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Silver anniversary: Wilsonville and Kitakata celebrate 25 years

Wilsonville residents visit their Japanese counterparts for summer festival


by:  BEV SCHALK - Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp speaks at a celebration dinner held at the end of the sister city trip. The year 2013 is the silver anniversary of Wilsonville’s sister city relationship with the Japanese municipality of Kitakata.

Since 1988 the Wilsonville Sister City Association has worked with its Japanese counterparts to facilitate an exchange of visitors.

The friendship has grown over the years, and now the annual visit to Wilsonville by Japanese high school students is highly anticipated by local residents who volunteer to take one or more of the teenagers into their homes for the duration of their stay.

The exchange goes both ways, with Wilsonville teens making the 18-hour flight west each summer. Recently, however, it was a group of Wilsonville adults who had the opportunity to experience the fruits of the program.

“We need to work to support this program in a more robust way,” said Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp, who joined a small delegation of Wilsonville residents in an August visit to Kitakata for its famed summer festival. “It has benefits involved that are way beyond what you can imagine.”

Kitakata is a city of 52,000 people located about four-and-a-half hours northwest of Tokyo in the Fukushima prefecture of Japan. The climate is warm in the summer and receives heavy snowfall in the winter. The city, said Knapp, is well known for its delicious ramen and beautiful lacquerware.

While Wilsonville and Kitakata residents might exchange gifts of lacquered bowls or Willamette Valley hazelnuts, it’s the friendships that have grown and prospered over the past quarter-century that remain the hallmark of the sister city relationship.

“It’s been a really valuable program for my family, including my four kids that I’ve raised here,” said Bev Schalk, president of the Wilsonville Sister City Association and one of the recent delegates to Kitakata. “It’s been a huge part of our family’s life, and the value it has brought to us is really beyond words. It has really made the world bigger and I think has encouraged a healthy curiosity about the world around us within our own children.” by: BEV SCHALK - KItakata is a sprawling city of 52,000 where rice fields cover virtually every nondeveloped piece of land in sight.

Knapp said his own daughter visited Kitakata in 1995 as a teenager. Because of that, he decided to finally take part this summer in a trip of his own.

One of the impressions he was left with, of course, had to do with governance. Kitakata, he said, covers 214 square miles, a massive area that if applied locally would mean a Wilsonville that covered the areas of Donald, Aurora, West Linn, Stafford and more, all in a single city.

“Their council has 25 councilors, a chair and a mayor,” Knapp said. “So they have some real challenges.”

The Wilsonville travelers stayed in the homes of Kitakata families while in Japan, and they also spent some time in Tokyo’s famed Ginza district during the time around their arrival and departure. While they were there, they took in Kitakata’s popular summer festival, which features thousands of people pouring into the streets to sing and dance.

“It’s pretty raccous,” Knapp said. “They took us downtown and we did a street dance where there are these two lines six or seven blocks along both sides of the street and you have the music playing and you have this folk dance with five steps to it and everybody does the same dance.”

There were karate schools, retired ladies, aid society groups and much more, all celebrating in the streets.

“We had a sign that said ‘Wilsonville Kitakata delegation’ with pullovers,” Knapp said. “This went on for an hour and they only reduced it from two hours a couple of years ago because they thought it was too much.”

The second festival night featured pagoda-like floats, 22 in all, displayed by different towns.

“They asked me to address the crowd,” Knapp said, explaining that he was tasked with telling the crowd “Obanda!” which translates roughly as “What a great night.”

“The same response comes back, and you have thousands of people roaring ‘Obanda,’” he said. “It was almost like I knew what I was talking about.”

The Wilsonville delegates went on to visit breweries that produce Japan’s famed drink, sake, stopped at famous castles and spent time at a variety of teahouses. They enjoyed music demonstrations on traditional Japanese instruments such as the koto, and they made new friends. by:  BEV SCHALK - Visitors to Kitakata have a lot of recreational choices, ranging from paddleboats on the lake during the summer to a host of nearby ski resorts during the winter.

Ken Rice, who journeyed with his wife, Cathy, vice president for the Wilsonville Sister City Association, said, “I thought staying in the home of someone I didn’t know would be this awkwardness. But by the second day it was gone. They welcomed us into their home so completely, it was one of the most amazing experiences for me.”

“I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to come home, it was most excellent,” said Melody Knapp, Tim Knapp’s wife. “One night at festival, a young man came up to me with a Wilsonville cap and gave it to me, and I was so pleased to see all the kids come up to us at the festival and be so excited to see us.”

Schalk said she had similar encounters, where she would run into person after person who knew about Wilsonville.

“We’d talk to one person and the next shop we’d go into for ice cream, they would say, ‘Oh, I had two sons who visited Wilsonville in 2005 or 2008, thank you.’ Kitakata is pretty remote, so they don’t see Westerners. It’s a completely mind- opening experience for their community as well as ours.”

Cathy Rice agreed and said she and her family have been involved since 1999.

“We have had the pleasure of hosting nine students from Kitakata and one chaperone,” she said. “The best part of the trip for me, by far, was the warm hugs from the mothers of the families. We got to see five students that we hosted, and the hugs will stand out forever in my mind, it was very emotional to me. They still call me ‘Mom’ and it’s just really, really neat to see this great community where these wonderful people come from.”

Rice noted that the annual delegation of Kitakata high school students is set to hit Wilsonville on Oct. 29 this year. There will be 16 visitors this time around, nine girls, seven boys and a pair of chaperones. She said the Wilsonville Sister City Association still is looking for host families with whom the students can stay.

“The whole program has been great for our family,” said Dave Schalk. “It’s opened up the world to our children, and I know it’s done the same for them. It was amazing to see the families of some of these kids and see how much it meant to them. It really demonstrated a bond between the two cities that I would sure like to see continue to grow in the future.”

WHS seeks hosts for Japanese students

Wilsonville High School will host a delegation of 16 middle school and high school students from Wilsonville’s Japanese sister city, Kitakata, for approximately 10 days. Local families are needed to serve as hosts for one or more of these students. The only requirement is a willingness to welcome the students and help them be a part of typical American life.

During their stay, the Japanese students will participate in group activities during the day and then spend the evenings with their hosts. Host families need not have students at home.

Contact Bev Schalk at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or WHS Japanese teacher Joelle Scrbacic at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



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