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Isao "Ike" Kimura leads the Zama delegation in to cheers and applause. DAN EPRIGHT

They're here! Students from Smyrna's sister city, Zama, Japan received a warm welcome at last Tuesday's ceremony, held at the Smyrna Event Center.

An echo of the welcome offered to Smyrna students in Japan, the sister city delegation entered the ballroom in to cheers and applause.

Marc Michaelson, chairman of the Smyrna Sister City Committee, and Smyrna Mayor Mary Esther Reed offered official remarks.

Reed fondly recalled her experience as a high school student when her family hosted Zama visitors. The program dates back more than 40 years to the Eisenhower administration.

"This program is near and dear to my heart," she said. "My dad, then on the town council, was one of the first folks to travel to Zama, Japan, and came back with stories about how well he and the other members of the delegation were treated."

Michaelson introduced the leader of the Zama Delegation, Isao "Ike" Kimura, who works for Nissan in its Zama facility.

"I am so happy to come to Smyrna again," he said. "These are junior school students and high school students from Zama and they come here as international goodwill ambassadors."

Kimura explained his city has adapted their youth exchange over time to involve more people, to keep the perspective on education and to help participants develop through the program, for maximum impact for themselves and their hosts.

"During their two weeks in Smyrna, they will have various opportunities to show the results of their hard work, so I would like to ask the people of Smyrna to listen to them expressing themselves," Kimura said. "I hope these two weeks will be a meaningful and friendly time, and become a good chance to develop new friendships for the students. Please take care of them during the stay."

Two Zama students, Rintaro Okuma and Miyou Ouchi spoke on behalf of their peers, thanking everyone for the opportunity to visit Smyrna.

Ouchi said she hopes to have the courage to "try everything," and learn as much as she can on the visit.

Elizabeth Lancaster spoke for the students of Smyrna, welcoming their guests.

"I built some amazing friendships which continue to this day," she said of her own exhange experience.

The formal welcoming ceremony concluded with a gift exchange, two by two, with each Zama and Smyrna student offering a gift package and a hug to their counterpart.

A packed schedule will keep Smyrna's visitors busy until the depart August 12.

On the agenda, a lunch cruise aboard the General Jackson; tours of the Gibson Guitar factory, governor's mansion, State Capitol, Smyrna Nissan plant and Smyrna TCAT campus; a meeting with Governor Haslam; and a Smyrna Town Council meeting.

The students will also attend some classes with their hosts at Smyrna High School and Stewarts Creek High School, and spend time with their host families.

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