A year #039;lost,#039; but never to be forgotten

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 3, 2005

ASHLAND, Ky. - Some may call it a lost year, but Ryoichi "Ichi" Muranishi received an education of a lifetime.

The foreign exchange student from Kyoto, Japan, completed his junior year of school at Russell High School, but when he returns home, he does not get to go into his senior year, he must repeat his junior year.

"I wanted to work in the United Nations, so I started to learn English," Ichi said. "I thought staying at USA would help me improve my English."

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Apparently it was worth it.

Ichi said English was his most difficult obstacle in his transition even though he began learning the language when he was 12 years old. He said he was speaking Japanese-English but with the help of his host family and friends, he remedied that, but not his accent.

"I can't fix my accent no matter what," Ichi said.

Despite the education he received here, it does not count in Japan.

To get scholarships to colleges, Ichi said he must repeat his junior year with the all the tests because the credits here do not directly transfer. He also said, because the school year begins in April there, it is too late for him to try to catch up now so he must sit out until next year.

It is the experience and what he will take with him that matters most though. And his was an experience that almost did not happen.

Carla Holt, area representative with the Center for Cultural Interchange, said Ichi was the last Japanese student to be housed. Holt said she does not know of a reason why, besides fate.

Originally, the Millers did not want to be a host family because they are retired and travel often. Eventually they agreed and Holt showed up at their door with a stack of biographies of students that very day.

Donna Miller said she saw Ichi's goals to get involved with the U.N. and, with her own son working with the U.N., it was just perfect. She said his application "spoke to me."

"It was just like it was meant to be," Donna Miller said. "We chose him and we've never regretted it."

Holt said it was seemed as if Ichi was waiting for them.

The Miller's gave Ichi a warm welcoming in August 2004 greeting him with signs at the airport with family and members of the youth group at their church.

"It was amazing," Ichi said. "The family prepared friends."

They even threw a party when he arrived at his new home in Ashland, Ky., starting him off Americana style with hot dogs.

Donna Miller said he jumped right into the experience introducing himself to people and getting to know everyone.

Ichi was making friends at the get go, and he said they all helped him adapt.

"It was easy to talk with them," Ichi said. "They would ask me if I was all right and tried to keep in touch with me so they could help me."

Ichi said he appreciates all the people who helped him while he was here.

"Ichi has a unique ability to judge character," Ralph Miller said. "He has picked the cream of the crop as far as his friends."

Even with the best of people around to help, that cannot change the obvious differences, and coming from Japan to Kentucky, there are a few.

"Kentucky, it's kind of a rural, country area," Ichi said. "I'm from a city where there's 2.5 million people so there's a big difference."

He said the lack of public transportation was one of the biggest differences he noticed. Ichi

said he had to find a ride anytime he wanted to go somewhere, but in Japan he did not need to find transportation.

"I could hang out whenever I wanted because it is so crowded," he said.

Ichi got around though, going to school games, dances and the Ironton Memorial Day Parade.

However, no one can spend a year in Kentucky and not listen to bluegrass and country music.

Ichi said he picked up on country music more, with favorite artists include Keith Urban and Kenny Chesney, but Ichi said he does like bluegrass.

He has not completely absorbed American culture, he still has strong ties to his own.

"He speaks well of his family and his country," Ralph Miller said. "He has his Japanese culture and we respect that."

Religion crosses all boundaries, and for Ichi, it followed him half way around the world.

Ichi said a year ago his choice religion was a confusion. He said his grandparents are Buddhist, his father is Christian and his mother is atheist.

However, he came here and got more and more involved in different Christian churches.

"I went to church almost every Sunday morning," Ichi said.

He attended different churches with friends but settled with Central Christian Church in Ironton, where his host family is a member.

Ichi said he even began reading the Bible. To help him out, he said he had his father send him a Japanese version.

As he prepared to go home, Ichi said he will miss the Millers and the friends he made here.

The Millers will miss him too.

"You just get so attached," Donna Miller said. "He's been our Japanese son."

"I think he is the most focused kid I know," Ralph Miller said. "He knows what he wants and he knows how to get it."

Ichi started the 30-hour trip home Thursday, to start the year over again, though carrying with him all that he learned.