It’s been 30 years since Tracy and Memuro, Japan, were linked in a sister city relationship. And that link remains strong.
A delegation from the Japanese town on the northern island of Hokkaido was in Tracy earlier this week to take the first step in marking those 30 years.
Planting an ornamental pear tree in Ken Yasui Park was the formal part of the visit, recognizing the key role played by Ken in establishing the sister city program in Tracy in 1989. But getting acquainted at two dinners and traveling together during tours of Tracy helped build personal relationships between sister city representatives.
Those friendships forged this week in Tracy will be renewed a year from now when a Tracy delegation will travel to Memuro to take part in the Japanese city’s celebration of the 30th anniversary.
At Tuesday’s tree-planting, I talked to Cyndi Sanford, a long-active Sister City Association board member, and she said that decisions about who will go to Memuro and when are still to be made.
“We want to wait until after the 2020 Summer Olympics are held in Japan to avoid the crowds,” she said. “The people in Memuro wanted to wait a year to celebrate the sister city 30th anniversary so they could have a proper celebration.”
Next year’s visit by a full-fledged Tracy delegation won’t be the first. The initial trip followed on the heels of the signing of the sister city agreement during the 1989 Tracy Bean Festival.
But that trip almost didn’t happen. Dick Hastie, while serving as mayor, was a strong advocate for establishing the sister city program, working with Ken Yasui and others to make it happen.
It was through the contacts Ken had made in shipping beans to Japan that Memuro, because of its similar size and farming economy, was selected to be Tracy’s sister city.
Dick would have loved to have signed the agreement at the bean festival in August 1989, but alas, he had lost the election for a second two-year term as mayor, and Lester “Scotty” Scott took his place in signing the documents.
If Dick was an avid supporter of the sister city program, Scotty, to say the very least, was less enthusiastic.
When the idea of sending a delegation to Memuro a month after the agreement was signed — so Tracy could take part in Memuro’s 90th anniversary — was first being considered, the new mayor said he would prefer fishing in Alaska over traveling to Japan.
Hastie, never one to back down, said he was going nevertheless, and Clyde Bland, mayor pro tem, stepped forward to head the Tracy group. City Attorney Bill Coats and Ken Yasui filled out the official delegation.
As the trip was discussed by the City Council, it was decided that the city wouldn’t finance the trip. The delegates put up a part of the $2,500 each needed for travel and hotel expenses. They received some donations for the balance. Another $5,000 was raised through business contributions to pay for gifts to be given to the Memuro hosts and for other expenses.
Once in Memuro, the Tracyites were treated royally, taking part in a number of official activities and dinners hosted by Memuro’s mayor, Michio Suzuki, who had been in Tracy a month earlier.
The visit by the Tracyites to Memuro cemented the sister city relationship. Next year, another Tracy group will again demonstrate Tracy’s commitment.
Over the years, the annual exchange of junior-high-age students and the sending of Tracy college-age students to Memuro to be assistant teachers of English have been the major ongoing sister city connections.
Paying for the 1989 trip to Memuro through private funds set the pattern of financing the TracySisterCity program through non-government funding.
Carol Minner, current Sister City Association of Tracy president, reports that $3,000 must be raised annually through fundraisers to pay for insurance required for the student exchange program, and other expenses. Participating students and their parents head fundraising efforts that guarantee travel costs for all students are covered.
A major fundraiser is an annual dinner sponsored by the Tracy Elks Lodge.
And while I’m relating some of the history of the Tracy Sister City program, I also have to report I have some firsthand experience.
At first, we hosted several chaperones from Memuro, and then, in 2003, Joan and I were traveling in Japan while Tracy students were in Memuro. We spent two days in Memuro, staying at the Arashiyama Hotel, a parklike resort operated by the city, and followed the students to a glass factory, the town library and a middle school. And we joined the students and chaperones (including Cyndi Sanford) for dinner with the mayor and then the “sayonara” party.
We were more than happy to share the sister city experience with the students from Tracy. They have memories that last a lifetime, and so do we.