Deep-rooted friendship: Tsuruta Sister City Program turns 40

GIFTS exchanged between sister cities included a double-sided blanket made by Lillian Pitt, representing the Wasco, Yakama and Warm Springs tribes presented by Board Member Niko Yasui, Hood River, to Mayor Masamitsu Aikawa, Tsuruta.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
GIFTS exchanged between sister cities included a double-sided blanket made by Lillian Pitt, representing the Wasco, Yakama and Warm Springs tribes presented by Board Member Niko Yasui, Hood River, to Mayor Masamitsu Aikawa, Tsuruta.

Gifts took their accustomed honored place at Thursday’s 40th anniversary dinner celebrating the Hood River-Tsuruta Sister City program.


Mayors Masamitsu Aikawa and Paul Blackburn.

A Hood River adult group will travel to Tsuruta in October.

The gifts from Hood River to the Tsuruta visitors reflected both international friendship and indigenous heritage: bead work and a blanket by Gorge artists representing native tribes of the region, and images of cranes, a symbol of fortune and longevity in Japanese culture.

“This is a friendship that has cultivated understanding and has included many adults and students,” Tsuruta Committee President Shar Wilkins said in her welcoming remarks in the event at the Gorge Room at Best Western Plus Hood River Inn. “Thank you, Tsuruta, for the lasting friendships over the years, and the hope for more of them.”


“KAMPAI!” County Commission President Ron Rivers, left, gives the opening toast. With him are mayors Paul Blackburn and Masamitsu Aikawa, Consul General Kojiro Uchiyama, and Catherine Dalbey, human resources director at Hood River County School District. Dalbey spoke of the importance of Sister City to families and to the school district in general.

“Your hospitality has been heart-warming,” Tsuruta Mayor Masamitsu Aikawa said, adding thanks to Hood River for acts of friendship that have gone beyond the Sister City program, by remembering the local donations sent to Japanese communities damaged by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. “Though we may speak different languages, we are all human beings on the same planet. I hope many of you will be able to attend in October, and I hope that today’s celebration will prosper into the future.”

Japan’s Consul General Kojiro Uchiyama noted Thursday that 1,800 people have participated in sister city exchanges since 1977.

“Let me say ‘well done’ in marking this vital relationship,” Uchiyama said. “It is a commitment to a deeper understanding between communities, and the Hood River-Tsuruta Sister City truly exemplifies this idea.”

Dinner guests welcomed Wilkins included past CIRs Kris VanDooren and Steven Nellermoe. LisaAnn Kawachi, also a past CIR, serves as Sister City board vice chair. Wilkins also recognized City Manager Steve Wheeler and former mayor Bob Palmer at the dinner.

Entertainment was a set of American string tunes by Blackburn and his friend Rod Krehbiel, reviving their “Red Haired Boys” band, and by Phoenix Theater of Hood River Valley High School.

Tsuruta gifts to the City Hood River included a lacquered two-panel landscape and a linen banner, both bearing images of flying cranes — symbols of fortune and longevity in Japanese culture. The landscape will be displayed at City Hall.


CEREMONIAL dance concludes the Tsuruta dinner, with Jacque Barone, left, Yesenia Castro and Mark Zanmiller joining in.

Blackburn presented his Tsuruta counterpart, Mayor Masamitsu Aikawa, with beaded necklace and belt by Brigette McConville of the Warm Springs Tribe. The Hood River Sister City program gave Tsuruta a double-sided blanket made by Lillian Pitt, representing the Wasco, Yakama and Warm Springs tribes.

“The design was inspired by the petroglyphs in the Columbia River Gorge left by Lillian’s ancestors over 10,000 years ago,” explained Board Member Niko Yasui in presenting the blanket. “They called themselves the River People of the Columbia, or The Big River, as they called it.

“The people of Hood River and Tsuruta are also people of the river, the lake and the mountains, and much like the artist, honor our ancestors, animals and the environment in which we live,” Yasui said.

“The patterns on the blanket the salmon gill design topped with a quail plume. The blue is the color of the river and reflections of the sky. The golden orange tones are of the rocky canyon walls of the Gorge. The twin designs represent the fish, the river and the mountains and mirror the relationship between our sister cities, the friendship, and the continuing love for one another.”

Dinner attendees were reminded, in metaphor, of the many gifts of trees from Tsuruta to Hood River, found at May Street School, Children’s Park, and Tsuruta Park. The trees and other mementi have been given over the years in the mainstay activity of the program, exchanges by student and adult groups from Tsuruta.


Tsuruta board chair Shar Wilkins displays the 40th anniversary poster by Charlene Rivers. Copies were presented to the Tsuruta delegation.

“Same as the cherry blossoms, our friendships should grow and strength in the future,” said Kenji Nakano, Sister City co-founder and former mayor, in a written message read by Wilkins.

“The roots of our relationship both figuratively and literally run deep,” said Catherine Dalbey, human resources director for Hood River County School District.

Dalbey, a former Pine Grove teacher and later principal at Wy’east, said Hood River schools are home to many gifts and other evidence of Tsuruta visitors over the years. She has seen the positive impacts in the schools from contact with Tsuruta students.

“We value what we can learn from each other,” she said, noting that her son, Hugh, 13, engages in Snapchat conversations, digitally translated in both directions, with Tsuruta youth he has met in Hood River.

“It is a valuable program, believe me,” said Ron Rivers, recalling blowing the electricity at a Tsuruta kitchen when he and other Hood Riverites took on the task of baking apple pies on a visit years ago. He recalled his first visit in 1997, when some of his fellow visitors “did not travel lightly, and I ended up toting many a suitcase.”

He recounted how the Rivers family, like the Wilkins, got initially involved when their daughter announced after their first hosting that she planned to visit Tsuruta on the next exchange, and the Rivers needed to accompany her so she would not get homesick.

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