Far off friendship brings flood reliefOn their 10-day trip to Japan, delegates from Superior learned that Mickey Mouse speaks fluent Japanese, children love books in any language, gestures are universal and the bond between sister cities runs deep.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
On their 10-day trip to Japan, delegates from Superior learned that Mickey Mouse speaks fluent Japanese, children love books in any language, gestures are universal and the bond between sister cities runs deep.
As they sat down to their last dinner together in Ami-machi, the city’s Mayor Fujio Amada presented Superior City Council President Mike Herrick with a gift — $3,280 for flood damage relief in Superior. The money had been donated by Amada, town hall employees, members of the Ami Town Assembly, the Ami International Exchange Association and individual citizens of Ami. It was an unexpected surprise, Herrick said.
“For me that’s really the proof of the pudding in these sister city relationships,” said Kim Habig, Sister City Commission secretary. “If an earthquake or a flood happens in a country far away and you know someone there or have visited yourself, you have more of a connection.”
Sister city exchanges change your view, Herrick said.
“Rather than just the large county of Japan you get to focus on families, families no different than the ones here,” he said.
The connection is a two-way street. Following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Japan, local efforts raised $7,000 for Red Cross efforts. Superior’s Sister City Commission sent $500 out of their budget, as well, although Ami-machi was not severely affected.
The disaster delayed the Superior delegation by one year and gave rise to a new component of the trip, community service. Usually the trip revolves around sight-seeing, cultural activities and time with families, Habig said. This year, the 13 youth delegates were encouraged to be more than guests. Each student brought a children’s book along. They read the books to children at the Ami-machi library, then donated them.
The event exposed Japanese children to “living language,” Herrick said, and as the teens read more and more children gravitated toward them.
The sister city agreement between Superior and Ami-machi began in 1997. Every other year, a delegation from Superior flies to Japan. On the off years, delegates from Japan come to Superior. Along with these face-to-face connections, both cities have created friendship gardens to celebrate the partnership. Two former youth delegates from Superior have been hired to teach English in Ami-machi. Businesses can even take part. One of the assisted living homes in the Japanese city has been named “Superior 360.” And a museum exhibit is being prepared in Ami-machi’s Yokaren Peace Memorial Museum for display in Superior’s Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, Habig said.
For the first year since the exchanges began, Superior delegates teaming up with Ami exchange association members won first place for performing the Bon dance, a type of line dance to traditional music, at the “My Ami Festival.” In another first, Douglas County residents Hannah and Cassandra Fuller were included in the youth delegation.
“Going to Ami-machi, Japan was the trip of a lifetime,” wrote Cassandra, 17, in an essay. “I learned so much and had as much fun as a person could have on a trip.”
“It made me open my eyes and understand there is an entirely different world out there,” wrote her sister Hannah, also 17.
Most of the teens wrote that communication was a challenge. Luckily, they found, gestures and pantomime were a universal language.
“In the end I had an amazing time and have made some good friends that I plan on keeping in touch with and possibly even visiting them sometime in the future,” wrote Martina Chester, 16, of Superior.
This was Herrick’s first trip to Ami-machi. He enjoyed seeing the sights, from tours of Ami to a visit to Tokyo Disney. But meeting the people of Japan was his favorite thing.
“They’re wonderful people, friendly, warm and giving,” Herrick said. “This is definitely a project that is worthwhile.” It’s not just a relationship between two cities, he said, it’s a myriad of one-on-one bonds between families on two sides of the globe.
The commission is in need of more members, Habig said. Members volunteer at community events, maintain the friendship garden and participate in activities with delegates from Ami-machi. Host families are also needed for 2013.
For more information on the Sister City Commission or to become a member, go to www.ci.superior.wi.us under the community tag or call Rani Gill at (715) 395-7212.