LAKELAND, Fla. — High school students from Imabari, Japan are visiting Lakeland this week through its Sister Cities International program.

  • Japan exchange students visiting Lakeland
  • Students touring areas around city, learning
  • Exchange program aims to bridge cultural gap

Throughout their 10-day visit, they are staying with host families and have an interpreter to help them while they tour the city and other areas.

So far the students have visited Lakeland City Hall, Catapult, Born and Bread Bakery, and the police and fire departments.

While at the police department, the students got to interact with the SWAT team and learn about the new robot used to locate suspects. They even got to check out the department's armored vehicle and drones. 

“I’ve never seen police in Japan so it is the first time for me to visit the police station,” student Ami Takahashi said.

It was a rare experience for these students, considering Japan has some of the strictest gun laws in the world, and Japanese citizens are prohibited from possessing a handgun unless they're conducting research.  

“I think it was a very good experience for us because we’ve never touched guns or robots, and I’ve never seen drones so I think it was good,” Takahashi said.

The Sister Cities program also allows for students from Lakeland to travel to Japan. Former student Hailey Palmer went in 2015. 

“I never felt safer in my whole life. As soon we got back to the states, we pulled into the Chicago airport and instantly someone was really rude to us. I was like alright, we’re back in America. But everyone was really nice [in Japan]. And everything is really clean,” Palmer explained.

The students have several more stops on their itinerary. They plan to visit four Polk County schools, Circle B Bar Reserve, and the Kennedy Space Center.

The Lakeland Sister Cities International Chapter was established in 1990, according to the city’s website. The program depends on volunteers and its core purpose is to encourage cultural exchanges, business opportunities, and increase tourism.