ONTARIO — “We’re so excited to have you here,” said Cathy Yasuda, one of Ontario Sister City Committee organizers.
She delivered that message to five students, who looked around at the crowd that was gathered around them at Four Rivers Cultural Center.
The students were visiting from Ontario’s Sister City of Osakasayama, a city of about 58,000 people that sits in Japan’s Osaka Prefecture.
The students were given a chance to explore the sights and experiences of Ontario and its surrounding communities from March 14 until today, when the group said its goodbyes.
During their time in Ontario, the group had a packed schedule with plenty of activities, organized by the Ontario Sister City Committee, who also helped arrange host families for the students as well as the interpreters for the tours.
The students who visited this year were Takashi Hondayama, Nijiho Fujioka, Rina Nagano, Yuri Isotani and Marin Okamura.
On the morning of March 15, the five students were up and awake despite staving off jet lag from a 15-hour time difference between Ontario and Osakasayama.
At about 10 a.m., the students and chaperones were introduced to Grant Kitamura, general manager of Mura-kami Produce, who gave them a tour of the packing and shipping facility.
The group was particularly impressed when Kitamura showed them what are known as colossal onions, each of which is big enough to be used as Outback Steakhouse’s signature Bloomin’ Onion.
With responses of “Whoa,” and “Amazing” (spoken in Japanese), it was clear what the students thought of the giant onions.
But the next day, March 16, a visit to Ontario City Hall revealed thoughts from some of the Japanese students on what they hoped would happen during the Sister City trip.
At City Hall, Ontario Mayor Ron Verini welcomed the group and requested that each of them take the chance to sit in the mayor’s chair in the raised dais of the city council chambers.
“Talk to your people,” Verini told each student who sat in the chair.
“I hope that the relationship between Osakasayama and Ontario will continue,” Nagano said.
These sentiments were shared by both Hondayama and Okamura, who expressed desires to form connections between Osakasayama and Ontario.
After the students took plane rides over the lower Western Treasure Valley from Ontario’s Municipal Airport, Hondayama said “saiko,” when asked how the trip went.
Even though it might sound like he described the trip as psycho, the word translates to “amazing,” in Japanese.
While in the area, students also visited Saint Alphonsus Medical Center-Ontario, skied at McCall’s Brundage Mountain Resort, shot firearms at the Vale Gun Club, toured the Lake Owyhee Dam and caught a glimpse of the spillway.
But it wasn’t all travel time for the students. They also got the opportunity to spend a day at Ontario High School, where they got to tie-dye their own T-shirts.
A farewell dinner on Saturday was a rather tearful affair for the Osakasayama students and their host families. Most, if not all, gave their rather teary-eyed farewells.
“This is an experience that was so wonderful that I won’t forget it,” Isotani said, between sobs.
Fujioka added her tears to Isotani’s.
“Many moments that seemed the most simple were the most memorable,” Fujioka said about her experience.