More than 25 years ago, two Japanese and American war veterans set themselves to closing the gap over the Pacific Ocean — one individual at a time.
"What Mr. Wendell Fish and Mr. Masao Kato said to each other was, 'Let us get to know each other better and let us start by using our kids,' " said Daniel Hoffman, the international services director of the Newport-Balboa Rotary Club.
A student exchange between Newport Beach and Okazaki, Japan, first began informally through the Newport-Balboa and Okazaki South Rotary clubs, but was quickly endorsed with the creation of the Sister City Assn., Hoffman said.
The exchange of "young ambassadors" has since become an annual one-to-one exchange, where an average of six Newport Beach and Costa Mesa middle school students leave for Japan each July and then return the responsibilities as host to the same Japanese families in October.
Board member Dory Ford of the Sister Cities Assn. will be one of this year's chaperones, accompanying the group to Okazaki. She became involved with the exchange program when her son, now an adult, was an eighth-grader about to embark on the same Rotary Club-sponsored trip.