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Concord Mayor's Message

Oct 30, 2014 08:50PM ● Published by Jennifer Neys

The City of Concord recently concluded an inspirational four days of hosting a Sister City delegation of 50 visitors from Kitakami, Japan, commemorating a bond of friendship established 40 years ago, when the hearts of two mayors enjoined the spirits of two cities. That bond was reinforced and cemented when Mayor Toshihiko Takahashi and I signed a mutual proclamation reaffirming out commitment to this affiliation, fostering mutual friendship, goodwill, and international understanding. By the way, throughout this entire visit, I was enormously grateful to our fantastic interpreter, Naoko Inoguchi.

I met the delegation when they first arrived, and from that moment, there was effective communication despite the language barrier: friendly gazes, laughter, and happy talk. What a wonderful feeling of joy, peace, goodness, faith, and understanding. I felt so privileged to be the spokesperson for our city and to initiate a full schedule of activities that would leave some of our guests near exhaustion by the time they were ready to go back to San Francisco for their return flight home.

 There is more to be said about the significance of the Sister City program, but for those not able to be a part of this celebration, let me give a few of the highlights. The visits take place every five years, with the two cities alternating in sending a city delegation. This is organized under the auspices of the Concord Ambassadors, a volunteer, non-profit group headed by former Concord Mayor Mike Pastrick, ably assisted by a team of dedicated Concord citizens, with special yeoman assistance from our retiring and beloved City Clerk, Mary Rae Lehman.  

Upon arrival at Concord City Hall, the delegates were royally entertained by a student choir from the Calvary Christian School who sang a welcome song in Japanese, followed by a stirring rendition of “I’m an American Kid.” The infectious enthusiasm of the children was shared by the audience and signaled that the opening event was a huge success. This was followed by a buffet luncheon hosted by the City of Concord. The delegation visited the John Muir National Historic Site and found many photo-ops next to the bronze statute of our famous environmentalist, John Muir.

One of the highlights of the schedule was a visit to the Brendan Theater, where the delegation was able to view, for the first time, a sculpture crafted from 10,000 handmade origami paper cranes that Concord residents folded as a gesture of humanitarian support for the victims of the tsunami which struck Japan in March, 2011. I cannot think of a more heartwarming visible symbol of compassion and support, which took thousands of hours to complete and was a tangible expression of shared humanity. It is interesting to note that, last spring, Kitakami students and some residents were able to view the 30-pound sculpture via Skype.

I also want to thank and commend Walter Eichinger, general manager of the Brendan Theater, who not only opened his theater to the artwork unveiling, but also let us hold five different events in support of the Sister City program and provided food for all of them. He is an example of the best among our stakeholders, and I want to take this opportunity to extend my personal heartfelt appreciation for all of his efforts.

Another interesting sidelight is that the delegation was joined by Ron Leone Jr., son of our vice mayor, Ron Leone. Ron Jr. is the current English language teacher in Kitakami and travelled with the delegation for this special celebration. Ron Jr. was able to use some of his Japanese language skills, much to the delight of his parents, Vice Mayor Leone and his lovely wife, Maria.

During the gift exchange, Mayor Takahashi presented the city with an ornate tea set contained in an artistically appointed lacquered box. It is a gift of extraordinary beauty. I took note of the fact that Japan has a proud tradition of taiko drumming, and, like our Native Americans who continue this proud tradition of Native American music and drumming, we recognized the similarities and gave Mayor Takahashi a set of gift drums made by the Og-Lala Lakota Sioux nation. Mr. Richard Flittie, a former Concord resident was on hand to assist in making the special presentation.

A special honored guest was Consul General of Japan Masato Watanabe, who brought us greetings from Japan and emphasized the importance of these hands-across-the-ocean relationships.

It was a time of enlightenment and enrichment for all of us. As has been stated, “People are the same all over the world,” and nothing reinforces this more than Sister City programs.

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