Jori’s favorite part was a rafting trip on the Kitakami River. “Rafting down the river was exciting,” she said. “And it was pouring rain outside.” The students lived with host families, which presented a language barrier for some, but the teenagers learned to communicate through body language, said program organizer Susan Goto, who is also president of the Roseville City School District board of trustees. Goto took her first trip to Japan in 1972 and has since gone eight times through the Buljan program. “The students get along so well,” she said. “It’s really fun. All the (Japanese) students really want to meet the Roseville students and every year they rush over and are very friendly. The (American) students enjoy it so much. They represent our school well and they’re great ambassadors.” In past years, Japanese teenagers would spend time in the United States. But in 2006, Maesawa, with a population of about 15,200 residents, merged with two other cities, a town and a village to form the new city of Oshu. The community had been subsidizing travel expenses, Goto said, and the new leadership decided to send students to Australia instead. In Japan, Jori stayed with a family that consisted of a mother, father, grandmother and two kids. She said different generations of family members usually live together under the same roof. “The grandma was really short but loud and funny, which isn’t typical,” Jori said. “Her son, the dad, was the same. He spoke broken English. The mom was quiet and more traditional.” The teenage daughter, Yumi, spoke proficient English and Jori practiced Japanese so the two girls talked a lot and taught each other phrases in their native tongues. Jori’s host family took her on a boat to see koi fish in the river and another day they rode roller coasters at an amusement park. She slept in the household’s traditional Japanese bedroom, which had “bamboo floors, trinkets such as a parasol, animals and nature paintings, low tables, a bed on the floor and chairs like bean bags except they were filled with cotton.” A handful of students, including Jori, attended a recent Roseville City Council meeting to talk about their overseas experience and thank the council members, in Japanese, for their approval of a $1,000 donation to help offset program costs. For student Evi Pineschi, this summer’s trip was her fourth visit to Japan. She’s Goto’s granddaughter. “It was a fantastic experience,” Evi said to the council. “I noticed how different the American and Japanese culture is (from one another). In Japan, they’re more of a community. They work as a unit. They’re more based on respect and being responsible. They’re very dutiful people. We’re more individualistic. I loved going on this trip because it widens my worldview.” Evi is now a senior at Oakmont High School. Jori is a freshman at Granite Bay High School and taking beginning Japanese, which she’s “passing with flying colors,” she said. And the trip may have made a world traveler out of this teenager who has big plans for the future. “I want to go to China,” she said. “I want to go to Germany — I want to learn German because I think it’s a cool language. I want to go to Spain and London. But who doesn’t want to go to London?” Sena Christian can be reached at