Eighth grader Laura DiNardo has been getting up earlier than usual every morning to take her Japanese language class at Byrnedale Junior High School.
Japanese language classes are required for her and 14 other Byrnedale students as well as 14 from nearby Bowsher High School who will leave tomorrow for Toyohashi, Japan.
Organized by the Kristi Pawlak, the Japanese language instructor at Bowsher, the trip will extend Toledo's connection with its newest sister city.
Mrs. Pawlak has been holding weekly planning meetings with the group going to Toyohashi.
One of their tasks has been learning how to sing “It's A Small World After All” in Japanese.
Students at one of the schools they will visit are learning how to sing “Hey Jude” in English.
“I want to prepare the kids before they go,” Mrs. Pawlak said. “I don't want to just plunk them down there. We've been preparing for like a year and a half.”
Miss DiNardo said her interest in Japan was sparked partially by her younger sister Diann's “obsession” with a Japanese cartoon, Sailor Moon, that appears on the Cartoon Network. Under a special arrangement with Bowsher, the Byrnedale students are getting high school credit for their daily Japanese language class. The 40-minute class starts at 7:25 and replaces their home room period.
“When they announced it at school last year if anybody was interested in taking Japanese and going to Japan, some friends and I thought it was neat,” Miss DiNardo said.
Students have held garage sales and other fund-raisers to defray the cost, but are still contributing about $2,000 each toward the trip.
Kevin Tresso, 17, a Bowsher junior, said he's been taking Japanese since seventh grade when he attended Trinity Lutheran School. He said he likes the Japanese culture. “They're totally different from us,” he said. “Their food is not so greasy. It's more healthy.” He said he likes the compactness of the architecture.
But he'll say nice things about Toledo when he makes his presentation there. “I'll tell them it's a good place,” young Tresso said.
The trip grew out of a visit dignitaries and middle school students from Toyohashi paid to Byrnedale in 1999.
John Henry Fullen, the executive director of Toledo Sister Cities International, said the trip is one of several in which area students will travel to foreign countries this spring or summer. He cited other schools that have sent student groups - often under the supervision of foreign language teachers - to Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, Germany, and South Korea.
He praised Mrs. Pawlak's meticulous planning of the itinerary as being in sync with the way the Japanese like to organize.
“It's hour by hour. With Japan, it's the only way. They really appreciate it. There's a certain joy in the implementation,” Mr. Fullen said.
The group will fly out of Detroit, arriving in Nagoya, Japan, Sunday night, and then travel by bus to Toyohashi. They will visit high schools and junior highs, meet with municipal officials, including the mayor, and visit tourist attractions.
On May 18, they will take the bullet train to Tokyo. On May 21, they will visit Hiroshima, which was devastated by one of two atomic bombs dropped by the United States to end World War II, and visit the Peace Park Memorial.
The group returns to Toledo May 23.
Toyohashi has seen a veritable flood of Toledoans in the last two years. Mayor Carty Finkbeiner visited Toyohashi in May, 2000, to establish the sister-city pact.
In the last year, DaimlerChrysler has consolidated its Japanese distribution center in Toyota, and Dana Corp. opened an engineering center in Toyohashi.