Students from Japanese sister city to visit despite tragedy

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Seven guests from Shimada, Richmond’s sister city in Japan, are set to visit Saturday for a nine-day stay. As they celebrate the 50th anniversary of the relationship between the two cities, the visitors from Shimada will also be recovering from of the biggest tragedies in their country’s history.

The members of Richmond-Shimada Friendship Commission, which has conducted exchanges of groups and citizens between the two cities for a half-century, have followed the news with anxiety as stories about the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent 23-foot tsunami in northeast Japan have unfolded over the past week. Three boys, three girls and one adult teacher from Shimada were expected to visit.

“Just after we found out about the earthquake, the chair of the commission, Dan Delcollo, sent an email to Shimada asking if everything is all right there,” said Trina Jackson, the staffer for the Sister City program who is the liaison to the Richmond City Council.

Delcollo had two urgent concerns.

“We wanted to know if they are safe and if they are still planning to send the ambassadors next Saturday, according to the plan,” he said.

The response didn’t come right away. But when the message finally arrived on Sunday, it was positive: Shimada was safe and the group was still willing to come. Everyone on the commission breathed the sigh of relief.

“Apart from some problems with electricity and communication that have been quickly overcome, the earthquake hasn’t caused any serious damage there,” Delcollo said. “Shimada was 300 miles from the epicenter and the tsunami which followed.”

On Tuesday, the Shizuoka Prefecture of central Japan, where Shimada is located, was hit with another 6.2 earthquake.  Emails were sent again, and again, the answer brought relief—the epicenter was too far north to affect the city.

The members of Richmond-Shimada Friendship Commission are now getting ready to host the young guests from Japan. Delcollo is aware of the fact that the currently unfolding disaster will occupy the minds of the visitors.

“The earthquake will probably have a psychological effect on them, even though Shimada was not directly affected,” he said. “I remember what we went through here in California in 1989. The fear persisted for a long time after the Loma Prieta earthquake.”

Delcollo stressed that if needed, the Japanese guests can count on psychological help and assistance.

“We will be sensitive if they have any problems,” he said. “We also told the host families to be prepared if our guests get emotional about the earthquake.”

Other than that, no changes were made in the visit’s schedule. Among other attractions, the guests from Japan will visit local schools, restaurants, City Hall and the Rosie the Riveter Memorial Park.

“It is a working trip, and fun,” Delcollo said. “We will be glad to have them on hand on Saturday”.

The nine days visit is the part of Richmond-Shimada Friendship Commission’s Ambassador Program. Every year, student and teacher ambassadors from Richmond and Japan visit each other’s cities to live with host families, attend language and cultural classes, visit schools, speak to community groups and participate in local events.

The relationship between Richmond and Shimada was established 50 years ago. On October 16, 1961 the Richmond City Council approved the affiliation.

The two countries have a history of helping each other after natural disasters. After the Loma Prieta earthquake, the Japanese citizens helped with fundraising efforts. In the aftermath of the current crisis, money is being collected by Cultural and Community Center of Northern California.

“We won’t leave them without help, as they didn’t leave us in 1989,” Delcollo said.

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