Japanese exchange student returns to UC for reunion with host family


Ed Jones, Shinji Morimoto and his family at UC during their summer visit. Photo by Kyle Riecker

Kyle Riecker, Layout Design

Shinji Morimoto, former Japanese exchange student, walked through the marble-arched entrance to Utica’s Union Station, the last leg of a long journey from Japan. Twenty-three years had passed since he had seen the person waiting to greet him.

Ed Jones, a retired UC professor of accounting and finance, had been waiting to see his old friend again. Jones housed Morimoto from 1993 to 1994 while he studied business at UC and taught Japanese 101 as an adjunct lecturer.  

Morimoto, 45, is of medium height and build. His dark hair is parted neatly down the center; he wears glasses, as well as a warming smile from ear to ear.

“If Shinji didn’t come over to visit, it would be a strong possibility that I would have visited him in Japan,” Jones said.

But this time Morimoto didn’t travel alone, as he did on his first visit overseas.  

His wife, Kazuko, his daughter, Ayako and his son, Takumi, accompanied him on the trip. They flew into New York City, and had the chance to view the night skyline of Manhattan and the boroughs from the Empire State Building.

“It was my dream to visit Utica College once again, to meet Professor Jones and his wife Honore and introduce them to my family,” Morimoto said. That dream has now come true.”

Morimoto first visited Utica College as part of a summer program and enjoyed it so much that he returned for a year and a half to study.

“I remember that summer breeze in Utica was so comfortable for me when I was walking on the path of Utica College. Even though I was a stranger there, I felt that I came back to my hometown,” Morimoto said. “I love Utica very much – except in winter.”

Jones played a big role in providing that hometown feeling. He opened his home to Morimoto, welcomed him into his family and taught him a thing or two about American culture.  

He took Morimoto to visit Niagara Falls, as well as the birthplace of American independence, Philadelphia. Jones, who is an outdoorsman, brought Morimoto to the shooting range and hiking in the Adirondacks.  

Despite the warm welcome, Morimoto had a difficult time adjusting at first.  

“It was very hard for me and I almost gave up,” said Morimoto, who got homesick and missed his family in Japan.

“At that time, there was no email and no Skype. It was the first time I wrote a letter to my parents in my life, and then I sent them a lot,” Morimoto said.

Some say absence makes the heart grow fonder and the distance improved Morimoto’s relationship with his mother.

“To tell the truth, I didn’t like my mother very much before because she kept nagging me all the time like other mothers do,” Morimoto said. “But, she sent me letters a lot and her letters always encouraged me. After that, I felt my mother’s love. So, I love my mom very much now, but I haven’t told her that yet.”

After college, Morimoto began his career at EDION Corporation, which is a Japanese version of Best Buy. He’s an assistant manager, and the only person in his department who speaks fluent English. Morimoto says English has helped him throughout his career and he owes this to Utica College, and in particular, Jones’ tutelage.

“Speaking English is the real passport to the world,” Morimoto said. “Professor Jones was a great English teacher for me, rather than accounting”.

One of Morimoto’s fondest memories at the college involved improving his English.

“One day I went to Professor Jones’s room at Utica College and he told me that my ‘R’ sound pronunciation had a problem. He said ‘R sound is like a barking dog. Do it like this, RRRRRRRRRR, Shinji, try it!’ So I said ‘OK. Rrrrrrrrrr.’ ‘No,’ Professor Jones said. ‘Like RRRRRRRRRR.’‘OK, like this? RRRRRRRRRR!’ I said. ‘Yes, Shinji, you got it!’”

Morimoto laughed about how very strange two men barking like dogs might seem to a passerby.

“When I told my daughter about this story a week ago, she said to me, ‘Dad, you have already told me the same story more than 10 times!’” — proof that dads across the world share certain similarities.

Morimoto’s family means everything to him- he lives 60 miles away from their home in Hiroshima due to work. So time with them, let alone a vacation, is precious for him.

“Spending time with my family is my pastime now. I usually go home once a week. It’s fun for me to make a plan to go somewhere with my family to make them smile,” he said.

During their eight days in the United States, Morimoto plans to show his family the college campus and city that he has such fond memories of, as well as take a return visit to Niagara Falls with the Jones’.   

To those who are contemplating participating in an exchange program in another country, Morimoto has some simple advice. “Just keep smiling,” he said.

Over the years, Morimoto’s genuinely kind nature hasn’t changed a bit. “Shinji was a nice, quiet kid. I have nothing but good things to say,” Jones said. “He had a good experience when he arrived. When you were around him, you had a good experience too.”

To learn about how to host an exchange student at Utica College, contact the Office of International Education at (315) 792-3082.