Students exchange culture, gifts with sister city 

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"They’ve managed to maintain the life of their traditional culture very well."

The Japanese tradition really captured Ben, specifically the special tea ceremony, which was held for the group at the community centre.

Although it was very formal and stylized, with traditional water boilers and tea, it was "very cool" nonetheless.

"That was my favourite thing to do because whenever I go somewhere on a trip I like to get all the traditional souvenir things and do all the traditional stuff," said Ben.

Among the highlights of the trip was a visit to the Olympic venues in Nagano, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics.

"They’re enormously proud of them, as they should be," said Kathy Podborski.

"They’re spectacularly beautiful."

The curling venue for those Olympics was in Karuizawa. The venue was built so that the floor retracts in the summertime to become a swimming pool.

"It was really neat," said Podborski. "I know for myself it was, but also for the kids to be able to go and see tangibly what the Olympics leave behind."

Their Japanese hosts were eager to hear all about Whistler too.

Charters and Brittany Kingzett were asked by one host mother to speak with her on the radio. She was a host for 77.5 FM Karuizawa.

The girls spent about 15 minutes talking on the air through a translator about life in Whistler and their experiences in Karuizawa.

Karuizawa is a resort town like Whistler, nestled near the foothills of the Japanese Alps, about one hour by bullet train from Tokyo.

There are restaurants and hotels, hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. But instead of all the bars, typical to Whistler, there are onsen or hot spring bathhouses.

Although wary of naked communal bathing, the Whistler students soon found out they loved it, said Kathy Podborski.

"You have to go in naked in front of everyone, divided boys and girls of course, and they were quite sure that it would be beyond their ability to be comfortable," she said.

"But in fact, you’re perfectly comfortable because that’s the only way to do it."

The teens stayed with the families of the Japanese students who came to Whistler at the end of March.

Just as the Japanese students spent time at the Whistler Secondary School, the Whistler kids paid a visit to the large Japanese high school.

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