Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

At Crescent City’s official signing ceremony of the Sister City Agreement with Rikuzentakata, Iwate, Japan, officials spoke of the history that led to the relationship, similarities between the cities. The question at this point will be how to sustain the now-signed bond of friendship between the two cities.

“This entire process has been nothing short of amazing,” Crescent City Mayor Blake Inscore said during the ceremony Monday.

Inscore said that as an 18-year-old in Tokyo, he was shown incredible kindness by men who took him in and cared for him.

“I’ve been looking for an opportunity, my whole life, to say thank you, and regardless of what you believe about God, I believe God gave me that opportunity and he brought that relationship together so that we could build something for the future, he said. “I want to show you just how marvelous this story is. It’s a story that has written itself.”

Inscore said on his first trip to Rikuzentakata, he discovered Sake One, a sake brewery which imports sake to the U.S., but that is not available in Japan. Inscore brought some cans of the sake to the signing ceremony and gave one to each of the delegates.

“As a part of history, it is my pleasure to share this with Mayor [Futoshi] Toba, Chairman [Akihiko] Ito, Vice council [Tomochika] Uyama, and Chairman Howard,” he proclaimed, as they opened the cans. “To the future! Kanpai!”

Ito, through a translator, noted how the relationship began with the boat that came ashore here. He said while he was here last October, he received a written proclamation from Inscore and Del Norte County Board of Supervisors Chair Chris Howard, expressing their devotion to keeping the relationship going.

In return, Ito presented Howard and Inscore with two proclamations of similar devotion to the relationship, written on wooden plaques.

“Our two communities share many qualities,” Ito said, “such as similar natural environments, including the ocean, mountains and rivers, and a history of experience with tsunamis.” He said the city councils and citizens of each city have strengthened the bond between them, and proclaimed Rikuzentakata’s devotion to sustaining the bond between them.

Howard said the original proclamation, signed last year by Crescent City Council, was the vision for what a relationship across the Pacific Ocean might look like.

He said the vision of Amiya Miller and the students of Del Norte High School and Takata High School is being carried on with the adults of each city.

“We, too, now, like our children before us, extend our hand across the ocean, to build that bond of friendship,” he said. Howard said while the city and county hope to open communication between the cities about disaster planning and rebuilding, it’s also hoped that the legacy of friendship would live on.

“We now, as adults, set a course for our two communities to build that bond of friendship, now and into the future, so our children may return and tell the stories to their children about how important this relationship will be.”

Howard brought the crowd to applause by exclaiming “GANBARU!” (Victory!), which he said were told to him by Ito and Toba the day before.

Inscore, Howard, Ito and Toba came together at the table to sign the agreement to be sister cities, “now and forever.”

After the signing, Toba noted that five years had passed since the first communications between the cities, and said he was very happy to be at the signing ceremony.

Speaking through a translator, Toba became solemn in telling the crowd how he’d lost his wife in the tsunami, leaving him feeling miserable and hopeless.

“I was elected mayor 25 days before that tsunami happened,” he said. “I actually had no time to regret being elected as mayor.”

He recalled a speech made by Inscore which suggested the meeting of the cities was not coincidental, but predetermined. He said that while visiting Crescent City and seeing the scenery and views made him agree.

“This is not the end of it,” he said of the signing. “It is a new start. We have a hope that this sister city relationship will create new programs, and new collaboration together for the future.”

That it took five years to establish the relationship, Toba smiled and said, “I am sorry.”

When in Crescent City

The morning after the ceremony, the visiting delegation of 20 people got a non-stop, whirlwind tour of the Crescent City area by Inscore and others.

They toured the harbor and its seafood processing areas and were given a tour and presentation on Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen’s fishing boat, Pollux. They were shown the county’s Emergency Operations Center at the Washington Boulevard Fire Station, as it would be set up in an emergency. Inscore said a highlight for some was being dressed out on full firefighting gear at the station. They also toured Ocean World, Trees of Mystery and were given a history of Native American culture at the Requa Inn in Klamath. They visited Alexandre Dairy and its egg ranch, as well as lily bulb farms in Smith River. A highlight of the trip was Enderts Beach Overlook, from which the St. George Reef Lighthouse was actually more visible than the Battery Point Lighthouse.

They ended the visit with a dinner at Seaquake Brewery Tuesday night. The group was scheduled to tour Rumiano Cheese but ran short on time.

“We had to roust them out of bed at 4:30 this morning to have them at the airport by 6 a.m.,” Mayor Inscore said.

Friendship, connections

Inscore spoke of the previous evening at dinner, when, for the first time, he and Toba were able to talk more casually, not about business or city affairs, but just about life.

“Up until that point, we both just wanted to see it happen and we respected each other,” Inscore said, “but last night, in the middle of it all and in all the noise, we became friends.”

He said others later noted seeing their interactions and how well they appeared to be communicating as friends.

“It makes it all worthwhile,” he said.

Howard spoke of a noteworthy occurrence at Port-O-Pints with several members of the Japanese delegation. While in the music room, Toba picked up a guitar and began playing a traditional Japanese song, he said.

“I didn’t know what he was singing so I just watched,” he said.

Inscore, also a musician, picked up another guitar and began to play “Take me home, country roads.”

“All of a sudden, the Japanese visitors started singing along with him. One of the kids reached into his pocket and pulled out the words...” Howard said. “It was one of those weird things that were just beyond me and I don’t know if we’ll ever see again.”

Howard said it turned out that members of the delegation, having never met Inscore, had been practicing that very song on the way over.”

The boat, the sake factory and the fact that Rumiano Cheese opened its first factory in Japan in 1976 were among the odd connections that kept coming up, he said

Keeping it alive

Inscore said the two cities have a lot in common and can share a lot of information. He noted how Rikuzentakata can offer information on everything from disaster preparedness to indoor agriculture, since it uses large greenhouses to grow food organically, using little water or resources.

He said Crescent City can learn a lot from the relationship, simply by learning how to look past its borders.

“In remote areas like ours, we tend to become inwardly focused, out of isolation,” Inscore said. “Rikuzentakata faces the same challenges.”

Inscore noted a railroad, which used to run 30 minutes from their city, was not repaired by the government after the 2011 quake, meaning residents had to travel 90 minutes to the next primary hub.

“This helps us look beyond our borders, because if we can look across the ocean, we can look across our own borders and see that there’s something so much bigger than all of us,” Inscore said, noting that the same philosophy could apply even at local government.

As for the exchanges of students and delegates between cities, the bottom line seems to be financial.

“How do we assure people that this is more than a ‘feel good’ story? The first thing we have to do is find a funding source,” Inscore said. “The city and county and school district need to budget for this. I don’t know if we can budget for this, but it’s a start and it shows commitment.”

Inscore said city and county leaders have spoken with Consulate General John Roos, who is also committed to helping it move forward, establish funding partners and make it last indefinitely.

He said the option of having a nonprofit group head up the exchange program is not out of the question.

Howard said the consulate general said he had not seen a sister city relationship as special as that between Crescent City and Rikuzentakata.

He said the discussion touched on establishing host family exchanges, as well as agricultural exchanges of everything from trees to lily bulbs.

Howard said one delegate, who had also lost a spouse in the tsunami, felt a special connection to the Easter Lily, since flowers were the only thing that brought a smile to his own life at the time. Discussions blossomed from there about possibly growing Easter Lilies near Rikuzentakata.

“This story just keeps getting more and more interesting,” Howard said.