Maria and Cliff Roper didn’t understand when they took Hideki Takagi, an exchange student from Japan, for several days through the local F.A.C.E.S. program, that he would end up going off the deep end ... into romance, that is!

But that he did.

Takagi first came to Kanab 12 years ago with the F.A.C.E.S. program. The youth program with Kanab’s sister city of Tarui in Gifu, Japan, orchestrates a brief-stay cultural program for youth to safely travel abroad to experience cultures. The exchange has been remarkably successful with youth from Kanab and Japan traveling to the other destinations, and subsequently gaining knowledge about different cultures while staying in safe, home environments.

In July of 1998, one year after staying with the Ropers, Takagi came back for a month-long visit. It was a ‘true exchange’ because Roper’s daughter, Angela, traveled to Japan at the same time, spending a month with Takagi’s family.

The United States, as well as the warmth and hospitality of Maria and Cliff Roper, must have impressed and charmed the young man. After graduating from high school, he decided to continue his studies at Dixie College in St. George.

There, Hideki Takagi had a life-altering experience when he was struck by an arrow – the Cupid variety, that is. At college, he met and became close friends with Ayako, a student from Nagoya, Japan. Takagi had fallen in love!

Ayako graduated from Dixie College in May 2005, and returned to Japan. Hideki returned one year later, after graduating in May 2006. Cliff and Maria were honored in 2007 to learn that Hideki and Ayako had chosen to spend a one week vacation in southern Utah.

The Japanese/Dixie couple got engaged, and will be married on March 28, 2010. They are planning a honeymoon, to no other place than their beloved southern Utah. Naturally, that will include a visit to Kanab.

Maria and Cliff Roper may be able to facilitate romance, but how are they going to be at Japanese cooking?

Congratulations, Hideki and Ayako! There will always be beauty, friends and love waiting for you in southern Utah.