Tom Butt
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  Dispatch from Japan -Part 1, Shimada
October 8, 2022

The purpose of a Sister City relationship is to exchange information, arts, culture, resources and assistance between the two cities.

The City of Richmond has established three Sister City relationships: Shimada, Japan in 1961; Zhoushan, China in 1993; and Regla, Cuba in 1999. The City of Richmond is also a member of the US Cuba Sister City Association and Sister Cities International. These support associations assist our sister city projects and exchanges with continuing resources, information and tools to maintain and enhance the programs.

“Two deeply held convictions unite us in common purpose. First, is our belief in effective, responsive, local government as a principal bulwark of freedom; second, is our faith in the great promise of Sister City affiliations in helping build the solid structure of world peace.” -President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Shirley and I have visited our sister cities in Cuba and China, but this is our first visit to Shimada, making it a sister city trifecta. It is the first time I have been back to Japan since 1970. Shimada is a city located in Shizuoka Prefecture of central Japan. It distributes lumber products, manufactures machinery and produces food products. Tea and Mandarin oranges are cultivated on the plateau near the city. During the Edo Period (1600-1868), Shimada was a crossing point for the Oi River and was a prosperous post-station town on the Tokaido highway. Because of its importance in cross-Japan travel, Shimada has been depicted in woodblock prints by Utagawa Hiroshige and in poetry by Matsuo Basho, a 17th century poet who helped perfect the art of haiku. Visit the Shimada Friendship Ambassador webpage at to learn about past and upcoming activities.

Joining our delegation for this trip are City Council member Demnlus Johnson, City Council staff Liaison Trina Jackson-Lincoln, and Shimada Friendship Commission members and guest Evan Sirchuk (chair), Jamie Brown, Valerie Snider, Steve Pinto, Steven Kirby, Charlie Sirchuk, and Evie Kyritsis.

After an 11-hour flight, we arrived at the Tokyo Narita International Airport and after spending the night in an airport hotel, were picked up by a bus sent from Shimada with two young ladies as hostesses. It was about a six-hour drive to Shimada, including rest and lunch stops.

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Figure 1 - Arrival at Narita Airport

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Figure 2 - View from airport hotel

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Figure 3 - Ready to hit the road

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Figure 4 - Rest stop

Figure 5 - Shirley and Trina

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Figure 6 - Deciding what to order for lunch

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Figure 7 - I ordered a seafood dish

COVID-19 is taken very seriously here, Masks are required at all times except for eating. There are temperature checks at Building entries, and disinfectant is everywhere. At dining tables, there are acrylic screen between diners. At a buffet, you have to put on plastic gloves before serving yourself. They ask you not to talk while eating, but no one seems to obey.

Figure 8 - "Thank you for eating silently."

The official business began on Friday evening at a local hotel with a formal introduction of delegates from both cities and short speeches. Mayor Kinuyo Someya and I at across rom each other separated by an acrylic screen. After photo ops, we went upstairs to a banquet room with about a hundred guests, including faculty and students from the Naran School, an educational exchange program with Mongolia. After another round of speeches, I exchanged official gifts with Mayor Someya and unofficial gifts, including an Arkansas Rattlesnake shirt, which she promptly donned. I gave out City of Richmond lapel pins and stickers to just about everyone in the room.

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Figure 9 - Dinner on Friday night

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Figure 10 - Banquet menu

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Figure 11 - With Mayor Someya

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Figure 12 - The mayor and I exchange shirts

On Saturday, both Richmonders and Mongolians boarded a bus for a day of sightseeing. We started at the Horai bridge across the Oi River, recognized as the longest wood pedestrian bridge on the world at 897 meters. We could see Mt. Fuji from the bridge. After crossing and returning, we stopped at the City Museum and strolled through old town Shimada.

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Figure 13 - Horai Bridge

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Figure 14 - Mt. Fuji in the distance

Figure 15 - City Museum

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Figure 16 - Old own Shimada

Then we headed up the Oi River Valley to a small Village called Fukuyo along an excursion rail line that runs up the valley. Fukuyo has a relationship with Brienz Switzerland, but since the Swiss had not come for several years due to COVID, they were glad to put on a show for us.

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Figure 17 - Oi River valley

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Figure 18 – Children’s Chorus at Fuyoto Station

Figure 19 - Steam engine at the turntable

Before returning to the hotel in Shimada, we stopped at the turntable where the Oi Valley railroad begins to see an antique steam engine that is sometimes used on the route.

As the evening arrived, the streets of Shimada were alive with revelers anticipating Sunday’s Obi parade. Once every three years in October, people gather in the streets of Shimada to watch a colorful procession of people dressed as ancient lords carrying elaborate obi, traditional women's belts that are worn with kimono, in order to pray for the safe delivery of children. This festival, which has been held 108 times since 1696, is a lively event full of performers wearing festival robes who dance while pulling large, decorated floats through the streets. It's described as one of the three most unusual festivals in Japan due to the sabre dance.

The main event, however, is the lords' procession, which covers roughly 2km and lasts about 2 hours. Men and women dressed in traditional garb make their way through the town toward Oi Shrine to offer prayers for safe childbirth on behalf of women. The men carrying the obi are the most well-known part of the procession. These men carry large wooden swords strapped to their backs, from which hang the intricate obi which gave the festival its name. Along with the obi, the men wear black tops and expensive silk aprons which cover their front but leave little of the back to the imagination.

Figure 20 - These floats are mounted on rolling logs. They are pulled by ropes and steered by dozens men using long sticks of wood as pry bars.

We had dinner as a group at an Italian restaurant called Grappa.

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Figure 21 - Dinner at Grappa