THE Bridport – Japan exchange is being expanded with the launch of a programme for adults.

Youths from Bridport have been heading off to the far east for the past 15 years in the Young People’s Exchange Programme link with Tokyo’s Koyamadai Educational Institute.

A party from the town returned after a three week stay in the country earlier in the summer.

Now founders Arthur Woodgate and lawyer Hiroki Suzuki are launching an adult version.

Former Bridport youth worker Mr Woodgate said: “So many parents have asked to be packed away into their children’s suitcases and taken to Japan,” explained Arthur.

“Over the past fifteen years, the interest in the programme has intensified in both countries amongst people of all ages.

“I had always dreamed of going to Japan, never thought I would have the chance, and feel that I have been extraordinarily lucky to have now visited five times. It's been good to share such an experience with others, and we are very pleased to now be able to extend this.”

The first places will be offered to parents of young people who have been involved in the existing programme.

Mr Woodgate said: “Beyond this, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be open to anyone, of any age, who also holds a dream of going to Japan.”

The exchange programme is organised through the Bridport Young Persons’ Action Trust (BYPAT) charity, and is a voluntary non profit-making initiative.

Mr Woodgate accompanied the exchange group to Japan this summer, but spent time seeing old friends and travelling around the country – including areas devastated by the tsunami.

He said: “I was asked to visit an area devastated by the tsunami.

“As my friend, Yoshio Hata, told me: ‘If you do not see for yourself, you cannot understand.’ “Hata san lost two friends to the tsunami: a Shinto priest and his wife, who tried to take shelter in a shrine on high ground.

“Both were swept away.

“Amidst ruined rice fields and endless mounds of rubble that had once been people’s homes, we visited the scene of their deaths.

“Colourful banners fluttered against the grey walls of the deserted local school, expressions of sympathy from other schools, both across Japan and from around the world.

“Personal belongings rescued from the sea littered the large gymnasium.

“It seemed like a graveyard.

“School satchels, somehow compressed and preserved and still waiting on their shelves, will never be claimed – all of the children at this elementary school for seven to 12-year-olds died when the tsunami struck.”

Mr Woodgate also visited Matsushima, where 300 islands acted as a breakwater to save the town from the devastation.

He said: “Some of my Japanese friends speak excellent English, not that they’d ever admit it.

“However, resilience is not a familiar word to them, although of course the concept is.

“Resilient is what the Japanese people are and have had to be.

“Rather like us, really, and no doubt every other race that has faced extreme adversity still came through somehow smiling.”

He added: “The dilemma now facing those who survived the worst of the tsunami is, what is their future and where does it lie?

“Do they return to the land where their families have lived and worked for generations, or do they seek a safer haven?

“And where might that be?

“With only eighteen per cent of Japan being habitable, a massive eighty per cent is mountainous, this is a question that has still to be answered.”