The Kittery Tobu Exchange began 26 years ago, when former JET Program member, Kelly Burns Nevins, was working as an ALT in Aomori. Her director at the TRCE told her they would be visiting her hometown with students. The office was depending on her to set up host families for these students. Working from Japan, Kelly enlisted the help of Mori Mitsui in Kittery.
In July 1993, the first delegation of Japanese students from the Tobu-Kamkita education district visited Kittery, Maine. Twelve Japanese junior high school students and five adults participated in the first exchange.
Over the years the program blossomed into a sister school relationship between Kittery’s Shapleigh School and the schools in Rokunohe and Oirase in Aomori.
Maine and Aomori became Sister States in 1994, further cementing the relationship between Kittery and the Tobu schools. On July 31, 1995 a formal Sister School Agreement was signed. In 1997, “Japan Club” began being offered at Shapleigh and students were able to study Japanese language and culture after school.
After seven years of hosting Japanese students, the first group of Kittery students visited Aomori in the summer of 2000. Three more groups from Kittery have since traveled to Aomori (2005, 2008 and 2012). We hope to make these trips happen on a more regular basis in the future.
Since the program began in 1993, more than 200 Japanese students have visited Kittery.