Gateway: Living

Community welcomes exchange student from Japan with open arms

While visiting the Point Defiance Zoo with Key Peninsula Lions Club members Dan and Jill Van Antwerp, Japanese exchange student Yuki Nakata gets her first-ever ride on a camel.
While visiting the Point Defiance Zoo with Key Peninsula Lions Club members Dan and Jill Van Antwerp, Japanese exchange student Yuki Nakata gets her first-ever ride on a camel. Courtesy

Under the Lions International Youth Exchange Program, the Key Peninsula Lions Club has hosted Yuki Nakata from Fukuoka, Japan since Aug. 3.

On day one, not yet suffering jet lag, she enjoyed the Two Waters Arts Alliance Art Walk, met many people, and was feted at the KP Lions Club meeting.

Day two, she visited Communities In Schools of Peninsula, enjoyed kids at the next door Red Barn Youth Center, toured a fire station with Chief Guy Allen and Assistant Chief Hal Wolverton (president of the KP Lions), visited CostLess Pharmacy and co-ownwer KP Lion Ian Warren, bought gifts to take to Japan, had a tour the Gig Harbor dock, Skansie Park and Farmers Market, and enjoyed the salmon sandwich her emails requested.

At Costco, Yuki bought the book “Boys In The Boat,” and because she knew of Theodore Roosevelt, got “River of Doubt” for her dentist grandfather who is fluent in English. She spoke in Japanese with co-owner Azusa Simone of Gig Harbor’s Il Lucano Italian Restaurant, who ironed out a scheduling conundrum for us.

With Lion Hal, wife Monica, and three fire department children, Yuki visited Pacific Beach, where she rode a horse for the first time in her life, flew a kite, and bought one.

Saturday, Yuki enjoyed the Lions District 19-C picnic near Mount Rainier before joining her hosts at Harbor History Museum for a Greater Gig Harbor Community Foundation evening of food and live music, at which she danced.

Sunday, she shopped with my wife, Janice, at Main & Vine, Costco and Target then had a lazy day walking our beach-based neighborhood and doing her homework. Yes, she had homework on her iPhone.

Monday, she was at a meeting of the board of directors of the Hope Recovery Center project, then solo-strolled Gig Harbor’s downtown. We visited Narrows Park for photos of the two bridges and had lunch at the Tacoma Narrows Airport, where she “inspected” a World War II B-25 Mitchell with its crew members.

While touring Gig Harbor YMCA, she met a female Y staff member, a junior at Peninsula High School, who now hopes to be part of Lions YEP. We went for Yuki’s very first flight in a private plane piloted by owner KP Lion Curt Scott around the South Sound. Then, Yuki was warmly welcomed at the Peninsula Schools Education Foundation board of directors meeting and, later, at the KP Park BOD.

KP Lions Jill and Dan VanAntwerp took Yuki to Point Defiance Aquarium and Zoo, where she had her first ride on a camel. Returning “home,” she met U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer.

KP Lions Bill and Claudia Jones and three youngsters took Yuki to Northwest Trek.

“The animals weren’t in cages!” she exclaimed.

On Aug. 11, Yuki turned 17. She had a surprise birthday party and cake with 17 candles, and the party was attended by many new friends who gave her “light-weight-flat” gifts. KP Lion John Kelly, on learning Yuki is an Ichiro Suzuki fan, gave her baseball cards of Ichiro as a Seattle Mariners rookie and one with his current team, the Miami Marlins. Yuki was ecstatic!

Jill VanAntwerp and Annie Mali took Yuki by ferry from Bremerton to Seattle, where, among others of her “objectives while in America,” she visited the very first Starbucks in Pike Place Market. She also rode the Great Wheel. That evening, Gig Harbor Pen Met Parks director Terry Lee and wife Donna took us to Ruston, the Wild Fin Restaurant, and fabulous seafood.

Molly Duttry, 2013 Peninsula High graduate who’s now a sophomore at the University of Washington, took Yuki to her uncle’s beachside home, where she and Yuki swam and bobbed about in plastic floats.

“Another first,” said Yuki.

Duttry plans a tour of the U of W campus for Yuki, who hopes to attend Washington. That evening, Yuki and KP Lions had pizza dinner at the VanAntwerps before joining former Pierce County Council member Stan Flemming and wife Martha at Paradise Theatre’s production of “Fidler on the Roof.”

Cathy Rich, of Communities In Schools of Peninsula, gave Yuki her first-ever experience stroking a kayak, paddling from Anthony’s Restaurant to the mouth of Gig Harbor Bay, where they visited the lighthouse, followed by ice cream from Finholm’s Market.

On Aug. 15, Yuki and I were on Fox Island with Gig Harbor PenMet Parks recreation specialist Jessica Smeall, and 20-some youngsters on the DeMolay Nature Preserve Beach, where Yuki walked with the kids and watched clay dug and formed into art. She carved and decorated plastic bottles into containers, and is taking her own creation to Japan.

Yuki had dinner at the near-Herron Island home of our son, Lance, his wife, Sheri, and our grandson, Cameron, freshly returned from a two-month, all America competitive tour with the Seattle Cascades Drum and Bugle Corps. She particularly enjoyed Japanese rice, which we hadn’t served her because in her prior-to-arrival-emails she said she didn’t want “any Japanese food, only American.” She enjoyed videos of the National Drum and Bugle Corps’ Championships in Indianapolis.

Former KP Parks board member Greg Anglemyer gave Yuki a boat ride to Allyn, then dinner at home in Vaughn.

“My first time ever on small boat ride,” Yuki declared.

Because I had eye surgery the next day, we sadly parted with Yuki at the home of her new hosts, KP Lions Cindy and George Robison.

Yuki will attend a Tacoma Rainiers’ baseball game with the Robisons and Wolvertons, something high on her wish list, and also make a trip to Olympic National Park with KP Lions.

Our communities have treated Yuki as a family member. Many thanks!

Throughout her stay, Yuki and I, separately, have been in almost daily email contact with her mom to whom we’ve sent photos of her in action.

Yuki departs for Japan on Aug. 30.

Can’t wait for your return to the U of W, Yuki!


Hugh McMillan is a longtime contributing writer for the Gateway. He can be reached at