When they were not gearing up and preparing for tonight's football game, the Japanese All-Stars have been just like any other Ashland tourist, and they are making the most of their visit to America.




One of the team's newest experiences was a trip Wednesday afternoon, when it benefited from seeing one of Southern Oregon's best tourist attractions: Crater Lake.




"It's big and so blue," Japanese high school player Kohie Yoshikawa said while staring out at the vibrant scenery. "I am very happy to come here."




Yoshikawa's sentiments were certainly shared by his fellow countrymen, as they were all mesmerized by the lake's picturesque landscape. They used digital cameras, video cameras, cell phone cameras; any device to forever capture the unforgettable moment.




"It's very nice," said Hiroki Yamashita, defensive coordinator of the Japanese team. "Of course I took a lot of pictures and videos that I will send to friends in Japan."




The All-Star team comprises 45 student athletes selected among 200 athletes from more than 50 high schools in Japan. And at 7:30 p.m. today, the Ashland High football team will host the All-Star team at Walter A. Phillips Field for the 10th Pacific Rim Bowl. The game has been a tradition for nearly 20 years, as Japan students and Ashland students take turns every two years since 1988 to fly to each other's country.




The Crater Lake visit was only one of the many places and activities the Japanese team has enjoyed during its six-day stay in Ashland.




After arriving at AHS on Sunday afternoon and being taken back to their host family's home, the Japanese players were taken to a barbecue at Emigrant Lake, where they played volleyball and two-hand-touch football, and enjoyed the waterslide.




"On the first day we had a good time together," said Ken Tanjo, interpreter and organizer of the trip.




The fun for the Japanese All-Stars was just getting under way. On Tuesday, just after watching a baseball game between the Ashland Pilots and the Grants Pass Diggers, the team participated in a Pass League and Lineman Challenge. The football-related event gave Japan's team another cultural opportunity.




"They not only met Ashland players, they had an exchange with some other Southern Oregon players," Tanjo said of the All-Stars meeting other high school football players from Crater Lake, North Medford, South Medford and Phoenix.




To cap off their week traveling around Southern Oregon, the Japanese players took a jet-boat tour Thursday on the Rogue River.




"They really seem to be enjoying themselves," Tanjo said.




The last time the All-Stars were here was in 2003. And since Japan's high school system is a three-year program, each player's visit to the U.S. is their first.




"It will be very valuable and a great experience for the players," said Atsu Hamada, the vice chairman of the American Football Association (Western Conference). He said he has been coming to the U.S. for the Pacific Rim Bowl since 1997.




The experience Hamada talks about was something the players weren't going to let pass them by.




Every moment that allowed for them to express their sheer joy for being in America was never held back.




During the ride to Crater Lake, the players and coaches stopped at the Lost Creek Lake rest area off Highway 62. The stop allowed for the students to each lunch, run around and pose for pictures. And when one of the players casually walked up to the creek, he, without hesitation, picked up rocks and started skipping them into the creek, prompting his teammates to join in. The wide smiles seemed impossible to remove from the faces.




"It's very unique, not like village in Japan," Yoshikawa said of Southern Oregon.




Yamashita, the defensive coordinator, said that the Beaver State is a place worth seeing.




"I will recommend Oregon to anyone to visit," Yamashita said.