Sister-City Ties Spur Community Action

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FORT BRAGG — The small coastal community of Fort Bragg in Mendocino County has been rocked by more than the recent tsunami. The destruction of its beloved sister city of Otsuchi in northeastern Japan has the town reeling in shock.

As of this writing, 12,000 of the 15,000 residents of Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, are still missing. Otsuchi Mayor Koki Kato and Katsutaro Yamazaki, president, coordinator and interpreter for the exchange program, are among them.

Members of the Fort Bragg Otsuchi Cultural Exchange Association (FBOCEA) have mobilized to create an Otsuchi Relief Fund. The entire community is rallying to raise funds to help the families in Otsuchi who have lost their homes, businesses and loved ones.

Donations may be sent to the Otsuchi Relief Fund through any Mendo Lake Credit Union branch or mailed to the exchange program, P.O. Box 1017, Fort Bragg, CA 95437.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the sister-city relationship. The story of the program’s creation is compelling.

When Ken Sasaki was a boy in Otsuchi, his father, a fisherman, was lost at sea. Sasaki would sit on the bluffs overlooking the ocean, ever in search of any sign of his father. When he became older, he wondered what was on the other side of the ocean, who lived over there and what they were like. He drew a line across the Pacific and found Fort Bragg on the exact same latitude.

In 2001, he made contact and invited Mayor Lindy Peters to come visit Otsuchi. The following year, the first exchange students from Fort Bragg went to Otsuchi. Subsequent exchanges took place in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010. In 2005. a sister-city proclamation was solidified by Mayor Dave Turner and Mayor Mitsuo Yamazaki. The two cities share many demographic and geographic similarities.

Turner said, “The tsunami disaster in Otsuchi is beyond comprehension — 10,000 people missing in Otsuchi Town. I am unable to process the reality of the loss. I can see the faces of all our dear friends in Otsuchi. We have had five students stay in our home. I don’t know if they have survived. This is very personal for our town and families.”

Sharon Davis, FBOCEA coordinator, says, “When you welcome someone from another culture into your home and treat them like family and they in turn take you into their home, it creates a deep and special bond. We have so much in common with the people of Otsuchi, the language barrier is not an issue.”

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More information can be found at the FBOCEA Facebook page: www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=361664278967

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