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We started our trip about 1 hour southeast of Osaka, in Hashimoto City, a semi-rural area of 70,000 inhabitants. Hashimoto City is the sister city of Rohnert Park. I serve on the Rohnert Park Sister City Committee, so this trip was an opportunity to visit with our friends, express goodwill towards each other, rekindle old relationships and create new friendships. While there, we visited the new city hospital and city hall, had a meeting with the Mayor and City Management of Hashimoto, toured a sake factory, went to a Japanese supermarket (home of the $50 watermelon!), participated in many tea ceremonies, and visited Koyasan, a collection of culturally significant temples and shrines which has been designated by the UN as a World Heritage site. During this time, we were hosted in a traditional Japanese home, with tatami mats and sliding screens and futon and everything! We made new friends, told stories, shared pictures, ate excellent food and drank lots of sake, and laughed almost constantly.
After 4 days in Hashimoto, we traveled to Kyoto by train. While in Kyoto, we got to attend a Geisha dance performance, and tour many temples and shrines there. We were invited to attend dinner with college friends of one of the committee members (Tad Kunishi, who is a native of Tokyo), and had some of the most exotic and best dishes Iíve ever had the pleasure of eating. We also got to spend some quiet time, just sitting on the banks of the Kamo River watching herons and fishermen, and enjoying the sakura (cherry blossoms) in full bloom.
We finally traveled on to Tokyo by the Shinkansen (bullet train) which was an awesome experience. So quick and so smooth! Tokyo is an amazing city; it is hard to believe how large and dense it is. The pictures do not give an appropriate sense of scale, but we did our best to try and capture the feeling of the city. The district where we were staying was very young and vibrant, with lots of karaoke bars, arcades, noodle houses and neon. We did an all-day tour of Tokyo, seeing the major sites and shopping. We also ate probably the best sushi I have ever had, with fish fresh from the Tokyo fish market. By the end of our meal, we had made a 'very large pagoda.'
Japan was the most amazing experience, and I cannot wait to see our friends again, whether back in Japan, or here in America. If you have an opportunity to get involved with your sister city program, I would urge you to do so, because it promotes such meaningful experiences like the one I just had the good fortune to live through, and it makes our world seem a little smaller. The mission of Sister Cities International is 'to promote peace through mutual respect, understanding, & cooperation - one individual, one community at a time.' I feel very lucky to have done my part to help make this mission a reality between Hashimoto City and Rohnert Park.
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