Vancouver honors sister city

Written history of relationship headed to Joyo, Japan

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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In 1995, then-Vancouver Mayor Bruce Hagensen signed a sister-city agreement with Senji Imamichi, then mayor of Joyo, Japan, to formalize a friendship that had begun years earlier.

Until now, no one had comprehensively documented the friendship, which has produced student exchanges, cultural exchanges and business relations.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt decided for Joyo's 40th anniversary, the gift from Vancouver should be a written history of the relationship. He knew there would be an invitation coming for someone from the city to attend the celebration, just as a delegation of 12 Joyo officials came to Vancouver this summer for the dedication of the Royce E. Pollard Japanese Friendship garden, named for the former mayor who visited Joyo in 1997 for the city's 25th anniversary.

"There hadn't been a concerted effort to put this all together," Leavitt said. "There's all this stuff in different places, photos and gifts."

The 23-page document, titled, "Celebrating Friendship: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow," will be delivered to Joyo officials next week by Hagensen, who will represent the city at a Joyo anniversary celebration on Dec. 4.

No single author is listed on the book, which is a lengthy timeline of events with photos, but several names are acknowledged in the creation of the gift. Those names include Kathy Condon, whom Leavitt contacted about his idea, and Suzanne Luttrell, who Condon credited with doing most of the work.

Hagensen, an honorary citizen of Joyo who will be making his 10th trip to the city, will actually deliver two copies. One will go to city officials and the other to the Joyo Rotary Club, as the sister-city relationship has been sponsored by the Vancouver and Joyo clubs. Each document will be encased in a red-felt-lined wooden box. The boxes are made from combinations of walnut, cherry, maple and swamp ash and were built at Friends of the Carpenter.

A third box will remain with the Rotary Club of Vancouver.

On Nov. 14, Hagensen and Leavitt were among officials who went to see the finished boxes at Friends of the Carpenter, an agency that helps homeless people get basic needs met and has a woodworking shop.

"This is a gift that our friends in Japan will appreciate," Leavitt told the woodworkers. "Literally, you had a hand in it."

The Rev. Duane Sich, executive director of Friends of the Carpenter, led the crowd in prayer.

"Bless Lord these boxes, and also bless the people who will receive them," Sich said.

The cost of producing the document and the boxes was paid for by donations, primarily by members of the Vancouver Rotary Club. The city doesn't have a budget for sister-city related spending, Leavitt said. The Rotary club hosts the relationship and has responsibility for financial obligations. When the city does send gifts, city councilors personally contribute money, he said.

Also, no public money will be used for Hagensen's trip.

Local companies

Joyo, which was incorporated in 1972, is in the center of the Yamashiro Basin, halfway between the cities of Kyoto and Nara.

A delegation from the Columbia River Economic Development Council, including Hagensen, visited Japan in 1984. Hagensen, after the agreement was signed, said the city's economies are globally linked.

"The more we can understand each other's culture, the more successful we'll be," he said in 1996.

Japanese companies such as SEH America, Kyocera and Sharp Corp. have plants in Clark County.

Rotary clubs from the two cities developed a relationship before the sister-city agreement was signed. In 1987, the Tears of Joy Puppet Theatre went to Japan for a tour, for example, and the following year a Japanese theater group came to Vancouver.

In 1996, the Kumamoto University Middle School Choir performed on a trip sponsored by Soroptimist International of Vancouver. In 2006, a children's art exchange began between the cities. Every year, Clark College invites the community to celebrate the blooming cherry trees at the Sakura Festival; the trees were planted on campus in 1990 to symbolize the international friendship. Hudson's Bay High School started a Japanese student exchange program in 1984. A new scholarship, sponsored by SEH America and the Clark College Foundation, will cover full tuition for a Japanese student who resides in the area affected by last year's tsunami in Japan.

After the sister-city agreement was signed, a newspaper editor in Japan said Joyo officials wanted a sister city to give citizens a chance to make American friends and study the principles of freedom and democracy.

Leavitt said he hopes the sister-city bond continues to strengthen, particularly in encouraging more businesses to locate here.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.