Students back from tour hosted by Japanese World War II pilot

BROOKINGS, Ore. -- Three high school students are back home from a week in Japan, sponsored by the only Japanese pilot to bomb the U.S. mainland during World War II, calling it a happy journey that changed their points of view.

'All we did is laugh the whole time,' said Robyn Soiseth, 17.


'He's such a nice man,' Lisa Phelps, 16, said Monday of Nobuo Fujita, now 73, who had been brought to Brookings in 1962 by the community's Jaycees as guest of honor at the Brookings Azalea Festival.

Almost 43 years ago, Fujita was catapulted off the deck of a Japanese sub cruising off the Oregon coast, flying the plane to Mount Emily, where he dropped two incendiary bombs to start forest fires. One did not go off and the other started only a small fire.

Two decades later, Fujita gave Brookings a 400-year-old samurai sword as a token of peace and good will, with a promise he would bring some of the city's children to visit Japan. It took Fujita, now 73, 23 years to scrape together enough money to finance the trip -- and it wasn't easy.

Six years ago, Fujita's hardware shop went bankrupt and he took a job driving a small bus for commuting employees of an electric cable manufacturer. With some help from Time-Life Inc., Sony Corp. and a Japanese Rotary club, plans for the students' trip began last fall.


The three Brookings-Harbor High School students, who returned home Sunday night, were chosen last winter by a selection committee of community and school staff members.

Japanese eyes and cameras focused on the three teenagers during the trip, and they appeared in TV news segments in their hometowns and in newspapers around the world.

'We posed for pictures all day,' said Sarah Cortell, 17. 'We were so busy the whole time,' Soiseth said. 'They had us busy from dawn to dusk.'

The girls' knowledge of Japanese was as limited as Fujita's English. Translators were on hand but they also found an old-fashioned way to communicate -- smiling.

The students, chaperoned by their surrogate 'grandfather,' were particularly excited by their visit to the Tsukuba Expo '85 World Science Fair.

'It changed my life a lot,' Soiseth said of her journey. 'I have a different viewpoint of foreigners, of the Japanese people. I respect them.'

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