Wednesday, March 22, 2023
March 22, 2023

Linkedin Pinterest

Murals celebrate Vancouver’s kinship with sister city

Visitors from Joyo, Japan, join unveiling of paintings depicting cultural, historical connection

By , Columbian staff writer
10 Photos
Elko Arakawa, left, Tsuyako Shibata and Tomoe Fujimoto, right, visit a new mural on the back of Kiggins Theatre that celebrates the friendship between Vancouver and their hometown of Joyo, Japan. At top, a close-up of the mural, by Washougal artist Cimarron Brodie.
Elko Arakawa, left, Tsuyako Shibata and Tomoe Fujimoto, right, visit a new mural on the back of Kiggins Theatre that celebrates the friendship between Vancouver and their hometown of Joyo, Japan. At top, a close-up of the mural, by Washougal artist Cimarron Brodie. Photos by Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

Jerry Rolling was delighted with the cherry trees included in a proposed design for a big new mural celebrating Vancouver’s sister-city relationship with Joyo, Japan.

Good thing the longtime organizer of the Clark County Mural Society ran that design, last year, past a trio of Japanese visitors from Joyo’s Soroptimist club, who had a correction: The cherry tree may be a symbol of Japan, but the plum tree is the specific symbol of the city of Joyo. The mural design was edited in time.

“Joyo takes the sister-city relationship very seriously,” Rolling told a group that assembled Thursday afternoon at Kiggins Theatre in downtown Vancouver to celebrate the completion of two murals that convey the connection in cultural and historical terms. The group included key Rotarians such as former Vancouver Mayor Bruce Hagensen, who started the international relationship on a club-to-club level nearly 25 years ago, then made it official between municipal governments.

Since then, Hagensen said, Joyo has affixed the name Vancouver to a central boulevard that runs past its arts campus; it also has a huge children’s play structure that’s modeled on our own historic Fort Vancouver. Hagensen and fellow Rotarian Wayne Clemetson said they wish Vancouver could do more to balance that admiration here.

Last summer, the Clark County Mural Society hired two artists to try. Longtime Vancouver muralist Guy Drennan created a long, horizontal depiction of several key historical encounters between Japanese and Pacific Northwesterners; and Washougal artist Cimarron Brodie mashed up colorful symbols of Joyo and Japan — plum blossoms, matsu (Japanese pine trees), a torii (traditional Japanse gateway) — with flora and fauna found in both places, like irises and egrets. Underlying the whole image is a film emerging from a movie projector, and an open hand.

Murals and more murals

In other mural news, the Clark County Mural Society will collaborate this summer with Fourth Plain Forward, a group promoting economic and cultural development along the Fourth Plain corridor, on another “Summer of Murals.”

They’ve commissioned eight Fourth Plain murals over the past two summers, and on May 15 will announce four more to be created this summer. The deadline to submit a mural proposal is May 6.

Learn more at

That’s the hand of giving and friendship, artist Brodie said, and it symbolizes the gifts of hundreds of cherry trees given to Clark College by the president of American Kotobuki Electronics, celebrating 100 years of Washington statehood. The movie projector and film are there because the mural is up on the back (east) wall of Kiggins Theatre, a signature Vancouver historical and cultural institution.

But because it’s a busy, working parking lot back there, and also because it was sweltering last August when Brodie was working on the project, she usually showed up after dark and labored overnight. She and her husband, Ilko Major, would park their van in the lot after it was mostly empty and employ the latest mural-generating technology: they projected a huge image on the wall, and Brodie used a hydraulic lift to get up there and paint it in. (Rolling said he was astonished to try checking on her work at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. and she wasn’t there; he went by again at 10:30 p.m. and the couple was laboring away on the project. There were times they kept working until 3 a.m. or later, they said.)

“Technically, this is the first mural I’ve ever done in my life,” said Brodie — whose art handle is “Terkwoise.” That little signature is floating in some blue water on the far right of the artwork.

Drennan’s very different mural faces the same parking lot from the back (north) wall of Trusty Brewing on Broadway, and it’s built out of separate panels that were printed and treated with anti-graffiti coating. The panels can be moved if they ever need to be, Rolling said.

They’re not exactly a left-to-right story, Drennan said, but they do depict two key connections between Japan and Vancouver. It’s become a famous part of Vancouver’s origin story that a crew of 14 Japanese, embarking on what was supposed to be a routine voyage up their coast, got swept to sea by a typhoon. Over the course of more than a year they drifted some 5,000 miles across the ocean; three survivors were left when they ran aground on the Olympic Peninsula. Those three were briefly imprisoned by the Makah Indians before being ransomed by Chief Factor John McLoughlin of Fort Vancouver, who had them brought here. (They were eventually “traded” to England as part of diplomatic maneuvering, but they never made it home to Japan.)

The mural also depicts the strange story of Ranald MacDonald, a mixed-race (English/Scot and Clatsop/Chinook) man who lived briefly at Fort Vancouver. He took a notion that Japanese were the ancestors of North American Indians and concluded that he had some Japanese ancestry, too. So MacDonald embarked on a remarkable caper: He rode a whaling ship into Japanese waters, went overboard and rowed a small boat toward land. MacDonald was captured and imprisoned, and could easily have been executed for infiltrating what had been a strictly closed society for 200 years — but his timing was great; Japan’s government was just starting to accept the inevitability of visitors from abroad, and put him to work teaching English. MacDonald is now legendary in Japan as the nation’s first English teacher.

(It’s erroneously become part of the historical record that MacDonald personally met those three Japanese fishermen at Fort Vancouver in 1834, but they missed each other by a few months. MacDonald left the area before the Japanese arrived.)

Those three Joyo Soroptomists who helped correct the new mural from cherries to plums were here Thursday for the annual Sakura Festival at Clark College; then they joined the mural celebration. All are studying English, but Tomoe Fujimoto had the most to say. She first visited Vancouver 25 years ago, she said, and wound up moving here, part-time, for about 10 years while her daughter attended Clark College, got married and settled in Vancouver’s Fisher’s Landing neighborhood.

“We like it very much,” Fujimoto said. “It is very easy to go back and forth.”

And how’s the weather over in Joyo right now?

“Same as here,” she said.