Japanese exchange student sad to leave, ready to see home

Student thanks family, others for kindness
By: Jenifer Gee Journal News Editor
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After a two-week visit in Auburn, a group of Japanese exchange students and their teachers will return home today. The students and teachers live in the Japan prefecture of Tochigi, which is about 30 miles north of Tokyo. The country was devastated late last week by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and a massive tsunami that has left an estimated thousands dead. Masayuki Shinozaki, 17, was one of the students who attended Placer High School and stayed with an Auburn family for the past two weeks. He said he has mixed emotions about leaving this morning. “In Japan, with the earthquake, I’m worried for my family,” Shinozaki said Wednesday. “But I leave here very very sad.” Shinozaki and his two host brothers, Placer High students Zachary Hecker, 14, and Dakota Hecker, 16, bonded over their shared love of music that ranged from Lady Gaga to Iron Maiden. Dakota Hecker said he enjoyed playing baseball with Shinozaki. “He has a really good arm,” Dakota Hecker said. His host family, which also includes parents Monty and Gretchen Hecker, showed him some of the local sites including the Foresthill Bridge and the Lake Clementine Dam. The visit turned tense the night the family heard of the earthquake and tsunami in Shinozaki’s home country. “We were up until 1 in the morning watching the news and trying to contact (Shinozaki’s family) through Skype,” Zachary Hecker said. Monty Hecker said it was difficult to watch and not know how to help. “It was tough,” Monty Hecker said. “It was scary. You feel for them.” Eventually Shinozaki was able to reach his sister and father through e-mail and talked to his grandmother three days later and learned their house was not damaged. “He smiled after that,” Monty Hecker said. The Hecker family agreed that they would like to host another exchange student in the future. “It was awesome,” Gretchen Hecker said. “It was a good visit.” Shinozaki’s thoughts were partially translated by his Japanese teacher, Toru Morikiri, Wednesday. The teen said he is looking forward to seeing his family. “He really wants to see them and see how they’re doing,” Morikiri said. When asked what he thought of his exchange program experiences, Shinozaki said he was grateful for his host family’s kindness. “He’s really happy and thanks every family member for their kindness and warmth,” Morikiri said. “The other people related to our program treated us so kindly so it was a good experience.” Reach Jenifer Gee at