By KIRBY NEUMANN-REA
July 30, 2005
Cherries and the precious water they carry helped reinforce the bond between two nations in a brief, personal ceremony at City Hall on Thursday.
“Kampai!” — bottoms up! — said Japanese Consul-General Tadashi Nagai, along with Mayor Linda Rouches and Parkdale’s Azusa Suzuki, as they held up ripe Bing cherries grown by Suzuki.
“The cherries grow near Mount Hood — a holy place,” Suzuki told Nagai. “We have a wonderful valley where water flows and the wind blows, and that is how we prosper. The water from the highest place in Oregon flows from the glacier into our soil and then into our cherries.”
The fruitful toast came during Nagai’s first official visit to Hood River. It will also be his last such visit, as Nagai will be reassigned next month after three-and-a-half years in Oregon.
But Nagai knows Hood River fruit: He’s been to the valley several times to pick it himself.
“This is my first official visit. It’s good to be here for other than picking cherries,” Nagai told Rouches, who presented him with a City of Hood River cap.
“We can almost claim you as an Oregon citizen,” Rouches said to Nagai, who was also an American Field Service exchange student in Woodburn in 1960.
Nagai told Rouches and Suzuki he was recently granted honorary citizenship by Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
“I think I am already an Oregonian in spirit,” Nagai said, “but it is nice to have the certificate.”
Also greeting Nagai was Charlene Rivers, like Suzuki a member of the Tsuruta Sister City Program. Rouches described it as a “wonderful, exemplary program,” and Nagai agreed.
He said Hood River’s sister city is among the strongest in a state that has a tradition of vibrant trans-Pacific relationships.
“Hood River (and Tsuruta) started out not just as a formality, but as real activities, and people are willing to be involved and creative,” Nagai said.
Following Nagai’s City Hall visit, he ate lunch with the Hood River Rotary Club as Rouches’ guest, and visited the newly built Yasui Building, owned by Maui Meyer and home to restaurants Sushi Okalani and Celilo and other businesses. The building was erected on the site of the Yasui Store, the Yasui family business that served the Japanese community of Hood River from 1908 to 1941.
Meyer said Nagai was highly interested in the Yasui family history. He gave the Consul General a sauce bowl that was among the artifacts unearthed at the former store site.