Students from Kobe Gakuin University were welcomed to campus Thursday as part of the Kakehashi Project, a student exchange program between Japan and the U.S.
Murray State was one of several universities and high schools from the United States, 2300 students in total, invited this summer to participate in the Kakehashi Program hosted by the Japan Foundation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.
Twenty-three students and two faculty members from Murray, mostly Japanese majors and minors, spent 10 days in Japan visiting various historical and educational attractions including KGU.
Lucas Palmer, junior from Paris, Tenn., said he and the other students visiting Japan were treated to a visit of their campus and the surrounding area and had a chance to build relationships with the Japanese students through participating in various games and activities with them.
He said with the Japanese students now visiting Murray State it is a chance for those who traveled abroad to reciprocate the generosity and friendliness they were shown in Japan.
“Kakehashi,” in Japanese, means “bridge.” The goal of this project, Palmer said, is to build a bridge between Japan and the U.S. by strengthening relations.
Palmer and the rest of the Kakehashi Project participants from Murray State met for several weeks prior to prepare for this visit from the KGU students. They prepared activities for their guests, organized presentations and helped create the itinerary the students from Kobe will be following.
Yoko Hatakeyama, senior lecturer in the College of Humanities and Fine Arts and one of the two Murray State faculty to travel to Japan last summer, said the Kakehashi project, besides being created to allow Japanese and American students to mutually learn about their two cultures, also was enstated in order to attract more tourism to Japan. She said after the 2011 tsunami and subsequent earthquakes that hit Japan, tourism rates have fallen.
Hatakeyama said she believes Murray State was invited to be part of the program because of the numerous efforts the University has made to encourage students to be exposed to Japanese culture.
She also said the fact that Murray State offers an actual Japanese language major may have factored into their selection.
“This is a really, really rare opportunity,” she said. “I have seen great, significant changes in the student’s behavior, attitude and minds after being part of this program.”
The visiting Japanese students will stay in Murray until Sunday morning, at which time they will leave to continue their two-week visit of America, stopping in California next before going home.
Hatakeyama said she does not think Murray State will be invited back again to Japan next summer as part of the Kakehashi project, as the project will most likely focus on inviting new universities, if any.
“Our students have worked hard to make a wonderful memory for our guests this weekend,” Hatakeyama said. “I really believe that even after their students graduate they will continue to work to promote the understanding of the two cultures.”
Story by Ben Manhanke, Assistant News Editor