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Japanese Students Immersed in Homecoming

As the "omikoshi," made its way along Carrleigh Parkway, Miki Matsui and Mami Araki walked alongside and immersed themselves in an American tradition: a high-school homecoming parade.

Japanese exchange students Miki and Mami were in Springfield for about 10 days, staying with West Springfield High School students for a crash course in an American teenager's life. Mami went to the parade and football game on Friday and the dance on Saturday night, and Miki just went to the parade.

"I thought, this is America," Mami said.

She even helped build the omikoshi, a mobile Shinto religious monument.

"I did a little spray painting," she said.

In Japan, students don't play football in school; baseball is the popular sport. At the game Friday night, Mami was excited with all the students and enthusiasm, but cold. The girls live on the southern end of Japan in Kagoshima where the weather is tropical, the tree line dominated by palms, and the backdrop is a live volcano.

They were in town staying with fellow students who were part of the Japanese program at West Springfield, where Adam Podell has been teaching Japanese for six years. Mami stayed with Kelly McElhenny while Miki stayed with Ireane Yoon. They all are seniors in high school. Kelly went to Japan last year as part of the same program.

"They come with us to our classes," Kelly said. "My friend [that] I stayed with in Japan, I still e-mail her."

In Japan, English is required throughout high school and is sometimes tied in with the students' international culture courses. Pronunciation of words is different, though. The most difficult part of English with the students is the "intonation," which is defined as the system of significant levels and variations in pitch sequences within an utterance. It takes the trained ear recognizes their pronunciation of "McDonald's." The girls feel at home in Podell's Japanese class.

During their visit, Miki and Mami toured Washington, dined at French and Chinese restaurants and went to the movies. Both girls are the first of their families to visit the United States.