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Japanese youth ambassadors tour Richmond

on March 28, 2012

This week Richmond was visited by a group of youth ambassadors from Shimada, Japan.

The Richmond-Shimada Friendship Commission (RSFC), which celebrates its fiftieth birthday later this year, hosts a group of about six Japanese students and a teacher twice a year. Every summer, a group from Richmond travels to Shimada to live there for a month.

Since their arrival on March 20, the Japanese students have had a very busy week. In addition to sightseeing in San Francisco, they visited seven schools in the Richmond area, two museums, and the Civic Center, to name just a few things that were on the agenda. “It has been a short trip, but we’re trying to get as much in as possible. It has definitely been a very busy program,” said Ernest Holland, the RSFC commissioner who has been chaperoning the students for most of their stay.

For 17-year-old Kyosuke Ishikawa, the trip to Richmond has been a very rewarding nine days. Although this is his first visit to the United States, and he still struggles with the language, he is convinced that he will be back soon. What did he like most? “Visiting the schools,” he said without hesitation. “And San Francisco. Especially the Japanese town and the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Ishikawa and his fellow Youth Ambassadors spend their last afternoon bowling.

The 50-year-long friendship between the cities of Richmond and Shimada developed more or less by chance. “I believe the two mayors met on a plane,” said Holland. “Mori, the mayor of Shimada, took an interest in the Civic Centre. Richmond was innovative and known for a lot of good things, especially at the time.”

The relation between the sister cities is rooted in the idea that it is nations that go to war, not cities. “It is about friendship and peace,” said Holland. “We don’t go make war on each other if we know each other.”

This friendship is reflected in the way the project is funded. In Japan there is a Richmond Shimada Friendship Association to mirror the RSFC. They interview and select the students and teacher who will come over. Once in the states, many people and organizations help to take care of the visitors.

“The host families do a lot,” said Holland. “They basically volunteer their homes, provide meals and transportation, and take the students sightseeing.” But there are many others who contribute. The city of Richmond offered a city van to help with transportation, taking some weight of the host families. Teachers at the schools the group visited personally paid for their lunches. The youth ambassadors were invited to come and play at the Albany Bowl on their last day.

In fact, the offers can sometimes conflict with each other. During the city council meeting at which the Youth Ambassadors were introduced Corky Boozé, the councilmember invited them for a hotdog at Casper’s. Having just had a lunch elsewhere, the students had to be content with some pictures.

The program certainly creates and fosters long-term friendships. Jennifer Dao went to Japan in 2007 and now hosts the new visitors. “There is great value in knowing people in both Richmond and Shimada,” she said. “I’m still in contact with many of the friends I made there.”

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