MARQUETTE - Two cultures a world apart came together in Marquette for the 33rd year Friday night at Peter White Public Library during a reception to welcome the Higashiomi, Japan Sister City delegation to the area.
"Thank you very much for working hard for our visit and hosting us. Thank you," said Tamie Yamanaka, delegation leader during her address to Marquette residents and officials who attended the reception.
The Sister City program has seen over 3,000 individuals from both Higashiomi and Marquette cross the globe to experience their respective cultures in an ongoing learning experience for both cities.
Sister City delegates from Higashiomi, Japan, from left, Rumi Nakazawa, Ai Nakamura, Mika Shibata, Yoji Ito, Eiko Ikeuchi and Tamie Yamanaka stand with Marquette Mayor John Kivela with two paintings, each a gift from one city to the other. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
"I think, personally, it's been a building of lifelong learning opportunities about different cultures and a building of a lifetime of friendships," said Paulette Lindberg, associate director for trip planning for the program.
Since the 1979, on even years delegates from Higashiomi travel to Marquette and on odd-numbered years Marquette delegates return the trip, taking time to learn about a culture that is radically different from each delegate's own.
This year, six delegates made the trip, arriving in Marquette Wednesday. The delegates, who range in age from college students through older adults, stay with host families during their trip and learn about everything from Lake Superior to the Upper Peninsula's Native American heritage.
This week, the delegates are making visits to sites like the Marquette Regional History Museum, area restaurants and Northern Michigan University.
Accompanying the group on its experience are several locally-based translators to help smooth over any language issues.
For host family members, some of whom have traveled to Japan in the past, the trip is a chance to show their visitors what life is like in America.
"She wants to eat 'American food,'" said Devon Pickens who, along with her husband, Jeremy, is hosting delegate Mika Shibata -a college student in Japan. "It's hard to explain there's really no such thing as American food."
Besides introducing her to enchiladas, Pickens said Shibata was interested in experiencing Lake Superior.
"I think it's important because Japan is an island and very homogenous. This is a good way for people to be understood," Pickens said. "The U.P. is a place that can benefit from a variety of people, also."
Speakers at the reception included Marquette Mayor John Kivela and Michigan State Representative Steven Lindberg, both of whom welcomed the delegates.
"You are helping us continue a long tradition," Steven Lindberg said. "I wish you a warm welcome to Marquette and Michigan."
For the delegates and Marquette residents, the Sister City program is a chance to put a face to a far-off culture.
"When I think of America, I think of their faces," Yamanaka said, listing her hosts.
Dressed in traditional Japanese kimonos, the delegates also taught the American audience a song and traditional dance before getting the chance to meet the residents of Marquette.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is email@example.com.