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Sister city exchange builds brotherly love

Rui Yamamoto, Derek Scott, Mizuka Kawamoto, city council president Will Maupin, Rachel Woodward, Katie Apsens and Saya Komatsu gathered at the farewell party to send the Japanese students home to Kure, Japan. - Photo by James Mange
Rui Yamamoto, Derek Scott, Mizuka Kawamoto, city council president Will Maupin, Rachel Woodward, Katie Apsens and Saya Komatsu gathered at the farewell party to send the Japanese students home to Kure, Japan.
— image credit: Photo by James Mange

For nearly 40 years it’s been an ultimate way to spend a summer vacation. In the opinion of six teenagers from the Central Kitsap area and Kure, Japan, it still is. The “it” is the exchange program between Bremerton and its sister city, made possible by the Bremerton Central Lions Club and its counterpart, the Kure Soroptimist Club.

This year’s participants gave the month-long program rave reviews. Derek Scott and Katie Apsens of Central Kitsap High School, and Rachel Woodward of Olympic High had the time of their lives in Japan. Among the many great memories, Woodward highlighted the opportunity to engage in the traditional Japanese dancing, yosakoi. Scott raved about the trip to Momiji-dani Park on Miyajima Island. The entire island is a World Heritage Site, and the Mt. Misen cable car and the Itsukushima-jinja shrine are prime attractions. Apsens selected shopping and a dip in a natural hot springs as her favorite activities.

As for the Japanese students, Saya Komatsu loved kayaking to Blake Island, and they all got excited about watching Ichiro and Kenji Johjima star for the Seattle Mariners.

The exchange program is open to 10th to 12th grade students from Bremerton, Central Kitsap, Olympic and Klahowya. Students are selected by a committee from the applicants, and 132 students have been part of the experience since its inception in 1969. Sister city programs were initiated by Pres. Eisenhower as part of a “Program for people-to-people partnership,” to create mutual understanding and goodwill.

“They told us the Japanese people would be generous,” Woodward said, “but nothing prepared us for how overwhelming it would be.”

“Until you initiate contact,” Scott added, “the people just keep their eyes down. But once you start talking to them, they’re friendly, polite and chatty.”

In many ways Kure is very similar to Bremerton. Located in the southwest area of Honshu, the largest of the Japanese islands, Kure boasts a natural harbor surrounded by mountains and mountainous islands. It was selected as a major naval base in 1886, and the city’s shipyards and foundries produced the Yamato, the lead ship of the Yamato class battleships. With its sister ship, the Musashi, the Yamato was the heaviest and most powerful battleship ever constructed. At 72,802 tons fully loaded, the Yamato carried nine 460MM guns. The ship held special significance for Japan as a symbol of its naval power, and its sinking by U.S. aircraft on April 7, 1945 is sometimes considered symbolic of Japan’s defeat itself.

Now, the sister city relationship is symbolic of how things should be. With the Lions Club involved, this relationship will stay the course for many more years to come.

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