By Carolyn Barbre
Back in October a 17-member delegation from Ono City, Japan, visited Lindsay in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Sister City Program between the two cities.
From Nov. 19-26, Mayor Ed Murray, Chairman of the Sister City Program Louie Rincon and "ambassador extraordinaire" Lily Kaku in turn visited Ono City. Kaku has been a part of the program since its inception and was given that designation by the visiting Ono City contingent in October.
"The first night we were there they had a very formal welcoming ceremony where everyone got up and exchanged presents, followed by a very formal dinner." Murray said. As part of the evening's entertainment, women, dressed in traditional kimonos, played 13-string harps that are about six-feet long and make a uniquely Oriental sound.
"We were literally treated like royalty," Murray said. He said it was a combination of the ingrained hospitality of the Japanese and their excitement about the 30th anniversary of the Sister City Program with Lindsay. "It was really a neat experience."
Murray said the two cities, on opposite sides of the globe, had many similar projects in the works or recently completed. They also have a lot of trees lining the main drive into town and had recently put lights on them, although they are ginkgo trees, not palms.
Murray said the first order of business was coffee in the mayor's office, after which they went on a tour of city hall. He said they visited the new library, that has been completed about a year, observing that Lindsay is looking to build a new library.
"They took us to a recently completed gymnasium, which is very similar to what we are doing with the Wellness Center." They also got a tour of the hospital and museum where a green tea ceremony was held in their honor.
At the museum, Samurai warrior costumes were brought out for the guests to try on. "They couldn't get the breastplate around me," the mayor said. Mayor Murray is admittedly a pretty good sized Westerner. "I felt like I was in a submarine because I had to duck down at every door and overhead light. Everywhere I went all these little Japanese guys, businessmen, would come up and say, "Oh, so big, so big!'" He said strangers walking down the street, men and women, wanted to have their picture taken with him.
That was Friday.
On Saturday they went to the city of Kamachi, where there was an old castle. There are upwards of 40 wood "castles" in Japan, built by feudal lords about 400 years ago. The architecture is very similar on many of them to the one Murray and Rincon were photographed in front of. Murray said, to defend the castles beyond the three moats around it, residents would through down rocks on would-be intruders through holes in the six-story high walls.
On Sunday a music festival was held in a large auditorium. A picture of Lindsay City Hall was included in the program. The American visitors were introduced as "renowned singers on a concert tour." The Japanese really seem to enjoy incorporating that kind of harmless humor into what are otherwise more serious festivities. Murray said he, Lily and Louie sang the sang the "Doe, Ray, Me" song from "The Sound of Music" and also sang the "Sukiyaki Song," in front of a large audience. Some school children also gave a performance, quite polished and professional judging from the photograph.
The visitors were later taken to Sunflower Park, also recently completed. Murray was particularly impressed with the more inventive playground equipment, than is generally seen in American playgrounds. Perhaps the reason the sister cities have so many projects in common is that they keep feeding one another new ideas, inspiring similar creations. At the park Ono City officials held a ceremonial tree planting of an olive and an orange tree with Mayor Murray helping shovel the dirt. It was another way to honor their friendship with Lindsay. The event was newsworthy enough to be covered by the City of Kobi, which has a population of 1.3 million. Their photos were in the next day's newspaper.
On Monday they visited the Gold Temple in Kyoto, the original capital of Japan where there are about 40 temples. The mayor said he also enjoyed Japanese cuisine. "I figured I might as well try everything," he said. He loved the sushi, but found sea urchin totally unpalatable. Raw fish and white rice with a raw egg broken into it as a breakfast dish was a unique experience for him. Perhaps a bigger problem for Westerners, including the mayor, was trying to get up after a dinner where one sat on a cushion on the floor for an hour or more. "I had to crawl around on the floor in order to get back up," he admitted.
The two cultures seem to diverge most when it comes to washroom decor and decorum. "Most places we went had the traditional Japanese toilet. It looked like a urinal but it was flat on the ground." The mayor explained that the user would simply squat over it. "None of the restrooms had any paper or hand washing material," he said. A much more au naturel<$> process of elimination. Murray said the homes had two bathrooms, one with the traditional Japanese toilet and a second with a Western style toilet but considerably fancier - electric with heated seats and water devices for the wash up. Then there are public baths where the men share a pool on one side and the women on the other. Murray said a new public bath was under construction, but he didn't suggest one would work in Lindsay.
Overall he said, unlike the U.S. where we have cities and industrial areas, then counties and finally countryside, in Japan cities cover a large geographic area that includes lakes and mountains. He was amazed at how narrow the roads are. In Ono City, with a population of 50,000 he said cars have to pull over to let one another pass, and houses are built right up to the curb, as they are in many European cities.
The areas around Kobi and Osaka are very industrialized and not a pretty sight according to Murray, but still interesting. Osaka is the second largest city in Japan with 7-8 million people.
A Lindsay delegation has been invited to return in March 2005, when Ono City celebrates its 50th anniversary. Ono City will have another new building complex completed. Meanwhile Murray has some beautiful photos of his visit to look at and share. "It was a great experience," he said.