As he prepared to leave on a trip last month to visit Lodi’s sister city of Kofu, Japan, Bill Hinkle was on a mission.
He wanted to deliver a smaller version of the “Celebrate the Harvest” statue that sits outside the Lodi Chamber of Commerce on South School Street to Kofu city officials, so the statue that represents Lodi’s grape-growing heritage could be displayed in its sister city’s new City Hall. A similar small version of Rowland H. Cheney’s statue sits in front of the administrative offices of Lodi’s own City Hall.
Hinkle, who heads Lodi’s Sister City Committee, organized the trip at the request of Lodi Mayor Alan Nakanishi, who received a personal invite from Kofu’s Mayor Masanobu Miyajima to come see the Japanese city’s new administrative building.
Nakanishi and his daughter were two of the 10 people who joined Hinkle on the 11-day tour of Kofu and other parts of Japan that left Lodi on Oct. 15.
Miyajima came to Lodi in 2011 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Lodi-Kofu sister city relationship.
The Lodi Sister City Committee wanted to give the statue to the City of Kofu because, like Lodi, it is a grape-growing and wine-producing region. In addition to the statue, Joe and Clydene Hohenrieder, the owners of Lustre-Cal Corporation in Lodi, who went on the trip, donated two plaques — one in English and one in Japanese — that give Cheney’s explanation of the statue’s symbolism.
Hinkle’s problem was how to get the 18-inch-tall bronze statue of a grape farmer and his wife to Japan, without the Sister Committee having to spend an arm and a leg. The Sister City Committee was able to buy the replica at cost with its own funds, which it raises through events like its annual crab feed.
Weighing in at more than 90 pounds when packed, the statue would have been too expensive to ship by UPS. So Hinkle looked into taking the statue on his flight to Japan as luggage.
He found that he could pack the statue as luggage on Japan Air Lines for $450 — less than the UPS charge, but still out of Hinkle’s price range.
In stepped Histoshi Yamanuro, a vice president at Japan Airlines, who cut the price in half to $225 in order to ensure that the gift from Lodi made it to Kofu.
Before the group headed from Tokyo to Kofu, Hinkle was able to take the group from Lodi to visit his daughter’s home, where she lives with her husband, who works in Tokyo.
“It’s a typical Japanese condominium,” Hinkle said. “So we had an opportunity to experience what it’s like to live in Japan; to actually go into a home.”
When they arrived in Kofu by bus, the group saw that the red carpet had been laid out for them with a big sign over the front doors of the new city hall building welcoming the “Delegation of Lodi” to the nearly 500-year-old city.
At a dinner that evening, Nakanishi and Hinkle presented the statue to Miyajima.
Nakanishi, who was on his third visit to Japan and first visit to Kofu, said he focused his speeches on the experience of Japanese immigrants in America when the group delivered the statue to Kofu’s mayor and his staff, and the next night at a dinner with leaders in the city assembly — Kofu’s version of a city council.
Lodi’s mayor, who comes from a Japanese immigrant family, said he began his story with Commodore Matthew Perry opening Japan up to the West in 1854, and discussed one of the first Japanese immigrants in California — a 17-year-old girl named Okei-san — and how she was part of a group raising silk-worms in the foothills.
“I told about how Okei-san would climb the hills and look toward to Japan, because she was homesick,” Nakanishi said.
Nakanishi said that while he enjoyed being feted by city officials, taking part in local festivals like the Daisuki Kofu Matsyuri (I Love Kofu Festival) and visiting various temples, Mount Fuji and the Shosen-Kyo Gorge, one of his favorite parts of the trip was visiting a local farm. Kofu, he pointed out, produces 70 percent of Japan’s wine.
“The city is like Lodi in the sense that it’s a farming community,” Nakanishi said. “They grow grapes. It’s noted for its wine.”
Joe Hohenrieder, who was on his first visit to Japan, said it was the best trip he’s ever taken. He said he was impressed with the hospitality of Kofu’s city officials, the cleanliness of the country and the friendliness of the people.
He said taking part in the official dinners and local festivals was a great way to get to know the locals. Visiting various temples, and geographic wonders like Shosen-Kyo Gorge and Mount Fuji was the best combination of events to really experience the city, he added.
One of the most memorable experiences for Hohenrieder was driving into Kofu, which sits facing Mount Fuji, and seeing Japan’s iconic geographic symbol without snow on it. Overnight, he said, there was a storm on the mountain, and when they looked up at it the next morning, the peak was covered in gleaming white snow.
“We were able to see it before it had snow on it,” Hohenrieder said. “Then to see it the next day with snow on the cap was beautiful.”
Hinkle said in the future he would like to develop formal student exchange programs with Kofu, as well as have sports teams from Lodi and its Japanese sister city travel back and forth to meet each other and play together.
By the time the group left Kofu for Kyoto on Oct. 22, the smaller version of “Celebrate the Harvest” was prominently displayed along with the plaques donated by the Hohenrieders at the welcome desk of Kofu’s City Hall.
“Mission accomplished,” Hinkle said.
Hinkle said that at some point, the Sister City Committee will be planning a trip to Lodi’s other sister city, Lodi, Italy. Lodi is also working to establish a sister city relationship with Loudi, China, he said.
Contact reporter Todd Allen Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.