Tag Archives: Hood River

Welcome to the Sister City Board

It’s Official!

I am happy to announce that you are reading the blog of the newest board member on the Hood River – Tsuruta Sister City Committee. Yay!!! Tuesday night I was unanimously voted in on the board for the 2014-2015 year.

With this honor fresh in my head I thought it would be a good opportunity to blog about what the committee does and how it operates.

How Often Does the Board Meet?
Hood River-Tsuruta Sister City Membership Brochure.
Photo Credit: Nicholas Swyers

The board meets regularly once a month and other times when necessary for planning and event purposes.

The Hood River Tsuruta sister city relationship is one of the most active in the county in terms of the frequency of exchanges and the number of people involved in these exchanges.

The events and activities pertaining to the sister city exchange are scheduled early in advance and it is assumed that both towns will participate fully in making the exchanges and activities successful.

The standard activities and how often they occur are briefly described below.

Hood River – Tsuruta Sister City Activities

Hood River Junior High School and High School Student Visit (every other year) – A group of students from Hood River travels to Tsuruta in the summer to stay with host families and immerse themselves into Japanese life and culture. The group usually stays for a week or two.

Tsuruta Junior High School Spring Visit (annually) – One of the larger group visits, 20-30 junior high school students visit Hood River for approximately a week during the spring. The students stay with host families, go to school, go sightseeing and go skiing, bowling and shopping during their visit.

Tsuruta High School Fall Visit (annually) – High School students from Tsuruta travel to Hood River for a brief, but fun, 4 day visit. They tour the area, stay with host families and go to classes at the high school.

Hood River Adult Visit (every 5 years) – Adults from Hood River are invited to stay with host families in Tsuruta while they see the area and engage in Japanese culture.  The visitors are treated like honored guest and are often entertained by the talents of local Tsurutians.

Board President Niko Yasui, Vice-President Sharlene Wilkins and Honorary Member Toshiko Carlos present Tsuruta's Mayor Nakano with a gift.
Board President Niko Yasui, Vice-President Sharlene Wilkins and Honorary Member Toshiko Carlos present Tsuruta’s Mayor Nakano with a gift.
Photo Credit: Hood River-Tsuruta Sister City Committee

Tsuruta Adult Visit (every 5 years) – A group of adults from Tsuruta visits Hood River for a week of festivities to commemorate the anniversary of the sister cities. Some adults stay with host families while others seek out their own accommodation. The group tours the area and enjoys time with their Hood River friends.

Taste of Tsuruta (annually) – A dinner and silent auction is held each year to raise money for the organization. Guests enjoy Japanese cuisine and bid on items donated by individuals, groups and businesses from Hood River and Tsuruta.

High School Exchange Student (based on interest) – Hood River and Tsuruta allow a high school student from either Tsuruta or Hood River high schools to live and study abroad for up to one year. This opportunity is dependent on the host school’s ability to host the exchange student in a particular year.

Coordinator for International (CIR) (annually) – Tsuruta employs a Hood River local to work and live in Japan for a year. This person acts as liaison between the two towns and teaches English to Tsuruta’s schoolchildren. The CIR has the option to renew their contract after the completion of their first year.

Scholarships (annually) – The committee awards a scholarship to a high school senior who, along with other qualifications, has made substantial efforts in promoting and engaging in cultural exchange and understanding.

These activities have been the standard operating procedure for Hood River and Tsuruta’s sister city program over the years. Although not every activity occurs each year, constant work and effort is always being made to make these things happen as well as trying to come up with new activities and ways to further connect the two towns.

Committees Make it Happen

Committees are formed to plan all the details associated with these events and visits. A detailed schedule must be created, host families must be found, events need to be carefully planned, food has to be ordered and travel itineraries organized.

There are specially appointed committees to handle things like host family recruitment, the Taste of Tsuruta, the hiring of the CIR, the planning of anniversary celebrations and purchasing of gifts, etc. All of the current board members serve on one or more of these committees as well as general members of the sister city organization.

35 Years of Experience

A lot of work and communication back and forth between Hood River and Tsuruta is necessary to make all these things happen. But with over 35 years of experience behind them, the two towns have made the process as close to seamless as it can be.

The 2014-2015 Hood River-Tsuruta Sister City Board:
  • President: Niko Yasui
  • Vice President: Sharlene Wilkins
  • Treasurer: Don Benton
  • Secretary: Kathy Oats
  • Membership Coordinator: Katie Paul
  • Members:
    • Paul Blackburn, Mayor of Hood River
    • Ron Rivers (ex officio), County Commissioner
    • Kevin Liburdy, HR City Representative
    • Adam Lapierre
    • Scott Murahashi
    • Leslie Melby
    • And now . . . LisaAnn Kawachi
  • Honorary members: Toshiko Carlos and Betty Carrithers.
Members of the board with friends and family enjoying lunch with former Tsuruta Mayor Kenji Nakano and his delegation in Hood River.
Members of the board with friends and family enjoying lunch with former Tsuruta Mayor Kenji Nakano and his delegation in Hood River.
Photo Credit: Hood River-Tsuruta Sister City Committee
What is an Honorary Board Member?

An honorary board member is someone who has shown significant commitment to and substantial efforts on behalf of the Hood River and Tsuruta sister city relationship. They are members in every aspect and are invited to participate and contribute to any and all activities associated with the sister city relationship. The only  exception is that they are not allowed voting privileges.

The Future

I’m excited to see what the future will hold for me and my involvement with the Hood River- Tsuruta Sister City Program. I have seen the relationship from the CIR’s perspective and look forward to coupling my experience and knowledge in this area with the position of being a board member. As a board member I ll will have the opportunity to help move things forward and continue to strengthen the bond between the two towns.

Featured Photo Taken By: Nicholas Swyers


Snow Day? Never in Tsuruta

This morning Hood River welcomed its first snow of the season. Usually we are gently reintroduced to winter with gradual decreases in temperature and a few light dustings of snow before the valley is blanketed. This year however, this is obviously not the case.

It’s snowing in Hood River.
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi
Indian Summer

I should have seen it coming with our extended summer. Temperatures stayed comfortable well into October and the cool fall evenings didn’t start until the last couple of weeks. The trees are just beginning to show noticeable loss of their fall foliage. The reds, yellows and oranges are still quite vibrant and for the most part, still visible on almost all the trees.

Yesterday vs. Today

Yesterday was a clear, crisp fall day. Today, as I sit and write this post, I look outside and see those beautiful fall colors obscured and overwhelmed by white fluff. That clear, crisp day of yesterday has vanished with today’s arrival of a hazy, grey cloud that socks in the valley.

The view from my house yesterday.
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi
The view from my house today.
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi


Closed, Closed and Closed

Everything in Hood River today has been shut down. School has been cancelled, businesses closed, and people refrain from leaving their homes. Those who choose to venture out, with little common sense, are dangerously sliding all over the roads. As I heard closure after closure, I couldn’t help but think about my sister city friends in Tsuruta.

What’s a Snow Day?
Lots of snow and icicle buildup.
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi

In Tsuruta snow days do not exist. It could be white out, blizzard conditions in sub-zero temperatures coupled with roads that have that nice glossy, iced over finish just perfect to host the Ice Capades, and they will still conduct business as usual.

Skiing to School, That’s One Way to Get There

School and work are never cancelled for excessive amounts of snow. Even the trains and buses continue running, although high winds can sometimes cause delays. On extreme days, alternative methods of transportation are sometimes deployed and you see people making their commute on skis.

Snow is not a valid excuse to not show up. Up in Tohoku (the northern part of Japan), people are expected to do whatever is needed to make it where they need to be.

Shoveling, Just One of Those Daily Rituals in the Winter

To have any chance of pulling this off, the snow must be adequately kept under control. This is where the hard work of shoveling pays off.

Shoveling snow off the roof.
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi

People are out shoveling snow for the duration of the season. They’re in their driveways, on the roads and even up on their roofs removing it. Each year I hear horror stories of how some unfortunate person fell to their death off their roof while shoveling snow. The thought of anyone being up on those steep roofs terrifies me, especially since the ones I most often see up there are usually over 70 years old.

Living in Luxury, Tsuruta Style
The parking lot of my apartment building. The bare areas are where the heating strips have begun to melt the snow.
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi

I really lucked out living in Tsuruta. One of the many reasons I felt so fortunate was because my apartment complex  had a heated parking lot. Although it didn’t save me from all the hassles of winter, I was spared the daily ritual of having to shovel out my car twice a day to drive anywhere.

Who Needs a Gym?

If you ask, many of Tsuruta’s townspeople will tell you that they don’t mind the constant shoveling; it’s good exercise. I personally do not embrace that form of exercise. I would rather rely on my gym membership and skip the chilled toes, cheeks and noes as well as the calluses and constant backache that comes with shoveling.

The Scoop

The preferred shoveling tool in Tsuruta is a little different as well. Instead of a standard snow shovel, snow scoops are used. These scoops are usually made of hard plastic, have a metal handle and can hold greater amounts of snow than an average snow shovel. They are designed to be able to gather up large quantities of snow and then act as a sort of sleigh to then push away the snow and dispose of it.

They are great for the light, fluffy, powder-like snow northern Japan is known for. If you have any ice buildup though and try to use the snow scoop to break it up, you’re in for some disappointment and probably out of a shovel. If used for these purposes it will fracture into hundreds of pieces and leave colorful bits of plastic as mini snow decorations.

Gaijin Traps

Because homes are narrow and neighborhoods are tightly built together, there are designated places where you can dispose of snow. The snow is pushed to the streets on these snow scoops and dumped in specially designed drainage canals, also known as gaijin “foreigner” traps if left uncovered. (Please click on the link to see exactly what I’m referring to.)

A Sprinkler Here, A Sprinkler There, Sprinklers Everywhere
Road sprinklers melting the snow.
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi

One other important thing to mention is that in Tsuruta they do not salt the roads. Most roads are equipped with an integrated sprinkler system that when turned on sprays the roads with warm water to melt the snow and ice. In Tsuruta the temperature rarely drops below freezing so this method seems to be pretty effective in clearing the roads. It’s something I would have never thought to do in Oregon, where we gravel the roads.

Will it Ever End?

Winter in Tsuruta is long. The first snow is usually mid-November and it can continue to snow as long as late March or even early May. I can tell you that after living in Tsuruta for two years, I was always more than ready for the arrival of spring.

Yuki Matsuri
Snow sculpture at the Sapporo Snow Festival.
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi

To get through the dark, relentlessly snowy winters, Japan has numerous festivals to celebrate the season. Along with traditional winter activities like sledding, snowboarding and skiing, these festivals incorporate ice and snow sculptures, snow monsters and igloos to keep everyone entertained. (I’ll talk more about festivals in later posts.)

I love that Japanese people are never too old to embrace their inner child. Adults as well as children get excited and participate in all the winter activities.

SeaLife DC1400
My co-workers at the Tsuruta Town Office proving you’re never too old to play in the snow.
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi
Yay!!! Celebrate Snow All Season Long!
Me enjoying the snow.
Photo Credit : Nicholas Swyers

Perhaps even though they don’t get to enjoy the occasional snow day, the people of Tsuruta have learned to embrace the snow all winter long. They have their fun throughout and don’t wait for that one lucky day to really appreciate the season.


A Little Japanese Snow Vocab

Below are some useful words to know when talking about snow in Japanese.

  • 雪 (yuki) – snow
  • 大雪 (oo yuki) – heavy snowfall
  • 初雪 (hatsu yuki) – the first snow of the season
  • 吹雪(fubuki) – snow storm
  • 雪祭り(yuki matsuri) – snow festival
  • 雪だるま(yuki daruma) – snowman

Featured Photo Taken By: LisaAnn Kawachi

Breaking Through the Language Barrier with Games and Doodles

This week a group of 20 high school students and three adults from Tsuruta arrived in Hood River for a few days to tour the area. This is an annual trip made during the fall for second year students attending Tsuruta High School.

Several students pointing to their names on a welcome sign.  Taken by: LisaAnn Kawachi
Several students pointing to their names on a welcome sign.
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi

During this trip the students are able to work on their English and immerse themselves in American culture. In groups of two or three they stay with host families that usually have a child around the same age as them. With these host students, the visiting students attend classes at the local high school and participate in the activities that they are involved in. They have quite a bit of free time to spend with their host families, but they do many activities with the entire group as well.

Welcome Dinner

The first of these events was a welcome dinner in their honor. The students arrived with their host families for a night of spaghetti and ice breakers. They had just arrived that afternoon and only had time to briefly go home with their host families to drop off their luggage and change their clothes before it was time to go to dinner.

The Hood River Sister City Committee hoped that by having them all together, they would feel more comfortable around their host families and be able to enjoy their first night in Hood River.

Flags, from left to right: Tsuruta, Japan, the U.S. and Hood River.
Flags, from left to right: Tsuruta, Japan, the U.S. and Oregon.
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi

The setting was informal with colorful construction paper tablecloths and the various flags representing the two towns and countries as centerpieces. Each table was also adorned with several markers and pens.

Those First Few Awkward Moments

As the first few groups arrived you could feel the uneasiness in the room. The host families didn’t really know what to say to the students and the students were very hesitant to use any of their English. Several of the families sought me out to use my remedial Japanese knowledge to help them communicate with one another.

I encouraged both the students and host families to try their best and not worry about their inability to speak English or Japanese. They should start with something simple and each write down their names on the table using the markers we provided.

Let Your Drawings Do the Talking

I suggested that they might draw a picture of something they like or that interests them or maybe just draw something silly or clever. They all seemed to like this idea and as we waited for the rest of the families to arrive, they kept themselves busy drawing on their tables. The later arrivals caught on to this quickly and they too began to draw.

As the evening continued, several short speeches were given and food was served. After everyone had eaten I walked around the room interested in seeing what everyone had drawn on their tables.

A Doodle Here, There and Everywhere

The doodles and drawings were quite diverse. There were landscape drawings of Mt. Hood, self-portraits, names written in Kanji, various vocabulary words written in English and in Japanese, and more drawings of characters like Sponge Bob, Snoopy and Mickey Mouse than I could easily count.

A group of boys drawing on their table.  Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi
A group of boys drawing on their table.
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi

As I looked at the sketches and watched the groups interact, I couldn’t help but be surprised how quickly their apprehensions and nervousness disappeared. They all seemed to be enjoying each other’s company so much, laughing and smiling at their creations. Many of them were using drawings of fruits and sports to represent their likes and dislikes. They didn’t know how to speak about some of these things so they were letting their drawings speak for them.

A Lesson in Kanji

They were also giving each other language lessons using the tablecloths. Many of the students had written out their names in kanji and were writing out the names of their host families to see as well. The host families were fascinated by kanji and marveled and the intricateness and difficulty of the characters that the students were able to write almost effortlessly.

What I found most interesting though, were the interactions between some of the younger host siblings and the students. Who knew that a simple game of tic-tac-toe would be something they could bond over?

Hey, I Know That Game!

The host student wrote out the hashtag on the tablecloth and looked to one of the Japanese girls to see if she understood what he was trying to do. She looked down at the symbol and immediately smiled and drew an “x” in one of the spaces. Delighted that she understood the game, he responded with an “o” in another space. The game was on. They took turns back and forth until it was clear that he had won the game. The tic-tac-toe battle was far from over though.

An intense tournament of Tic-Tac-Toe. Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi
An intense tournament of Tic-Tac-Toe.
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi

Without a moment’s hesitation, she drew another hashtag to re-challenge him. He quickly accepted and they played again. After watching several games I asked her what the name of this game was in Japanese. She said, “Maru Batsu.” “Maru” means circle and “Batsu” is the word for the symbol “x” in Japanese. I had no idea that they played this game in Japan. In all my time spent living and teaching there, I never saw it played.

It was so wonderful that these two were able to bond using a simple game they both knew from their childhoods. It never ceases to amaze me that kids, no matter the difficulties that stand in their way, can find ways to communicate and have fun with one another.

The Effort to Try, Speaks Volumes

Through doodles, pictures and games this group of people from two very distinct cultures were able to interact, communicate and even have fun with one another. It doesn’t matter if you can speak the language or not, what matters is that you try and communicate.

As we get older we worry too much about saying the right thing or even worse, the wrong thing to someone. We are so concerned with offending someone that we often choose to not say anything at all. We keep silent and an opportunity for intercultural exchange is lost entirely. If we spent less time worrying about how to act and instead were just friendly and compassionate, we would realize that it’s not the differences that matter, but the similarities we share that will bring us closer.

Intercultural Communication, Like Any Type of Communication, Does Not Have to Be Limited to Words

At the beginning of the evening, I think many in the group felt this way. They were too focused on the unfamiliar faces and cultural differences. After everyone relaxed though and the power of doodling was embraced, they all let loose of their language insecurities and had a great time communicating with one another in whatever way they could.

Students and their host family enjoying dinner and good company.  Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi
Students and their host family enjoying dinner and good company.
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi

That’s the beauty of intercultural communication, it can be done through linguistics, gestures, facial expressions and, as I saw that night, even games and doodles.

Featured Photo Taken By: LisaAnn Kawachi

The Apple-audable Efforts of Japanese Orchardists

The End of Apple Harvest

Right now most of the orchardists in Hood River are just finishing up harvesting apples. That is everyone but us.

Due to lack of market demand and subpar aesthetic attributes, the apples in our orchard will be left to hang, break down and drop from the trees. We will hardly pick any of the 80,000 pounds of apples  we have grown and the ones we do will be for our personal consumption or to give away. All we can do is walk away and let them go to waste.

As each day passes, more of our apples have fallen to the ground. At night you can hear them break from their branches and land with a big thud on the ground below.

By now they are quite heavy and ripe. You can almost hear the sigh

So many wasted apples!
So many wasted apples!
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi

of relief that the apple trees give with the loss of each apple, as their limbs gain another couple pounds of freedom and no longer have to support the weight.

The trees are quite beautiful now displaying their fall foliage. The warm autumn colors can be seen all around, or at least all around the tops of the trees.

If your eyes happen to gaze downward though, this scene of fall tranquility is overpowered with thousands of red spots. The orchard grass is so littered with apples that in some places, the green has been nearly washed away with the red of the apples.

To literally see the fruit of our labor rot away is heartbreaking. Sadly, when I look upon our orchard this year, it is a sight I am all too familiar with. The overwhelming  amount of apples, wasted and rotting away on the ground reminds me of Tsuruta, just one year ago.

Tsuruta’s Iwaki River

Much of Tsuruta lies along a large river named the Iwaki River. The town office building, the fire station and numerous houses and orchards surround the banks of this swift moving river. From bank to bank the river is about 250 yards wide and flows more than 100 miles.

Iwaki River with Mt. Iwaki in the background.
Iwaki River with Mt. Iwaki in the background.
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi

It is a beautiful river and usually the residents who live along its banks consider themselves lucky to be so close to witness its beauty and tranquility. However, eventually a person’s luck is bound to run out.

Everything is about to change

In October of last year a typhoon moved over Japan. Most of Japan was hit with super strength winds and a bombardment of rain. The rain was relentless and steadily continued for days. The apples in Tsuruta were just weeks away from being harvested when the rain came.

After a day of heavy rain I was eager to see how much the river had risen. I lived only a short walk away and equipped with my rain boots and umbrella, decided to go for a walk and see for myself. The rain had lessened so I took my time poking at puddles, saving an occasional mole or earthworm along my way.

Me exploring puddles with my trusty boots and umbrella.
Me exploring puddles with my trusty boots and umbrella.
Photo Credit: Amy Tappenden

There were two roads to walk along the river. The orchards sat along the lower road and the upper road was an access road to get to these orchards off the levee. I had walked the upper road earlier and had chosen the lower road for my return.

It was near dark when I finally made it back near where I started. I had noticed that within the last half hour of my walk there was lots of hustle and commotion coming from the nearby orchardists.

Many of them had moved their tractors, ladders and other heavy equipment to the upper road further away from the slowly rising water. At the time I remember thinking that they were being slightly paranoid and overly cautious.

The river had only risen a few feet over the course of the day. It had been very slow and gradual and the water was still at least 10 feet away from the orchards and at least 20 feet away from the upper road. After watching the scene for a few minutes I continued on my way home.

The Rise

A few hours later I was awoken by a friend knocking on my door. She had heard that the river was rising to dangerous levels and was worried about me living in such close proximity. What does “dangerous levels mean?” I thought. I was just out there walking along the river and it didn’t seem that dangerous to me. Together, the two of us made our way back over to the river.

The scene unfolding on the riverbanks was unbelievable. There were police and fire crew with megaphones and flashing lights yelling at everyone to back away from the river.

The river about to breach the bank.
The river about to breach the bank.
Photo Credit: Hideyuki Takashima

People were being evacuated from their homes and sand bags were being brought in and piled up along the bank. In a mere couple of hours, the river had risen more than 25 feet.

The water was only inches away from breaching the upper bank and flooding into the town on the other side. I couldn’t believe it. The road I had walked along earlier was now completely submerged under at least 10 feet of water.

The river was full of debris that it had gathered upstream and was picking up and washing away anything in its path. We watched the commotion for a few minutes until we were told to clear the area and return home.

The next morning I went to work at the town office. I was relieved that the office was safe and unchanged. My office overlooks the river and would have been the first building engulfed by the river had it breached the bank. I looked out the window and saw just how close the river had come to the building.

The apple trees peeking out from the water.
The apple trees peeking out from the water.
Photo Credit: Hideyuki Takashima

The orchards that I had walked along the afternoon before were nearly completely submerged. All you could see were the tops of the apple trees peeking out of the muddy, debris loaded river. I couldn’t believe how high and how quickly the water had risen. As fast as it had come though, it was just as fast to leave.

The Fall

Surprisingly, the river water receded quite quickly and after a couple of days it was down to almost normal levels. It was then, that you could see the toll the water took on the lower banks of the river.

There was garbage and debris everywhere, everything from tires, ladders and signs, to buckets, bikes and more bottles than I could count. The orchards were overrun with trash and there were broken limbs and branches scattered all about. A thick, brown mud coated everything and the only spot of color was the hundreds of apples ripped off the trees and carried downstream by the storm.

What a mess!
What a mess!
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi

Everywhere you looked, there were apples on the ground. The resilient ones that remained in the trees looked water logged, bruised and beaten. I assumed there was no chance in salvaging any of them and the farmers would sadly have to call this year’s apple crop, in lack of a better word, a wash.

In the following days I watched the cleanup efforts of these farmers. They removed all the garbage and debris, picked up all the apples off the ground and disposed of them. They cut off and cleared away any broken limbs or branches and made it so in the end you could scarcely tell anything had ever happened. The real surprise came when I watched them harvest what was left of their apple crops.

As I said, I had assumed that all the apples were ruined and the farmers would have no reason to pick them. Knowing how important apples are to Tsuruta and the livelihood of these farmers, I felt so bad for their loss. Little did I know that it would take a lot more than a typhoon to stop these orchardists.

Nothing Beats a Toothbrush Shine

When the time came for them to pick their crop, they proceeded in the same fashion they had always done before. This time however, they added a new cleaning step.

The apples were first hand-picked into small baskets. It was then that each apple was thoroughly inspected. Many of the apples were at some point submerged underwater, so when the water receded, the brown mud from the river lightly coated the apple and even pooled around its stem.

Apples being inspected.
Apples being inspected.
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi

For each individual apple, I watched as the farmers took a toothbrush and lightly brushed away any dirt that remained. It was a painstakingly slow process. Some of the apples were able to be saved through this process while many others were not.

I was so impressed by the determination and efforts of these farmers to salvage any of their crop. Their apples had endured the harshest of conditions and they were still trying to do whatever they could to save them.

Save Them or Leave Them: The Difference in Our Mindsets

The blanket of near perfect apples lying wasted on the ground of my orchard in Hood River was an all too familiar sight. The difference

Apples wasted on the ground
Apples wasted on the ground.
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi

between these two situations though was the effort and mind set to save what was salvageable.

The Tsuruta farmers did everything they could to market any of their fruit, down to polishing each apple with a cloth and a toothbrush. This is in hard contrast to the efforts made on our farm. We were told to let the apples hang and go to waste and that’s exactly what we did.  We would have lost more money trying to harvest them, then we would by leaving them. We made the right decision financially, but after seeing all those apples littered on the ground it was still a hard decision to stomach.

I think we can learn a lot about resilience and dedication from our Japanese farmer counterparts. We can try and adopt a more “salvage what you can” mentality instead of “when it doubt, throw it out” or in our case, “let it hang.”  Their approach might not be the most financially sound solution, but I’m sure they feel better about their crop knowing that they did everything they could to market it and not let their apples go to waste.

Featured Photo Taken By: Nicholas Swyers

How It All Began

Back in 1975, the mayor of Tsuruta, Kenji Nakano began searching for ways to open up his town and residents to internationalization. He wanted the townspeople to know more of the world and its people.

Living in rural Japan, they had little exposure to other cultures and few at the time were fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to travel overseas. The mayor thought if he could introduce global awareness and cultural exchange, it would bring a broader sense of the world to Tsuruta.

The Search Begins

The town began communicating with several organizations to assist them in finding a suitable sister city. They searched and searched, but no city met the criteria that the mayor stipulated.

His wants were twofold. The first being that the sister city needed to have a population of Japanese descendants. The mayor thought this would help ease the apprehension and make everyone feel more comfortable if their sister city had people who were at least somewhat familiar with Japanese language and culture. The second stipulation was that the sister had strong ties to agriculture and be a producer of apples. Apples were and still are the livelihood of Tsuruta and the town is covered with apple orchards.

The search continued, but with these two parameters in place, no city was found. The hope of finding a sister city began to fade. Had it not been for a chance encounter between two men, Tsuruta and Hood River might never have found one another.

Beautiful Tsuruta apples.
Photo Credit: LisaAnn Kawachi
Sometimes it’s All About Being in the Right Place, at the Right Time

Mayor Nakano was on a train in Tokyo on an unrelated business trip when he struck up a conversation with a gentleman next to him. This gentlemen was Shoichi Yamamoto, the president of To-o Nippo Newspaper.

The mayor mentioned his frustrations and the difficulties he and his town were having finding an acceptable sister city. Yamamoto listened carefully and after he heard the criteria for the sister city he had an idea.

He knew of a small town in Oregon, U.S.A. that had people of Japanese origin, was an apple producer and was even acquainted with a nisei (second-generation, Japanese-American) orchardist who lived there who could act as their contact. That town was Hood River and that man was Ray Yasui.

Mt. Iwaki and Mt. Hood: The Snowy Icing on the Cake

Hardly believing it was possible to have found a match, Mayor Nakano did some research and low and behold, Hood River was not just a sufficient candidate, but a perfect one.

Not only were his two fundamental specifications met, but it seemed the two were almost meant to be “sisters” in the fact that they shared a family resemblance in their landscapes as well.

Both towns are nestled at the base of a great mountain. Hood River’s Mt. Hood dominates the Hood River skyline just as Mt. Iwaki does in Tsuruta. The similarities between the two cities almost seemed too good to be true

Seeing is Believing

Things were finally moving forward. There was so much work to be done. A group of people from Tsuruta were soon sent on a fact finding mission to confirm that Hood River was all it seemed to be.

The group’s trip was brief and they visited orchards, met many locals and were treated with the friendliest hospitality from Yasui and the Hood River community. Hood River was indeed everything that they had hoped for in a sister city. Upon their return to Tsuruta, they gave their blessing for the adoption of Hood River as Tsuruta’s sister city to Mayor Nakano.

The Sister City Agreement

In order to officially become sister cities, the relationship needed the support of the Hood River mayor. Yasui was instrumental on the Hood River side of things presenting the idea to the mayor at that time, Charles Beardsley.Beardsley thought it was a great idea and put his full support behind the endeavor.

After months of paperwork and communication, Mayor Nakano was finally able to make his first of many trips to Hood River to sign the Sister City Agreement. With the adoption of the agreement by both town’s mayors, Tsuruta and Hood River officially became sister cities.

At last on July 27, 1977 Mayor Nakano’s vision of opening up Tsuruta to internationalization had finally become a reality. These early efforts cleared the way for the decades of cultural exchange soon to follow.

Group Picture
Congratulatory handshake sealing the Sister City Agreement.
Photo Credit: Tsuruta Town Office

Featured Photo Taken By: Tsuruta Town Office

Join Me on a Cultural Journey that Spans the Pacific

I recently returned to the U.S. after spending two years as the coordinator for international relations between my hometown of Hood River, Oregon and its sister city Tsuruta, Japan.

The sister city relationship between the two towns is one of the strongest of its kind in terms of the number of people who have been involved in cultural exchanges and the frequency of these exchanges. In this blog I will share some of the activities and events that make this relationship so strong and also the people and thoughts behind these efforts.

The former mayor of Tsuruta believes that there is a 6,000 mile bridge connecting Tsuruta to Hood River and this bridge of friendship is built from the love and connection that these two towns share. Given the right nourishment, time and commitment, a sister city agreement can become more than a contract between towns. Instead, it can become an everlasting friendship that knows no physical or geographical boundaries.

I was fortunate enough to call Tsuruta my home for two years and look forward to sharing my personal intercultural adventure. I had moments that ranged from sheer joy and happiness to moments of frustration and confusion, with every emotion in between. I hope others can use this blog as inspiration and a resource to engage in their own intercultural exchanges and perhaps even start their own sister city program.

Please join me on as I journey back and forth across this bridge of friendship built by 35 years of commitment, to share experiences, my thoughts and other information pertaining to this one of a kind sister city program.

Featured Photo Taken By: Katsuhiro Kudo