Friends at 40: Hood River visitors revel in Tsuruta hospitality

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NEW FACES, OLD FRIENDS: Yesenia Castro started work in August as coordinator of international relations (CIR) for the Hood River-Tsuruta Sister City Program. Within weeks of arriving, she helped welcome the Hood River delegation returning to Japan for the 40th anniversary celebration of the program.

Online: Hood River News’ coverage of the Tsuruta delegation’s 40th anniversary visit, summer 2017: http://www.hoodri...

It all started when we picked up Hood River folks from Aomori-Shin Station.

I remember looking beyond the gates, waiting to see a non-Japanese (since Aomori does not really get any foreigners), and then seeing Katie Paul. She had a huge smile on her face.

We left the station and headed straight to the Yakuba (town office) to meet Mayor Masamitsu Aikawa. The following days, we had a busy agenda, packed with all sorts of things to do.

Friday was the busiest day. We started our Friday with a short visit to the community center, where we were greeted by the former Mayor Kenji Nakano. Old memories and happy tears filled the center. We saw old pictures and heard beautiful stories about how this sister-city relationship has created so many memories for both the people of Hood River and Tsuruta.

After the community center visit, we headed to Aomori city to meet with the Tohnippo Newspaper staff and Governor Mimura. The governor is one of the most expressive Japanese leaders I have yet to meet; he smiled a lot and even danced for us!

Our adventurous morning quickly turned into lunchtime, where a lot of us got a kick out of people ordering “Steaky Lunchy” (Steak-Key-Lunch-She, Japanese for “steak lunch”).

The rest of the evening was a time to celebrate, remember and create new memories — the 40th anniversary of the Hood River-Tsuruta Sister City relationship.

We ate a lot of sushi and had plenty of drinks to choose from. We enjoyed taiko drum performances and other forms of entertainment. We heard beautiful speeches in Japanese and English, and I am sure we all made new friends that night. It was so special and an evening I will never forget.

Saturday, we woke up to another eventful day. We started by visiting the local farmers market, Aruja, followed by picking Steuben grapes, a cherry blossom tree planting, a visit to Tachineputa Museum and finished with Takayama Inari Shrine. Phew! How is that for a day?

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this day was seeing Paul Blackburn and Shar Wilkins’ excitement as they found their old cherry trees, planted on earlier visits to Tsuruta. It was beautiful to see how their trees have grown and, for Paul, extra-special to see his daughter Althea’s tree beautifully growing, just like her.

The Tachineputa Museum was a highlight of the day. We got to see the 75-foot-tall floats that are used during August Matsuri (festival). I can’t compare the Tachineputa floats to anything else I have ever seen — the detail and the size is truly unique.

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Yesenia Castro, Coordinator of International Relations Yesenia Castro picks local specialty Steuben grapes on a farm outing.

The night before everyone left Tsuruta was definitely a favorite. It was a small, spontaneous karaoke gathering (whoa, not on the strict agenda!), where broken conversations were lubricated by beer and shochu (a Japanese hard liquor).

I enjoyed watching the Hood River folks get comfortable in a different culture from their own. The faces of uncertainty I had seen on some of them when they first arrived were completely different on this night. I could feel the warmth from everyone’s happiness. It was so beautiful to see everyone in the moment, the human connections. I live for these kinds of moments.

I hope that as the years go by, more and more people from Hood River will come visit and experience Tsuruta and Japan in general. I especially hope that more unusual suspects visit Tsuruta (busy CEOs, American Indian and Latino students, people who are super busy … etc.).

Thank you for the fun memories — it was such a pleasure being a part of the staff that helped plan this wonderful 40th anniversary gathering.

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CHAMBER executive director Mike Glover smiles at the Tsuruta welcome.

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Hood River delegates learn traditional Taiko drumming. (From left are Katie Paul, Paul Blackburn, City Council Member Megan Saunders, Char Wilkins, and Mike Glover.)



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