Launched two years before the Games and inspired by a similar initiative at the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima, One School, One Country involved a simple concept: the pairing of 76 schools in Nagano prefecture with 76 countries participating at the Games.
Students learned about the culture, languages and customs of their partner countries and took part in exchange programmes. When teams began arriving in Nagano for the Games, they were greeted by local youngsters singing their national anthems in their native languages, while flag-waving schoolchildren also cheered athletes on at events.
The initiative was adopted at future Olympic Winter Games, including Salt Lake City 2002 and Sochi 2014. It also provided the model for the Host Town House in Tokyo, where athletes taking part in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 will be encouraged to interact with local residents and learn more about Japan’s various regions.
A handful of Nagano schools continue to run the One School, One Country programme, which over the years has inspired several students from the region to live and work in the countries with which their schools partnered.
In addition, the Japanese Ministry of Education and the Nagano Prefectural Board of Education developed special textbooks and newsletters to promote interest in and awareness of the Nagano 1998 Games at schools and universities across Japan.
Some 5,000 Japanese children also joined the Snowlets Club, which was set up to educate children about the Olympic Games. Members received newsletters and other information three times a year, and participated in social events and special tours of the Nagano Games facilities.