A group of Japanese students will be in Shawnee today until Oct. 26 as part of the Shawnee Sister Cities Program, which is now in its 21st year.

A group of Japanese students will be in Shawnee today until Oct. 26 as part of the Shawnee Sister Cities Program, which is now in its 21st year.

The group of 14 students and four adults are from Nikaho, Akita, Japan and will be in town to learn about Oklahoma and the United States.

The program brings in 8th grade aged students from Japan and usually sends local students to Japan every year. However, the local U.S. students will not be visiting Japan this year due to the earthquakes and tsunami that decemated the country earlier this year. Next year the program will send two groups of students to visit the country, program Publicity Chairman April Stobbe said.

The Japanese visitors have a busy itinerary for the duration of the trip.

“They have a little bit of free time with the families that they are staying with but for the most part it is all planned out,” Stobbe said.

First they plan to first visit City Hall and then attend a welcome party at the First National Bank where they will enjoy pizza and desserts. Saturday the students will meet again at City Hall and then visit the Science Museum Oklahoma in Oklahoma City and then return to Shawnee to spend time with their host families.

The students will also get to go horseback riding and enjoy American barbecue fare on Sunday.

Monday and Tuesday the group will be taken around town to visit  parks and shopping areas around Shawnee.

The Shawnee Sister Cities program was started by former Shanwee Mayor Pierre Taron. The program is designed to pair one city with another one that is similar in size. Nikaho, Japan is Shawnee’s sister city, which was selected because it was the birthplace of the TKD Ferrities. TDK has one plant here.

Many long lasting friendships between Japanese visitors and the American students have been formed during the 21 years of the program, Stobbe said.

Stobbes daughter visited Japan as part of the program about three years ago, she said.

“Theres often times relationships there that they’ve met here the year before. Over the 21 years there’s definitely longterm freindships that have been made and they’re going back to the same area each time,” Stobbe said.

The students have are selected to participate in the program through an application and interview process and then participate in summer classes to prepare for the trip.

Students do not have to be from Shawnee schools to participate but they must live in the area, either the 74801 or 74804 zip codes, Stobbe said.

The American students receive some funding to visit Japan from the city of Shawnee and they also hold fundraisers to help offset some of the costs. Students have to provide the rest of the funding themselves.

Japan’s tourism industry has suffered because of the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear reactor malfunctions earlier this year. Because of the decline in tourism Japan is considering an initiative to give away 10,000 free trips to the country, according to the Japan Toursim Agency.

The initiative is still being considered and is awaiting budgetary approval by the government.