Staff writer

What would you think of spending summer vacation in the halls of the Diet, or discussing with contemporaries the weight of an important historical legacy?

For four teenage students living abroad, the Japan Return Program has meant a summer full of impression-making experiences: all of the above, plus a chance to rediscover a familiar but distant homeland.

In this its third year, JRP brought together four students of Japanese heritage who are currently living in Europe and the United States.

Kenneth Brookin, 17, a first-time participant in the program, has dreams of returning to work in Japan as a diplomat. “That’s why I wanted to know about Japanese politics and diplomatic relations,” he said in an interview with The Japan Times.

So the group walked the halls of the Diet building, watched the opening of a parliamentary session and met with legislators, including former Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata, secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan.

Brookin also worked as an intern at Motohisa Furukawa’s office in the Lower House, which he said gave him a fresh and strikingly positive view of politics. It is these seeds of interest that Miyoko Ikezaki, vice chairman of JRP, encourages to bloom by tailoring the program to each participant.

The students’ primary goal was to study Japanese, from refresher lessons in the basics to intensive kanji study with an eye toward college. For 17-year-old Aaron Schreffler, one of the highlights was his success in writing “shuji” calligraphy.

Perhaps most impressive for the students was their two-day visit to Hiroshima, the first time for Sonja Pape, 17, who lived in Tokyo until age 7. They listened to a nuclear bomb survivor tell her story. “Before, we could imagine how it was, but it was still kind of far away,” Pape reflected. “But when she talked, it was like being there ourselves.”

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