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Fukushima Youth Cultural Exchange Program

FYCEP is made possible by generous grants from


For five wonderful years, the Fukushima Youth Cultural Exchange Program provided a life-changing experience for children living in children's home (orphanage), located in Fukushima prefecture, Japan. They had no financial means to participate and benefit from international cultural exchange activities.

The exchange positively affected the lives of the children by planting the seeds of international understanding. And it was made possible without tapping into the orphanage's extremely limited budget.

For 10 days, the children enjoyed the experience of living in the U.S. with an American family!

The Challenge

There are 585 children’s homes (orphanages) in Japan. Nineteen of these homes are located in Tohoku, the region most severely affected by the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

The Japan America Society of Southern California (JASSC) developed a strong relationship with the largest of these Tohoku children’s homes: Fukushima Aiikuen (FA).

Established more than 120 years ago, FA is located outside the evacuation zone of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Beginning in September 2011, JASSC made several tranches from its 2011 Japan Relief Fund to support FA, which is home to 90 children, ages 2 to 18, all affected daily by the nuclear radiation crisis.

Despite “decontamination” cleansings of FA’s buildings and surrounding areas, radiation is still detected on the home's the grounds. Thus, years after Japan’s worst natural disaster, children are still at risk. 

Fukushima Aiikuen’s Limited Resources

FA provides a safe, caring and clean environment for its children. However, like all children’s homes in Japan, FA falls short in addressing finer issues.

Most of the children still lack the guidance, skills and tools needed to encourage them to pursue a better future. They are trapped in a life that will be mediocre, at best. With the nuclear power plant crisis, the FA children have the added burden of worrying about serious health issues that could arise from daily radiation exposure.

An additional challenge is FA’s extremely limited budget. Like all orphanages in Japan, the first priority is to feed and clothe the children. The next priority is to maintain the homes’ facilities. There are no funds available for extra supplies, such as the items FA purchased with funds from JASSC 2011 Japan Relief Fund. Nor are there funds for extracurricular activities.

Fukushima Youth Cultural Exchange Program

To help FA children overcome some of these challenges, JASSC applied for and won a grant for its “Fukushima Youth Cultural Exchange Program”. The grant was provided by the TOMODACHI–NAJAS Grassroots Exchange Program, managed by the TOMODACHI Initiative, a public-private program to help support the recovery of the Tohoku region.

Thanks to this grant, 34 children were able to participate in the exchange over a five-year period.  Extra funds from the grant covered the expenses for the FA children’s passport fees, travel insurance and other items required of any Japanese making a first-time visit to the U.S.

There were planned activities to introduce American culture.  But the most important experience was the warmth and affection the children received while living with their American host family.

The Conclusion of the Fukushima Youth Cultural Exchange Program

The Japanese government has recognized the need to increase the use of foster parenting, instead of housing children-in-need-of-protection in children’s homes.  Thus, the number of children who reside in children’s homes that are eligible and capable to travel has shrunk dramatically. 

Therefore, with great reluctance, in 2017 the decision was made to conclude the exchange. 

After five wonderful years, we are extremely gratified to have benefited and changed the lives of 34 children, living in all three prefectures affected by 3.11.  It was made possible by working closely with US-Japan Council, TOMODACHI, NAJAS and our exchange partners, LA-Nagoya Sister City Affiliation and Living Dreams (Japan).

We also thank the many wonderful Host Families who opened their hearts and their homes to the children, and provided them with a life-changing experience that will help them succeed and thrive into the future. 

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