A full Crescent City Cultural Center erupted in applause Monday night at Mayor Blake Inscore’s enthusiastic declaration “You all will leave here with something special. You now have a sister city, Rikuzentakata, Japan!”
The declaration came after an official signing of the sister city agreement by Inscore, Del Norte County Supervisor Chair Chris Howard, Rikuzentakata Mayor Futoshi Toba and Rikuzentakata City Council Chair Akihiko Ito.
The two main rooms of the cultural center were joined by a common wall which displayed photos of Del Norte High School’s Japan Club with Kamome, a boat that was swept away from Rikuzentakata in the 2011 tsunami and carried across the Pacific Ocean to Crescent City.
In the lobby were photos, information and newspaper pages displaying the damage done to Crescent City in 1964 and 2011. In the main room were large prints of different areas of Rikuzentakata that showed in amazing contrast, what the city looked like before and after the tsunami.
The ceremony began with a video from Rikuzentakata that described the devastation to its city and natural surroundings.
“March 11, at 2:46 p.m., Rikuzentakata was hit by an earthquake,” the subtitled video read, noting that within minutes, the ocean overcame the sea wall, inundating the city and wiping out the city’s hospital and designated evacuation centers. “Rescue workers devoted themselves to searching for victims day and night. 1,760 people lost their lives or were declared missing.”
In 2015, the city constructed 1.5 miles of conveyor belts that transferred soil from a nearby hillside to the low areas, where it was used to raise the city it to a safer height. New pine trees were planted to replace the Takata Matsubara, a nationally designated place of beauty that was wiped out by the tsunami, leaving only one tree in the forested area.
By 2017, the land elevation project was nearly done and a shopping center, plaza and recreation center were built and a tsunami recovery and memorial park is scheduled to open there in 2020.
Crescent City Mayor Pro Tem Heidi Kime addressed the crowd first in Japanese, then in English to explain that she lived in, and loved Japan.
“This is going to be an amazing opportunity for our community,” she said, noting that the sister city relationship will be handed down to the children of the communities.
After a round of introductions of city and county dignitaries and Japanese dignitaries.
Samantha Fuller, president of the Japan Club at Del Norte High School, spoke of how the relationship and her own trip to Rikuzentakata in 2016 changed her life and her outlooks on life.
“The citizens of Rikuzentakata showed me the meaning of optimism, which I’ve been able to apply to my own life.” she said. “Despite these people losing an entire community, they were overall more thankful for what they have, opposed to being angry for what they don’t have.”
Fuller spoke of the boat that brought the two cities together, and pledged to carry on the strong relationships she and other students now have with their Japanese peers.
DNHS student Mackenzie Webb also spoke of Kamome, now a symbol of hope and friendship. She spoke of the friends she made in Rikuzentakata, as well as a new best friend, a foreign exchange student currently living in Crescent City.
“Kamome, during her time at sea, was carrying a precious cargo,” she said. “It was friendship. Without the boat arriving on our shores, we would not all be here tonight. I wouldn’t have even known my friends existed on the other side of the world.”
She said the entire world would be a better place for having friendships such as those.
Tomochika Uyama, Consul General of Japan, thanked those who helped make the agreement and trip to Crescent City and the establishment of the sister city agreement possible.
He noted that the tsunami took the lives of many, including an American English teacher living in Japan at the time, the wife of Mayor Toba. He said the city has made large strides since the tsunami and the effort highlights that the city is doing more than rebuilding its past.
Building the sister city relation with the United States is at the core of that endeavor,” he said. “This is coming from a long-standing friendship with the United States.” He said the sister school relationship has also impacted people on both sides of the ocean and while there are other Japan/U.S. sister City relationships, this was the first established after the tsunami.
Where it began
“It is important to everyone to take a moment and recognize this great friendship,” he said.
Inscore introduced Amya Miller, who, along with Professor Lori Dengler, helped Americans in Crescent City understand the gravity of the boat coming ashore here.
“I feel like I went into labor five years ago,” she said, to laughter in the room, “and today I am giving birth.” She said the effort has been worth it, as the community continues to shine and turn a horrible disaster into something with great beauty and meaning. She said the best way to truly understand each other, locals need to visit Rikuzentakata, which she said eerily mirrors Crescent City in many ways.
“We are no longer in a vacuum, we are global,” she said. “Tonight is this historic event where I have given birth. I can finally let go and you have all been worth five years of pain and patience-bringing moments of difficulty. I appreciate the joy you have given me. I appreciate what is here as a result.”
Following a traditional dance performed by a member of the Rikuzentakata Delegation, proclamations were read, and signed, officially making Rikuzentakata and Crescent City sister cities.
“This entire process has been nothing short of amazing and there has been more humbling than anything I’ve ever been a part of, to realize there is something so much bigger than any one of us, and that you are asked to be a part of, is amazing.”
The night ended in a toast of sake between the city’s ambassadors and the words, “to the future!”
The event was live streamed and will be available soon on the City and County Youtube pages.