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[whitespace] Sister cities celebrate 15-year relationship

Saratoga--The annual Saratoga Community Parade took on extra meaning this Sunday, as it doubled as the climax to a celebration of the 15-year relationship between Saratoga and its sister city of Muko, Japan.

What began in 1983 has evolved greatly over the years, said Joan Gomersall, vice president of Saratoga's sister city organization. The relationship is much more than ceremonial, and involves even more than occasional letter writings. It's shaped friendships, as well.

"We absolutely take part [in each other's lives]," Gomersall said. "We hear from them when someone gets married, when someone dies. When someone has a baby we get congratulatory letters."

Gomersall has made three trips to Muko, a suburb of the large city of Kyoto, which is about 200 miles west of Tokyo and about midway between the Inland Sea and the Sea of Japan.

Muko is similar to Saratoga in many ways, Gomersall said. It's in the foothills near a major city and is similar in size and socioeconomic makeup. It's also full of small service businesses, much like Saratoga.

Kyoto was spared from WWII bombing, so its cultural and historical treasures have been preserved. Muko is also known for the beauty of its natural landscape, and once served as the Japanese imperial capital.

From Muko, Gomersall said, sister city members are treated to tours around Japan and through the region. The group is planning another trip for next year and will visit Thailand as well. Other trips have gone to Korea.

Saratoga's sister city group has more than 250 members, and most have been active in making the trip smooth for the 35-member Muko delegation.

"We build our friendships," she said. "It's a way to make peace in the world through getting to know each other and learning about each other's cultures. It's a great way to bring peace to the world."

The delegation that came to Saratoga over the weekend got a dose of Saratoga's culture, starting off with a visit to City Hall on Friday morning.

Muko's mayor, Masayuki Okazaki, shared pleasantries there with Saratoga's acting vice mayor, John Mehaffey, along with other city and community members, including Assemblyman Jim Cuneen and officials from the Japanese Consulate in San Francisco.

Before the death of Saratoga's Jim Shaw, the two cities' mayors were to serve as the parade's grand marshals on Sunday. Shaw's family, however, was scheduled to ride with Muko's mayor instead.

After the opening ceremony at City Hall on Friday morning, the two participated in a ceremonial cherry tree planting in the front yard of the Saratoga Senior Center. From there, the group took part in a tea ceremony and lunch at Hakone Gardens.

Hakone is especially significant to the visit, not only because it's one of America's premiere Japanese gardens, but because Muko resident and architect Kiyoshi Yasui helped spark the two cities' relationship. Yasui, a prominent Japanese architect, designed Hakone's Cultural Education Center, among other cultural centers in the United States and Japan.

After the Hakone ceremony, the delegates were scheduled to make home-visits for dinners with American families and sister city members.

On Saturday, the group took part in another American pastime, the barbecue, at City Hall. Finally, on Sunday they had a double dose of Americana with the parade and a "sayonara" dinner at Manhattan's.

Anyone interested in learning more about Saratoga's sister city group can call membership chairman Phil Meyerson at 650.493.4063. Annual membership dues are $25, and the group takes part in student exchanges as well.
Steve Enders

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Web extra to the October 7-13, 1999 issue of Metro.

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