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‘We can learn from each other’

David Mirhadi
Staff Writer

From an early age, Japanese culture fascinated Ryan Foster.

When he was in fourth grade, Foster’s teacher at Grass Valley Charter School told stories from when she lived in Japan. As a freshman at Ghidotti Early College Preparatory High School in Grass Valley, Foster traveled to Sierra College’s Rocklin campus to take two semesters of Japanese.

Last year, Foster’s family hosted a Japanese foreign-exchange student. But no preparation was quite like the real thing.

“When I first got there, I didn’t know what to think,” he said of arriving in Chiba City, a bustling, skyscraper-filled metropolis just outside Tokyo. At times he’d be on the train and realize, “I’m the only one who’s white here.”

In June Foster, 17, spent two months as part of a 4-H International exchange program in Japan. The trip was made possible by numerous local donors, including Mill Street Clothing, the Nevada Irrigation District and the Nevada County 4-H Council.

The son of Grass Valley Police Chief John Foster found the pace in Japan faster than any place he’d ever been.

“People are constantly moving,” he said. “There were mobs and crowds everywhere.”

Foster spent one month in Chiba City, where he lost 20 pounds by walking and commuting from home to his language classes.

His host family lived in a 200-year-old house; they rarely, if ever, used a car; and they frowned on eating at McDonalds. He saw no pine trees. He found students very serious. People he met wondered whether California has four seasons, and they enjoyed a class he taught about American culture.

Foster loved the food, especially soba, a dish of cold noodles, and sushi, sea snail and tempura.

People used cell phones for everything from making calls to placing orders and downloading electronic coupons. People text more and watch television frequently on their cell phones, Foster said.

He spent a second month in Yamaguchi, a city of 200,000 people. Foster met and shook hands with former prime minister Shinzo Abe and partied at the beach. He also visited Hiroshima, where the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945.

One of the more difficult transitions when he came back to America in August was learning not to bow to people.

“There’s ways that both cultures can learn from each other,” he said.

To contact Staff Writer David Mirhadi, e-mail dmirhadi@theunion.com or call 477-4239.

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