Sister City celebrates 25 years

A day of reverence and ceremony ended with a colorful dance, hugs, and bilingual best wishes on Thursday.

People from both sides of the Pacific Ocean celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Hood River-Tsuruta, Japan, Sister City Program, with a banquet at Hood River Inn.

“Kanpai!” Mayor Paul Cummings said in raising the formal toast in the banquet.

Friends old and new — the crowd of 200 included many Hood Riverites who have visited Tsuruta up to five times — exchanged gifts, greetings, and expressions of hope for continued friendship between the two communities. By the end of the evening, Tsuruta delegates danced around the room in “Hapi,” or “festival” tunics and headbands, which they then presented to tablemates.

In the formal gift exchange, Hood River gave Tsuruta a painting by Charlene Rivers of the Sister Committee, and Mayor Kenji Nakano of Tsuruta presented the Hood River community with traditional Tsugaru kites, a centuries-old art form using cypress wood grown in Tsuruta.

“May these kites fly over Hood River for another 25 or 50 years!” Mayor Nakano said through an interpreter. Nakano and the late Ray “Chop” Yasui founded the Sister City program in 1977.

The 26-member Tsuruta delegation paid their respects at Yasui’s grave at Idlewild Cemetery Thursday, during a tour of orchards and scenic areas of Hood River Valley. The delegation arrived Wednesday and departs today.

“Twenty-five years have passed by quickly and as we move into the 21st century we do so with an increased sense of a global community that has no borders,” Nakano told the banquet audience, in a translation read by Cummings.

“This was the same feeling that was sharerd by the late Ray Yasui who had the vision of what could be accomplished when two communities decided to open their borders.”

The anniversary is “a marvelous event,” and a testimony to the communities’ mutual commitment, said Deputy Consul Seigi Ogawa.

“Most Sister City programs last no more than three years, and then they go away.” But in the case of Hood River and Tsuruta, he said, “you are becoming, in a true sense, neighboring towns.”

Ray Yasui’s grandson, Niko Yasui, of Hood River, read a bilingual greeting, recalling his “great fortune” to visit Tsuruta three times.

He said he is certain the communities’ “good relationship” will last another 25 years and beyond.

“I am sure my grandfather would be proud and astonished that the work he began has lasted so long and brought so many people together and pleased to see Mayor Nakano has had a political career longer than I have been alive,” Yasui said.

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