TARPON SPRINGS — It didn't take long for Kenzo Kawashima, a teacher visiting from Nagano, Japan, to grab the attention of Tarpon Springs Middle School seventh-graders.
He told them Japanese students clean their own schools, even the bathrooms.
"They clean every day," said Kawashima, 39, an English teacher participating in the city of Clearwater's annual sister city exchange program.
The city has hosted a Nagano teacher as part of the program since 1959.
Kawashima has been in Pinellas County since Oct. 17, staying with volunteer host families, visiting schools and checking out the local landscape.
Kawashima will leave the Tampa Bay area Monday.
In addition to Tarpon Middle School, he has given presentations at Bayside and Countryside high schools, Carwise and Dunedin Highland middle schools, Chi Chi Rodriguez Academy and Vincero Academy.
Middle school students in the Clearwater-Nagano exchange program will travel to Japan in June. Kawashima's school will host the students who stay with Japanese families.
During his visit to Tarpon Springs from Wednesday to Friday, Kawashima told students about the differences at Matsushiro Junior High, where there are 500 students and 40 teachers.
"I have 41 students in my homeroom," he said Thursday. "Teachers move, students generally stay in one room."
He went on to say students do not have a cafeteria, but serve themselves lunch and bring their trays back to their desks.
Hands shot up in the air.
"Can students chew gum?" asked Steven Miller, 12, of Tarpon Springs.
"Never allowed," said Kawashima handing out play money, Japanese yen, of course, to students who asked questions.
"Do students get hit if they're bad?" asked Gabriella Jalo, 12, of Palm Harbor.
"No," Kawashima said. "I give them double homework."
Some students shrugged.
Richard Wisemiller is the teacher of the class and Kawashima's host. He also is a former exchange teacher who lived and taught in Japan during 1996-97 and will be a chaperone for Pinellas County middle school exchange students visiting Nagano in June.
He helped explain how added homework could affect a Japanese student's life.
"Japanese students attend school from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.," said Wisemiller.
"Do they take the FCAT?" asked Karina Klyuchits, 12, of Tarpon Springs.
"No," Kawashima said. "But many attend private schools … for two more hours after school in preparation for a high school placement test all students must pass."
He explained that the high school a student attends is chosen based on that placement test grade.
While this was Kawashima's first U.S. trip, he won't soon forget all he has seen or eaten.
"I will first tell everyone about alligators. I was shocked to see them," said Kawashima, who saw the reptile near Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater. "In Japan, we only see them in zoos.
"There are so many different foods to eat, too. My favorites so far, Chicago deep dish pizza, hot dogs and Sloppy Joes."
He has snapped more than 1,000 photographs, plus shot video to share with his wife and sons, ages 3 and 6.
As part of his trip, Kawashima could choose two non-Pinellas U.S. cities to visit and he selected Chicago and Miami because of his love of American basketball.
"I saw a Chicago Bulls game and will see Miami Heat play before I go home," Kawashima said. "I learned English from junior high, high school and university teachers, but have watched the NBA on TV for 20 years. My real English teachers were NBA commentators."