LIHU‘E — The smiles of the three young girls emerging from the main concourse said it all, Wednesday.
Haruka Kuroshima, Riino Fukuda and Mio Shimada are high school students from Ishigaki, Japan, and were arriving for a week’s stay on Kaua‘i as prizes for winning a contest in Ishigaki earlier this year.
Brian Yamamoto of Kaua‘i Community College said the three students represent the first, second and third places of an English speech contest held in July where he was a judge.
“The students will be home-staying with students from Kapa‘a High School and on Thursday, will be in attendance at the Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital bon dance,” Yamamoto said, himself being a host because his daughter attends Kapa‘a High School.
This is the third year where the contest winners received trips to Kaua‘i as prizes, and for the three young girls, Yamamoto said this trip is their first international travel experience.
“The previous mayor of Ishigaki started the contest and when the current mayor took office, liked the concept and the contest continued,” Yamamoto said. “The government pays for all of the exchange students’ trip to Kaua‘i.”
Additionally, the girls earned trophies, the first place getting the Ishigaki Mayor’s trophy, the second place earning the Superintendent’s trophy, and the third place winner getting the Kaua‘i Mayor’s trophy which was brought over by Yamamoto when he went to judge the contest.
With the construction of an international airport taking place in Ishigaki, Yamamoto said the first place winner, Kuroshima, spoke of the need to learn English so they could communicate with the flow of visitors through what they consider will be an international hub.
All of the speeches had to be written in English, and the visit to Kaua‘i not only exposes the students to different peoples and cultures, it also enhances their English skills.
Ishigaki is similar to Kaua‘i, Yamamoto said.
“It’s located in Okinawa Prefecture on a group of islands called the Yaeyama Islands,” Yamamoto said. “Ishigaki is on one of the major islands and has a population of about 45,000 people. It’s known for its nice beaches and the weather is really tropical — just like Kaua‘i.”
The three girls are escorted by Yasuhara Ikemura, a member of the Ishigaki City Hall whom Yamamoto said is fluent in English.
During their stay, the students will accompany their hosts to school and Kaua‘i Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. is scheduled to meet with the students, Tuesday at Lillian Wadahara’s class at Kapa‘a High School.
• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.