There is not a Japanese pagoda at the Hudson home in rural Bowling Green, but the connection to the island nation is prevalent.
|Japanese student Ryotaro Aoyama (left) is seen with his American host family brother, William; mother, Teresa; father, Shawn; and sister, Elaine. (Photo courtesy of Ohio 4-H/Labo exchange)
Shawn and Teresa Hudson and their family hosted a Japanese student in their home this summer for the second consecutive year.
During July and August, the Hudsons again participated as a host family in the Ohio 4-H/Japanese Labo exchange program. Ryotaro Aoyama, 14, of Nishinomiya, Japan, was welcomed into their family for approximately a month. William, 15, was the official "host brother," while his sisters, Elaine, 13, and Samantha, 18, also assisted.
Elaine served as a host sister last summer for a Japanese girl, Yukino Kawakami. The Hudsons first became interested in participating in the 4-H/Labo exchange program after Samantha returned from spending her junior year in Japan as part of an exchange program through the Rotary.
"This is a great way to have someone for a month and experience the culture without having a commitment for a full year," Shawn Hudson said.
Though they only had a month, the family made the most of it, packing in almost non-stop activities for his visit, including Cedar Point, camping, the Wood County Fair, a trip to Sauder Village, and the National Tractor Pull, to name just a few.
"Overall we were very busy. Mom had to show him everything," William said of the time with his Japanese brother.
William, a Bowling Green High School sophomore, said Ryotaro loved to go swimming. After William returned from his time as a camp counselor during the visit, he said Ryotaro couldn't wait to tell him that he could swim across the Hudsons' pond without use of noodle.
Though the family does not speak Japanese, they said communication was usually not a problem.
Their guest did speak some English but "wasn't super fluent."
Teresa shared a quirk in the language. Upon his return to Japan, Ryotaro sent her a message on how she cried when he left, saying, "I will never forget the tears you drained for me."
The family made what they hope will be a lasting friendship. Their Japanese "son" wants to return next year for his summer vacation.
Teresa said she knows he enjoyed Cedar Point, "but I think he liked being around our friends and family most."
Beyond the Hudsons showing the Japanese student around Ohio, he was also able to share many of the Japanese customs with them.
They loved the Japanese meal he prepared for them, and he created a paper mache "crane" necklace for his American mother.
Elaine, an eighth grader at Bowling Green Middle School, enjoyed both Japanese visitors. She noted that Yukino enjoyed camping more than Ryotaro did.
"We did quite a bit with her, too," Elaine said, including trips to Hocking Hills and both the Toledo Zoo and Toledo Museum of Art.
Yokino was nearly undefeated in Chinese checkers, losing only one game during her entire visit. This despite countless attempts by the entire family to win.
Samantha's exchange trip lasted nine months. She said she had never spoken any Japanese until her visit, but all of her host families were "very helpful."
A main difference she saw was the Japanese people's penchant for festivals.
"The Japanese really enjoy their festivals. There are lots of booths and toys. The festivals were a lot of fun," Samantha said.
One of her memorable moments was when she had the opportunity to walk on fire.
"That was a cool experience. It actually didn't hurt at all."
Samantha is now a student at Bowling Green State University, majoring in music performance. She is also taking a course in the Japanese language. The music interest comes from her parents. Shawn is the orchestra director for Bowling Green City Schools, while Teresa is the band teacher for both the Bowling Green Christian Academy and Bowling Green Montessori School. She is also in the military and serves as the deputy commander of the 338th Army Reserve Band in Columbus.
With their educational ties, Teresa found it interesting how Ryotaro's day in Japan is consumed with schooling and education. Including a total of three hours a day in travel, Ryotaro leaves his home at 6 a.m. and does not return most days until 8 or 9 p.m. His day also includes tennis lessons. Saturday also involves both school and tennis.
Teresa told the organizers, "I think our family enjoys the fact that for the second year in a row, our exchange student just seemed to blend right in with our family."