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Tu-lips, two cities: Gosen, Japan courts Woodburn for sister city status

by: LINDSAY KEEFER - Students from Gosen, Japan, play with pet dog Zoe during a visit to Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Woodburn last week.Woodburn draws people from all over every spring for Tulip Fest, and that has attracted the attention of a particular city in Japan.

Gosen, Japan, located about three hours northwest of Tokyo, has a similar climate to Woodburn and is also known for its own Tulip Festival.

For several years, Gosen has sponsored youths to travel to the U.S. for a 12-day English immersion program, during which they spend a day at Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Woodburn.

This year, for the first time, the mayor of Gosen has joined them.

“They (the city of Gosen) wanted an idea of what they’re paying for,” said Woodburn Mayor Kathy Figley, noting that Gosen funds about 70 percent of the students’ costs to travel.

“The mayor wanted an idea of what the kids were doing while here.”

by: LINDSAY KEEFER - Ito Katsumi, mayor of Gosen, Japan, rides a horse at Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, with the assistance of owner Barb Iverson, during a visit to Woodburn last week.Mayor Ito Katsumi spent only three days stateside — his first time visiting the U.S. — and one day was spent in Woodburn, meeting with Figley, having lunch at Luis’s Taqueria and then touring Wooden Shoe with six middle school-aged students from Gosen.

Figley, who pointed out many similarities between the two cities, said the Japanese mayor showed interest in starting a sister city partnership.

“It was a first date, so we’ll see what happens from here,” she said.

Like Woodburn, Gosen is located in an agriculturally rich region, but it’s about twice the size of Woodburn.

The area is also well known for its cherry blossoms and peonies.

“Even their nursery catalogs look like something you’d see here,” Figley said.

Speaking through a translator, Katsumi said he would love to visit Woodburn in April, when the tulips are actually in bloom, but he can’t because of his city’s own spring festivals.

Despite not seeing the buds that bond the two cities, Katsumi was pleased with what he saw in Woodburn.

“It is more relaxed here and there is more space,” he said through his translator. “I appreciate the mayor welcoming us so warmly.”by: LINDSAY KEEFER - Students from Gosen, Japan tour Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm last week during a 12-day English immersion visit to the Northwest.

Katsumi was accompanied by Masayuki Sekizuka, chairman of the Gosen International Foundation, and two guides from Azumano International, a travel company based in Portland.

As a token of appreciation, the visitors brought a model of an 18th century Japanese home, handcrafted by a Gosen artisan.

“We’ll put in the library so as many people can see it as possible,” Figley said.

As far as the process of becoming a sister city of Gosen, Figley said she would like to talk to other cities similar in size to Woodburn that have successfully pulled off the program.

“I’m going to follow up with smaller communities that have actually done the sister city program and sustained it, what do you do, what it costs and whether we feel it’s a rewarding thing to do,” Figley said. “At the very least, it’s been a very interesting visit, to see what they do and how they do things quite a bit like us.”

She said she would steer clear of anything requiring money, since the city has recently had to crunch numbers to balance its budget.

“At the minimum, it would entail people being willing to commit to occasional travel, one way or the other, and hosting travelers from the other city,” Figley said. “You don’t expect one city at one end to pull out all the stops without expecting the same. I wouldn’t ask for money for this. But we’d like to keep a friendly relationship.”