The Japanese Youth Exchange was a hugely successful project that ran from 1990 to 2019. Participating students across Flintshire welcomed families from Murata, in Japan into their homes. The scheme was for Flintshire High School students. For two weeks activities and excursions were planned for around the county celebrating Welsh culture. The Welsh students would then visit Japan to learn and practice the Japanese language as well as celebrate their culture. The exchange was sponsored initially by a donation from Optec, a Japanese company who had a facility in Buckley, and also by many local organisations over time. This provided once in a lifetime opportunity but sadly the Trust came to an end in 2022 as further funding was not available.
The ex-board of trustees said that the Japanese Youth Exchange was a wonderful opportunity for all involved, friendships were made, and many bonds developed.
Theatr Clwyd has been supported by the Trust to celebrate the stories and memories of those involved over the 29-year programme. In 2023, Theatr Clwyd is continuing to engage with Murata, Japan and hopes to continue this relationship over the years to come...
JYE Memories Archive...
Photo Gallery of JYE Memories
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“I joined when I was 17. It was my first time went to abroad and I was very nervous. I still vividly remember my experience in Wales. The sushi and fish and chips that we all went out to eat left a strong impression on me. The steam locomotive and old-fashioned cityscape were also beautiful. They al-so took me to London. I went to the British Museum, which was my dream, and saw many exhibitions in person, and I was very moved. It happened to be Queen Elizabeth's day at Windsor Castle, and I always remember her saying, "When there's that flag, there's Her Majesty the Queen." The catalog of the British Museum and the pamphlet of Windsor Castle are my precious treasures. I always remember going to see GREE and getting a tattoo in Ed-inburgh. I have a lot of small memories of everyday life, such as the meals I ate at home and my grandparents. It's a very rich and fun memory of a life-time.”(Airi Kosek, Japan, 2023)
JYE 2000 The Japanese Youth Exchange 2000 is one of the greatest moments in my life. To this day, I stay in touch with my lovely exchange family in Kuga. We have visited one another many times in the past 23 years and now have young families of our own. It's a friendship that means the world to me. Thank you once again for this wonderful opportunity.(Adele Williams, 2023)
Whenever I hear of Japan, I think positive thoughts and what an amazing country it is. I genuinely felt part of the family. They treated me like one of their own. That was enough to overcome any language barrier as communication proved no problem at all! The people I was surrounded by were so friendly, genuine, funny and loving. I felt a true connection with them and promised myself that I would return to Japan one day. I truly think that this programme is beneficial to anyone because whatever you want to get out of the experience, you get… and so much more than you realise! This was not just a holiday. This was a unique, once in a lifetime opportunity. An experience with fond memories that I will cherish forever. An experience that I will never forget. どうもありがとうございま – Thank you very much.(Andy Cowling, Flintshire, 2023)
“Having the experience of participating in the Japanese Youth Exchange when I was just 16-years-old was such an honour and privilege. I was able to experience a completely new culture and way of life which has stuck with me to this day and help to share our own culture. I developed a friend-ship with my partner who I am still in touch with today with both him, his wife and little family. One of my overarching memories from this trip was teaching Yasushi the basics of playing rugby in Betws y Coed, only to find out three months after I arrived back that he had taken part in a game in Japan for the first time. The whole event was an amazing experience and one that I cherish to this day."(Chris Holmes, Flintshire, 2023)
It was an amazing experience from start to finish. From getting to meet those I would share the experience with (and their families) through to the sites we saw, it’s something I can look back on with fond memories. Firstly we met our exchange partners in the UK and we got to share with them life in North Wales. They met our friends and family, we visited helicopters and police forensics department, bbqs with water slides, travelled to London by coach and watched a musical. Then we left our parents and we’re on our way to Japan as eager 17 year olds, with our chaperones. I still have photos from the trip (despite no iPhones being available back then) that bring back so many memories of making ramen noodles, a karate class, dressing in our kimonos, karaoke, Disneyland Japan, endless Japanese foods to try (even sesame ice cream, not for me) and truly being apart of our hosts families. I still have some memorabilia kept in the wardrobe. One unique event I can recall is when we were in Japan and experienced an earthquake, which was very bizarre. We were in a taxi when car alarms went off and cars were bouncing around. Fortunately we were all ok and contacted parents when we could to let them know we were fine. The whole experience was truly unique and I feel extremely luckily and privileged to be apart of it. I’ve shared this link with some of my fellow exchangers to share their experiences. We have tried to keep in touch as much as we can, but being adults now it has made it harder. But it’s been lovely to get back in touch and reminisce about the experience(Sarah Jane Bradley, 2023)
I was part of the second cohort involved in the exchange. Back then, our Japanese visitors spent 3 weeks with us, and we went over to Tokyo and Murata for 3 weeks. I have so many wonderful and vibrant memories of that trip that have stayed with me over the course of my life. There are simply too many to write here! The 8 of us involved in the exchange became close friends in a short period of time. My friend was Mayumi Seki, and she was a bit older than the rest of us, working for the local council at the time. The other visitors were Kenji Ota, Hidetoshi Watanabe and I can't remember the name of the other one right now! The other guys in our group were Andrew Millington (who now lives in Japan), Mark Fletcher (who did live in Japan and has a Japanese wife) and Richard Williams. I will always remember the kind friendship of Norio Takahashi and his lovely family, including his son Leo who I looked after during a horrific lightning storm at the Superbike Championship, where the group were scattered and separated. And of course Alan Rushton and his assistant who organised the exchange from this end. In Japan, we did not stay with our friends. Instead, I stayed with 2 host familes, for one week each. The first was a widow, who lived in a very traditional Japanese house with a huge koi pond in the garden. She was married to an American soldier, and she was overwhelmed how much I looked like him. She dressed in kimonos all the time and was a lovely, kind lady. She kept bees and treated medical conditions with bee stings! My second host family were a young couple, with 2 small children (around 3 and 1). They were delightful. Our visit was absolutely packed with visits and activities - too many to recount here. We visted the Zao national park, went to the hot springs, went to a mink farm and learnt how to make kokeshi dolls and other wooden crafts, as well as visiting the kokeshi doll museum. We did a traditional martial arts class, took part in a tea ceremony and visits to several temples. We were the guests of the local council, and took part in a cermoney to mark the visit, fiollowed by a reception. There is so much I haven't included. Our last few days were spent in Tokyo, where we visited the city, and the home of the owner of Optec DD, where we met him and family for dinner. We also visited Disney Tokyo for the day. I have so many photos and souvnenirs (including a whole load of kokeshi dolls) of my visit, all in albums, with names and dates, which I would be happy to share with you. Unfortunately, it was the days of cameras with film, so no digital files but I'd be happy to scan photos for you. Also, it was the age of writing letters to keep in touch as email was not around back then. I kept in touch with Mayumi for around a decade, and she came back to stay with my family and I 7 years later. The exchange visit was truly a wonderful opportunity for which I will be forever grateful. I'm disappointed to here the scheme has finished, as it brought so much joy to so many.(Kinza Sutton was Povey, 2023)
The exchange was first started by the Borough of Alyn & Deeside in co-ordination with the Japanese Factory, Optec factory in Buckley. Optec then expanded by opening a factory in Rhydymwyn and this opened the way for a similar exchange to be established in the former Borough of Delyn. My Mother, the late Councillor Mrs Gwen Smith was the Mayor of Delyn and played a significant part in establishing the exchange for Delyn schoolchildren. During her mayoral year (1993 – 94) I was her official Mayor’s Consort and together with Council officials, both travelled to Japan where she was to part of an agreement for Optec to expand further. As part of the expansion, Optec were to finance the exchange for Delyn. The formal agreement on this took place while we were in Japan. During our visit to Japan, we visited the Optec factories, various Prefecture Governors as well as Japanese schools. We were presented to one school during assembly and met with the school children and shared lunch with the entire school. We also had the opportunity to meet with the first boy and girl who were to come to Delyn to initiate the first exchange. My Mother gave many speaches which were translated into Japanese and was followed by a Japanese TV film crew. I know that my Mother was also involved in the selection of applicants from Delyn schools to take part in the exchange. I also recall that we met with the successful children and their parents at the Mayor’s Parlour in Delyn House, Flint. We were able to share our own experiences in Japan with them and provide some reassurance to the parents that we had seen first-hand where they would be visiting and the schools they would be attending.(Robin Smith, Flintshire, 2023)