Japanese visitors getting full Canadian experience with dancing and curling

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Japanese students took part in the regular Monday dance at the Prince Albert Heritage Cente on Monday. The group of 20 Japanese students are leaving on Sunday.

A group of 20 Japanese students are in Prince Albert as part of an educational visit to St. Mary High School, and on Monday afternoon they took part in the weekly dance at the Prince Albert Heritage Centre.

The students are from the Kenmei School in Japan and are in Prince Albert from March 19-31. Nao Matsubara and Nika Kawakana are both from Hyogo, Japan and are part of the group, which came with two staff.

During the regular dance, the Japanese students performed a Grasshopper Dance and learned two steps and polka from seniors at the Heritage Centre.

Both Matsubara and Kawakana said that they enjoyed dancing at the Heritage Centre after lunch.

“Fantastic,” Matsubara said.

Matsubara said the six days have been great in Prince Albert.

“Yeah, really good,” she said.

“I learned many things in Canada and so a good place.”

Dancing with seniors at the Seniors Centre is one of several recreational activities students have participated in since arriving. They also visited the Prince Albert Historical Museum and curled at the Prince Albert Golf and Curling Centre. Kawakana was excited to learn to a sport the students had never tried before.

“It was really good,” Kawakana said. “It was a little difficult but really good. I like it.”

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald The group of 20 Japanese students who visited the Prince Albert Heritage Centre on Monday posed with Heritage Centre board members while the dance went on behind them.

The Kenmei students and staff are based in a classroom at St. Mary and are invited to take part in classes like Drama and Physical Education. That was how they were able to learn to curl.

Both Matsubara and Kawkana said that St. Mary High School has been welcoming.

“The students are very kind,” Kawakana said.

“The student eat lunch together and are very kind friend and friendly and talk,” Matsubara added.

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Japanese students took part in the regular Monday dance at the Prince Albert Heritage Cente on Monday. The group of 20 Japanese students are leaving on Sunday.

Because the event is organized by the community and not run by teachers, the program has not been affected by the ongoing Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation job actions, outside of some minor inconveniences.

Tour organizer Jeannette Eddolls said on Wednesday that the group continues to be busy, with a trip to Wanuskewin Heritage Park still to come.

“They played a Phys Ed game with the students. They are going to have a performance, and activities with parents and students tonight (Monday) at the school, and Wednesday night these kids are saying thank you to the parents and are putting on a performance for them at the theatre,” she said.

This was the first time since 2019 that a group of Japanese students has visited to Prince Albert.

“The whole experience is great,” Eddolls said. “It’s the first time in five years.”

Eddolls said that this group of 20 students was special as the first one to return to Prince Albert.

The lunch at the Heritage Centre was planned because noon-hour supervision was withdrawn at Ecole St. Mary and the cafeteria was closed.

“We thought about dancing, but we targeted it because we had to be out of the school for lunch,” Eddolls said. “We just said to the seniors, ‘is alright if we join the dance?’ They said yes, so it was as easy as that.”

Eddolls said that was an example of how quickly things can happen in Prince Albert.

The students will leave for home on Sunday afternoon, according to Eddolls.

Both Matsubara and Kawkana would recommend being part of a trip to Prince Albert to younger Kenmai students.

“It was a really great place,” Kawakana said.

After having challenges struggling to find host homes for the students Eddolls was able to fill all of the spaces. Each student was able to stay with a host family for the visit. Host families could only speak English to the Japanese exchange students.

“It was stressful this time because (after) five years, my family base was gone,” Eddolls said.

“I think without exception the students are having a wonderful experience with their host families based on the feedback,” she added.

Matsubara and Kawakana each got to do special things with their host families.

“We sang karaoke at home with my host family and with my host family’s friends,”

Kawakana said

“I saw many cows,” Matsubara added.

She was also excited to see the Aurora Borealis.

The Sisters of the Presentation of Mary first started hosting Japanese students at the former Rivier Academy. Even though the school no longer exists, Eddolls said officials and students in Japan still wanted to make the trip.

The Prince Albert Catholic School Division Board of Education approved the visit in April 2023.