By DENISE GORDON

The last week of our winter and we had warned our 10 visitors from Saitama, Tokyo, to bring raincoats and some warm clothing, but what wonderful weather Whanganui turned on with sunny, sparkling spring-like days.

A week of activities followed, all designed to give our visitors the opportunity to practise and enhance their knowledge of the English language both with their host families and during the organised events.

On the Monday, a feast of miso soup and sushi was prepared for our lunch by our visitors in the St Paul's kitchen, just over the road from the council where they had earlier been given a mayoral welcome and reception.
The food was delicious and a great learning experience for hosts and visitors alike.
That evening we had organised an evening of amusing language games. By the sounds of the laughter and chatter our guests felt relaxed and confident in trying their English skills.

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On Tuesday our troop of intrepid and enthusiastic explorers from Japan joined Beth and Mike in the 14 seater van going to Bushy Park. They were all attention when the hihi (stitchbird) arrived at the feeding station and a large black robin also engaged with them. Soon we headed towards the wetland. The kereru (native pigeon) feeding in the lucerne trees kept a wary eye on us as we passed by. We talked about some of the giant trees such as the rata and rimu and they enjoyed the boardwalk by the wetland lake. Soon it was back to the van and on to Ashley Park where we were served a tasty sit-down lunch before communing with the animals. Later, we had a quick trip to Bason Reserve and Mowhanau Beach.

Our last stop for the day was at a dairy farm in Westmere. The Japanese were all big city dwellers so it was a wonderful experience for them to watch the milking process. One visitor soon learned not to stand too close to the back end of a cow, much to the amusement of everyone else. We did assure her it was very good luck to be so anointed! We were invited inside for a cup of tea and we marvelled at the amazing view from the home, down the coast to Kapiti from where our Japanese friends had just travelled. As a group we also explored Whanganui, watched glass artists at work, visited Rick Rudd's Quartz Ceramic Museum and our Sergeant on the Quay Gallery as well as Putiki Church with its magnificent Maori carvings and tukutuku panels.

On their last day the Wairua took our visitors up the river to Upokongaro for lunch at the café and a look at their little church. The weather was brilliant and the river still and glassy.

That evening we had our farewell dinner in the private room at Caroline's Boatshed. Throughout the evening we enjoyed entertainment as well as delicious meals. Peter and his bagpipes piped us in and out and, Leonie and Terry sang some light opera and other favourites and Henry accompanied his country and western selection with his guitar. The two youngest members of the group, Yuuka and Mamiko, in beautiful traditional dress, delighted us with a graceful fan dance.

It rained the morning they left: tears or roimata from the sky. We were sad to see them leave and are talking about the possibility of a return visit to their club sometime.

The Friendship Force is an international home hosting exchange group: Check us out on our Facebook Page: "Wanganui Friendship Force". And check our International website to see what exchanges and activities are available to members: www.thefriendshipforce.org Whanganui contacts: Beth: 3447679. Pamela: 3448024. Denise: 347655