Japanese students arrive in Richmond

By Ben Garbarek - bio | email

MIDLOTHIAN, VA (WWBT) - A group of Japanese students from Richmond's sister city of Saitama is spending the week in Chesterfield.

They've left behind the disaster in their home country that almost canceled their trip.

These exchange students are some of the lucky ones. They're from a city outside of Tokyo which escaped the worst of the damage from the earthquake and tsunami. Still, it seems everyone in Japan has a heart-wrenching story to tell.

Japanese exchange students were greeted with flowers, hugs and smiles, something they have not seen much of since an earthquake ravaged parts of their country a week ago.

Ryota Fujino is one of ten students that made the week-long trip. Although his hometown is ok, he waited six excruciating days to hear if his grandmother near the earthquake's epicenter survived one of the biggest disasters his country has ever seen.

"My grandma's house broken because tsunami," said Fujino.  "Her house has moved."

Students and teachers observed a moment of silence shortly after getting together, keeping in mind why this trip almost didn't happen. One teacher says he decided to make the trip to share both his happiness to be here and his sadness leaving his country during a crisis.

Clover Hill students and teachers hosting these Japanese teenagers know the earthquake a delicate subject.

"We want them to feel welcome here," said Clover Hill High School teacher Maria Klein.  "(We want them to) have a different opportunity to get their minds off things that are happening at their home, but also we want them to know how much we care, how much we support them."

For now, students like Ryota will try to enjoy seeing the United States for the first time, but not without the massive recovery back home in the back of his mind.

"It has little drink, little food," he said.  "It is very hard condition to live, so I just worry about that."

The Japanese students will spend this week at Clover Hill High School and then make a trip to colonial Williamsburg this weekend before heading back to Japan on Sunday.

Copyright 2011 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.