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Ten teenage students left Japan for their home countries earlier this week following a monthlong fact-finding tour in which they communicated with Japanese youths and among themselves in Japanese.

Speaking in Japanese was hardly an ordeal for them as they were chosen from among 120 Japanese-language students from around the world to participate in this summer’s Japan Return Program.

The annual program aims to nurture foreign teens who may promote international exchanges in the language, according to Miyoko Ikezaki, chief organizer of the annual project supported by the Foreign Ministry and the Japan Foundation.

The students, age 15 to 19, came from France, Mongolia, Mexico, Portugal, Ecuador, Malaysia, South Korea, Uzbekistan, Thailand and China.

The tightly scheduled program included a junior summit with local Japanese students in Miyazaki, Saitama and Aomori prefectures.

The foreign participants served as panelists and expressed their views on war, racial conflicts, crimes, environmental problems and other issues of concern — all in fluent Japanese.

The students’ association with Japan and its language differs from person to person. Some have a Japanese parent, while others have lived in Japan and some merely studied the language at school.

Zarina Utyagulova, an 18-year-old college coed from Uzbekistan, said it was an eye-opening experience to exchange views on peace with Japanese students and those from other countries.

“Japan is little known in my country and it’s my mission to deliver my splendid experience in Japan to my fellow people,” she said.

Suk Hyung Ko, 16, a high school boy from South Korea, said he was frequently asked his opinion on the controversial Japanese history textbook issue while in the country.

“We should learn more about the past, but that’s the very beginning,” he said. “Exchanges like the one in this program should be further promoted between the younger generations of Japan and my country.”

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