They were intrigued by the local history, observed two growing cities in revitalization, toured businesses at work and embraced the many sights and sounds with their intercultural friends living half a world away.
A delegation from Tamba, Japan – led by its re-elected mayor – paid Kent and Auburn a long-anticipated visit last week to strengthen a relationship that began more than 40 years ago. It was the dignitaries’ first visit to the Green River Valley since the Kent-Auburn-Tamba sister cities partnership was formed in early 2005, shortly after six regional cities merged to create the new city of Tamba.
It was a business trip with pleasures. City leaders exchanged handshakes, smiles, gifts, ideas and promises to meet again.
It was goodwill in motion, tourism with a purpose.
“They loved our chocolate,” said Duanna Richards, Neighborhood Programs manager for the City of Auburn and sister cities liaison.
Local officials hope to return the favor, perhaps reuniting as early as this fall or maybe next spring, to discuss ways to promote business between the regions.
“It’s time to make those economic ties stronger,” said Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis, who presented Tamba Mayor Jugoro Tsuji with keys to the city during a welcoming party at City Hall last Monday. “We can put people back to work based on these relationships.”
Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke paid Tamba a visit, part of a delegation, several years ago to solidify the sister cities relationship. While she doesn’t intend to return to Japan soon, she acknowledges there are business opportunities. Both sides understand the importance of such a mission, given the difficult economic times.
“It’s going to be bit of a challenge for the three cities,” Cooke said. “They are much more rural than we are, but they have manufacturing and they do have raw materials (as possible trade commodities).”
The exchange program promises to grow, according to both sides.
“They are committed to having a solid plan of action that would expand other student exchange and cultural exchange to include education and economic development,” Cooke said.
For Tamba, a region once divided politically, the exchange program took years to build consensus and support. The Kent-Auburn invitation had been extended to the mayor for several years. Only recently have the region’s 24 city councilmembers gradually come on board to accept and listen to what another country has to offer.
The visiting delegation included Tsuji; Katsuhiko Taguchi, president of the Tamba City Council; Taichi Nagagawa, general manager of the city’s planning division; Tsuyoshi Kamei, director of the Tamba International Association; six Tamba youth ambassadors and two chaperones.
In keeping with the spirit of the cultural and educational exchange program, Tamba-area students stayed with host families for a week filled with activities, including a visit to Seattle and other attractions. The Japanese youth ambassadors will return home Monday.
A group of 10 teens from the Kent-Auburn area will reciprocate with a visit to Tamba in August.
One of those expected to make the trip is Tommy Pham, a freshman-to-be at Kentwood High School. Lana Pham and her large Vietnamese-American family opened their Kent home to a Tamba girl this week.
“Her name is Nimori, and she’s very polite,” Lana Pham said with a smile. “It has been a great experience for me, Tommy and our family. We have learned much from each other. It’s a chance for us and for Tommy to explore other countries and learn about other cultures.”
A quick tour of Kent and Auburn attractions over the last weekend also sped up the delegation’s learning curve.
In Kent, the group toured businesses, including the Kent Station, and shared meetings, meals and notes.
In Auburn, Tamba leaders toured City Hall and the One Main Street Professional Plaza. They took in the exhibits at the White River Valley Museum, and were especially drawn to the origins of Japanese-American farming. The group also toured Les Gove Park, a Boeing plant, and walked the campus at Green River Community College and met its new president, Eileen Ely.
“Mayor Tsuji was very impressed by the size and attention to detail (at Boeing), so much that he said he’s going home on a Delta 777 with much peace in mind,” Richards said.
The delegation left favorable reviews.
“The mayor made a comment that he never felt so welcomed as he did when he came to City Hall,” Richards said. “The only other time he felt as celebrated was the day he was elected mayor and the day he got married.
“The whole visit has been a resounding success,” Richards added. “We’ve been able to accomplish what we set out to – to move our friendship and relationship forward.
“We talked about expanding our program to include more educational, cultural, business and economic development exchanges in the future,” Richards said. “We have the youth exchange down, now it’s an opportunity for us to go beyond that.”
The Tamba, Japan connection
• Tamba: An agricultural community located in the Khogo Prefecture, Hansai region north of Kobe on the island of Honshu. The Kent-Tamba relationship spans a period of 40 years. This friendship organization was established initially to promote annual student exchanges. In 2003, Kaibara joined with five adjacent cities in consolidation to form the new city of Tamba. The five adjacent cities include Kasuga, the community which has maintained a sister-city relationship with Auburn since 1964. Given their mutual interests, the cities of Kent and Auburn have joined together in sister-city activities with Tamba. The Kent-Auburn-Tamba Sister Cities Committee now works in partnership on a variety of programs, including academic one-year high school exchanges, short-term summer youth ambassador exchanges, official governmental, people-to-people, recreational, cultural and business exchanges. The committee is locally supported by many dedicated volunteers from the cities of Kent and Auburn
• Information: To learn more about the KAT Committee and the exchange program, visit www.katsistercity.org.