Building bridges

LIHUE — Yu Ogawa, 17, from Yamaguchi, Japan is a student of Hawaiian culture and this week, he and eight other college students from Japan are visiting Kauai to get a taste of the culture. 

“I’ve been studying English and I like the Hawaiian culture,” Ogawa said. “We are all happy to be here.”

The group is composed of mostly information technology students, but there are a few pursuing degrees in mechanical or cultural engineering.

As part of their Kauai experience, the group went to a Japanese language class at Kauai Community College on Monday, where they conversed with the Kauaian students and shared pieces of their own culture — like a traditional dance they performed in the courtyard outside. Students also explained what brought them to the class.

“My brother introduced me to Anime, Japanese cartoons, when I was 11,” said Christiana Rutz, one of KCC’s students.

The students from Japan spoke about their hobbies, which included piano, reading and basketball.

“This is the third group that’s been to the class,” said Hiroko Merritt, class professor. “They come here for a week or two and tour the island, it’s always fun for the students.”

Merritt said there is a “bridge” between Hawaii and Japan and a lot of students on both sides of that bridge look for work on the other side. Several in her class have family members in Japan and travel to visit them.

For those students who don’t have family in the country, Merritt said learning Japanese is a way to get ahead in the workplace on the island.

Merritt tells her students that knowing Japanese can help them get a job and will help with getting bigger tips, especially in restaurants and hotels.

“I have one student who was waiting on a table of Japanese people and all he knew how to say was hello and thank you and how to introduce himself,” Merritt said. “He used it and later he told me they loved it and left him a great tip.”

Lyka Guerrero, 19, from Kauai said she’s been taking Japanese for two years and she looks forward to meeting students who come to the island from Japan.

“I love it when they come here,” Guerrero said. “I like talking with them, but once you start to have a conversation and understand each other, you can do other things.”

Guerrero said she became interested in the Japanese culture and she decided if she wanted to make friends within the culture, she needed to learn the language.

“I like sharing cultures and experiences,” Guerrero said, “and I like having fun together.”

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