Outside shoes, inside shoes and toilet slippers are among the cultural adjustments four Marlborough students might have to make when they visit Japan this year.
On July 13 Marlborough Boys' College students Robin Hancock, 14, Logan Silcock, 16, and Jacob Butson, 15, and Rai Valley Area School student Michael York, 15, will leave New Zealand on the 22nd annual student exchange organised by the Marlborough District Council and its Japanese sister cities, Tendo and Otari.
Notices went out last year, inviting students between 13 and 16 years old to apply.
There were forms to fill, letters to write and an interview to prepare for and the boys were excited to be chosen among 18 candidates.
They are meeting at Jacob's home this week with their parents, Marlborough District councillor Graeme Barsanti and Marlborough Boys' College English teacher Eli Briasco.
The adults have formed a support group for the boys and this is their second meeting.
Some financial assistance will be provided for the trip by the council but each student is expected to raise an additional $3000.
The 2013 travellers have decided to combine forces and raise $12,000 as a team.
"It helps us to get to know each other better," says year 11 student Jacob.
Such a coalition might seem to put Michael at a geographical disadvantage but the boys' first major fundraising venture will be on March 2 at the Rai Valley A&P Show.
They will be gate ticket-sellers and they plan to set up a sausage-sizzle stall, too.
"It's a fantastic opportunity," says Jacob's father, John Butson, who praises the council for retaining the programme over so many years.
It started in 1989 when Marlborough cherry growers and their counterparts in Tendo saw advantages in starting such an exchange, Graeme says.
Three years later a second programme was started between Marlborough and Otari, linking each location's outward bound schools.
From 1992 to 1998, the Otari connection allowed senior students from Marlborough to do a paid-work exchange on Otari ski fields, he said.
The arrangement ended when the Winter Olympics was moved to other countries and changes in the Japanese economy forced work visas in Japan to be less freely available.
These days, visits to Tendo and Otari are included in the same exchange trip for school students, who also visit Tokyo, Hiroshima and Osaka.
Graeme will be travelling with this year's group, making his 15th trip to Japan.
He says he has developed a reasonable understanding of the language and formed some valued, long-lasting friendships.
"And I have tried Sumo wrestling and been a ‘king' in a Shogi [chess] festival," he chuckles.
The July exchange will be a return trip for Logan, too, after spending 10 days in Tokyo during an Ota school scholarship exchange programme in 2010.
He is looking forward to seeing other parts of the country and is telling Michael, Jacob and Robin about some of the cultural differences they can expect. "You have ‘house shoes', and ‘outside shoes' - and ‘toilet slippers'," he confides.
Eli will be helping them prepare, too. From 2002 he spent two years in Nagasaki as an English teacher and intends helping the boys learn formal Japanese phrases so people can be addressed with the appropriate terms of respect. Similar help will be offered to Michael by Hiromi Adams, a woman from Japan living in the Rai Valley.
The Marlborough Express