Delegation to Nanae, Hokkaido, Japan
Sister City Signing

Interviewed November 15, 1997

Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.

A Concord delegation has recently returned from a visit to the sister city of Nanae, Japan enthused about what they consider the beginning of a significant relationship. They are sharing their oral history interview at the home of Selectman Arthur Fulman and his wife Diane at 64 Annursnac Hill Road on February 8, 1998.

Tom Curtin, Guidance Counselor, Concord-Carlisle High School - I've been involved in the Hokkaido-Massachusetts sister state relationship and since then the Nanae-Concord relationship going back to 1989. Concord brought in 46 students, parents and teachers from Hokkaido just prior to 1990 when Massachusetts officially formed its sister state relationship with the state of Hokkaido in Japan. This is a rebuilding of a relationship that started back in the 1870s when three people from Massachusetts' University of Massachusetts had gone to Japan to found Hokkaido University, and one of those people who went at that time was William Wheeler from Concord. So the connection from Massachusetts and Concord goes back to the 1870s.

In 1989 we had a wonderful visit of about four days and that led to more visits. After the 1990 signing of the sister state relationship, Hokkaido had a large delegation that came in 1992 with a couple of hundred of people and because we had introduced the concept of the pot luck supper, Governor Yokomichi from Hokkaido insisted on coming both to Concord and to the Concord Museum where we had a pot luck supper and a wonderful evening. We also visited the home of William Wheeler on Nashawtuc Hill where they had a number of Japanese trees so the governor enjoyed that.

Then in 1993 the town of Nanae having heard about Concord and the pot luck suppers and all the wonderful things that had happened began a courtship of Concord in the hopes of having a sister city relationship because both Governors were strongly encouraging that with the towns.

Carrie Flood, Selectman and Chairman of the Board of Selectmen in 1993 - When the delegation came to Concord in 1993, I recall the pot luck dinner which was held at the Trinitarian Church that year and meeting the Mayor who was a regal looking fellow with great white hair and spoke no English and I no Japanese, but with a great deal of help over dinner from a lot of other people there, we talked about sort of formalizing the road to becoming a sister city. We knew at that time that that's what they were looking for. I tried to explain that in Concord that could only be done by a vote of the town but we were certainly open to continuing relationships between our schools, our governments and our people.

What about Concord that attracted them to us? I've been surprised by the number of similarities, the number of times our history have touched one another that I wasn't aware of until we began talking about the sister city relationship. It's not something that just started in 1993, it was something that started in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Tom Curtin - They basically courted us and over time we got to know them. We knew it would take time to get to know each other and to understand the cultural differences. In Japan they have a lot of government funding for globalization, they have a lot of financial support for these types of ventures, whereas in the United States, not just Concord, the traditions are different and even though relations are encouraged, there is usually no public financing behind it. So there are a lot of understandings about how we share goals but also how going about it was different, and it took a while to get to know each other.

One of the first steps after the 1993 visit was bringing the schools together. The delegation that came in 1993 and 1994 visited Thoreau School and they established a sister school relationship with the Onuma Elementary School in Nanae. In the spring of that year we made a videotape of three of the classroom teachers that included the average day at Thoreau and we had a parent do the video and a number of teachers put together photo albums. We sent a lovely package to them and they reciprocated when they returned the following fall. They also visited Willard School and reached out to them. The Willard School the next year developed a sister school relationship with the Togeshita Elementary School. So the bonding between the schools was starting to happen. There were teachers at the Alcott School that were looking for a relationship but it did not happen in Nanae at that time.

Tom Scott, Superintendent of Concord Schools - On the visit we brought a formal request from the principal of the Alcott School to establish a formal relationship with one of the elementary schools in Nanae. We're in the process of putting together a set of informational materials from students and teachers at the Alcott School to go with our band which is going over to Nanae this April. So we've now established formal relationships with our three elementary schools and what might be mentioned is that we've already established relationships with middle school students from Nanae who've come here on several occasions and had home stays and stayed in our middle schools. So we have a growing relationship in our schools and during the visit in November we were very pleased to see so much of the work of our schools prominently displayed in the hallways and classrooms of the schools in Nanae and clearly they would like to establish a continuing relationship.

Tom Curtin - A major thing that took place was in 1995. Up until then it had just been the government of Nanae town reaching out to Concord, but in 1995 there was a delegation of citizens of Concord, the Curtins, the Van Loons, the Cratsleys and others were a part of the fifth year anniversary of the Massachusetts-Hokkaido delegation so we went to Sapporo first and we were involved in different lectures and then we went to visit Nanae. At that point we met many of the Nanae citizens in home stays and they introduced the concept of CNN, the Concord-Nanae Network, which was their citizens branch of the relationship so from that point onward, there was the reaching out from the official town government but there was also an arm reaching out to the citizens. Each time they sent a delegation there would be a couple of citizens as well as the students going into the schools. But I think the courtship of Concord picked up a bit in 1996 when Nanae built a snow sculpture of the Concord Public Library for their annual winter snow festival and there are continued teacher exchanges.

In the summer of 1996 Nanae hosted Geraldine Alias who had just graduated from Concord Academy and Carrie Bratzler who was then a sophomore at Concord-Carlisle and they had a wonderful experience studying Japanese as well as staying in Japanese homes.

Arthur Fulman, member of the Concord Board of Selectmen - In 1997 Town Meeting formally adopted the sister city relationship and I was Chairman at that time, but prior to that action I and I think other members on the Board had been listening sort of on the periphery about what was happening in Nanae and this proposal for the sister city relationship. It was particularly coincidental because my son Jason who at the time was a graduate student had spent the summer on a program called the Japanese-American Mathematical Sciences Program where he spent several weeks at the Onuma National Park and at the conference center in Nanae. He had been there for a relatively short period of time but people remembered him. When we arrived in November of this past year, there were people with photos of Jason Fulman with the time and date and they knew who he was. And also quite interestingly just to show you the persistence and perception of our friends in Nanae, they were writing letters to Jason advocating for the sister city relationship, and Jason was bringing them to me and asking what is this all about. But it was actually a good thing because he got me interested and my wife interested and we got others I spoke to interested. Concord at the time had two prior sister city relationships, one in Saint. Mande, France and one in San Marcos, Nicaragua which both had different contacts and different activities, but in 1997 the Board of Selectmen with considerable urging from Tom and Sue Curtin and the Cratsleys and a number of people who have made the trips in prior exchanges got the Board to be quite enthusiastic about this and we began to realize that this was a very important thing for us to do. It was then taken to Town Meeting in April 1997 and it was passed unanimously and people were very enthusiastic about it.

Jim Terry, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen - My first involvement with this was going to a CNN meeting at the high school about two and a half years ago learning about the town of Nanae and their interest and the group's interest in moving forward in trying to establish a sister city relationship. I was fortunate to be Chair of the Board of Selectmen this year at the time we went to Nanae and we had a six member delegation to Nanae, the four previous speakers, myself and Town Manager Chris Whelan. We were there for a 2 1/2 day period of time with many things that we were to accomplish during the stay there and we had a tremendous time. All of us were able to stay with a family and experience the part of Japan that not many Americans are able to do.

Art and I and our wives went to Japan five days before the stay in Nanae and we traveled through the main island of Honshu then we flew to Nanae on the evening of the 13th of November and we met up with the other four people who had been in Sapporo. They had actually worked in Sapporo for a day and a half before they had come down to Nanae.

Diane Fulman - I visited Nanae with my husband, not as an official representative, but I was struck so much by the knowledge that people in Nanae had about Concord. They wore We Love Concord buttons, they knew a great deal about our literary history, they knew about the beauty of Concord's land, they knew so much about us, and that coupled with their friendliness and desire to really develop a long term connection was the most powerful message and impression I have from the days I visited there.

Jim Terry - There were official ceremonies signing the agreement. They take those ceremonies very seriously. Actually the day before the official ceremony on the 14th we all went to the Town House where we were shown the ceremony hall, we were shown exactly where we were going to sit, we were walked through the ceremony as to the various different parts of it so that we would be comfortable and do things the right way on the next day. After that we met with the Mayor and a number of other town dignitaries and had a very formal presentation, if you will. The Mayor of Nanae stood up and gave a welcome speech and I realized as he was doing that a similar kind of speech was going to be required from someone in our delegation probably me, and I was not prepared but somehow I was able to think of some appropriate things to say while he was finishing up. Later during the ceremony we were all provided with copies of the official program which indicates that both Nanae and Concord are on the parallel 42oN latitude. That was one of their criteria that they indicated to us as to why they chose us.

At the end of our meeting with all the dignitaries, the Mayor and I actually had to practice signing the official documents and how we would pass them back and forth to each other because one copy was in English and one copy was in Japanese.

Arthur Fulman - I think we were all very conscious of the formality of the ceremony. This ceremony of the formalization of the relationship between Concord and Nanae was part of a larger ceremony or a series of ceremonies that Nanae was having in recognition of their 125th anniversary as a self-governing city and the 40th anniversary as a specific principality. So this was to be quite a large event for them. We had studied and I think all organized ourselves and prepared a little bit to get a sense of the proper way to bow, to exchange cards, what the appropriate protocol was in Japan because there are significant cultural differences. We were very aware that we did not want to do anything that might offend someone so we worked quite hard at that. But as we went through this whole series of events that started out to be very, very formal, we realized how serious this was and how important it was to the people of Nanae, and in fact, how important it was and should be to the people of Concord. I will add that as a few days passed and we got to know one another better, we could loosen our necktie and we had a very nice time where we were able to share the kinds of experiences that we had in the United States. We particularly enjoyed the home stay. I think for us as delegates to go and be able to sit across a kitchen table from our host or hostess and exchange views and questions and very intimate types of questions and ideas, I understand is quite unusual in exchanges because generally you do not go into the homes all that often. This was really a rare opportunity for us, and I think we are all very enthusiastic about reciprocating when the official delegations come to Concord in the future.

Carrie Flood - I was also struck by the contrast between these very formal ceremonies and the way we were treated there as honored dignitaries visiting from the US and Concord to the very casual and sort of open armed welcoming in the private homes. Coming home from something where I was up on stage with hundreds of people in an audience to sitting on the floor of my host family's living room playing paper dolls with their six-year-old daughter was just a switch and made me feel like they were welcoming me as a person and I was getting to know them as a nation of people. Of course it is a very, very small sample, but I just loved it. I had a great time and feel like I left lifetime friends behind who I can't wait to visit again.

Diane Fulman - After reading up on all the cultural differences before going, one of the delights of the visit was seeing all the blurred lines between these differences. These people were tremendously curious, generally risk takers in the sense of loving new ideas, loving meeting people. Some of the old stereotypes we might have had about the Japanese people, there were elements that were true just as stereotypes typically are, but there were more elements that were not true, and it was really a wonderful eye-opening opportunity for us to see a commonality of interests.

Arthur Fulman - The goals for the future include the events going to be taking place this spring with sending a large group of students over there.

Tom Scott - I certainly was on the receiving end of many guests who came into Concord and I heard many of the stories of the CNN group that went over to visit. It wasn't until I really experienced it that I really understood and conceptualized this special relationship that has been developing between Nanae and Concord. There are many possibilities of how we can build on that relationship. For me obviously the steps ahead of us are to solidify the relationship with more exchanges of artwork, communications with each other, students coming here to visit, but I think we need to establish something even more significant. My hope is that we will get to the point where perhaps we have some students we can exchange for longer periods of time, maybe a six-month period where some of the students at the high school level can come here and go there, and then we can really establish substantial relationships that go beyond the initial levels that have been established. The short term is that we are building and want to strengthen the relationships with those schools longer term. I've talked with our administrators about this, and I think there is a real interest in establishing something really substantial in terms of the opportunities our students and the students from Nanae can have in coming here.

Jim Terry - As to Nanae's economy, Nanae is a very large tourist center. The Onuma Conference Center and Quasi National Park with a semi-active volcano there get almost twice as many visitors as we do, something like two million visitors a year in their city where we have about one million coming to Concord in the National Park. So that's a very big part of their economy. They have a seaweed factory, a processing factory in the town and that's a big industry because they are so close to the water, and they have a fairly large assembly plant for semi-conductors. It is about 26,000 people and I think they call themselves a town like we do. The town is 30 miles from Hakodate which is a port city of about 200,000-300,000 people and that is the closest airport.

Tom Curtin - One of the things that is a very close connection between Concord's history and Nanae's, even though ours is much longer, is the agricultural base and the deep love of the land in both communities. They have the most beautiful rich soil and they produce these gorgeous apples and other fruits and wines. But it is that love of the land and agricultural base at the root of everything that they too are trying to develop a lot of their high tech. There are subsidized suburban areas in Japan to develop high technology.

Tom Scott - Just to give the view or the sense of the area, what's amazing about it is it has one of the most gorgeous scenery that I've seen. As a matter of fact on a couple of occasions I just escaped and took a walk just to see it. You're located with mountains surrounding you. Every turn you take you can see mountains, and you sit up where we were in Nanae and you could look down into the valley. You could talk with your home stay and they are about 10-15 minutes away from some of the best skiing you could find, but they are also within 5-10 minutes from the ocean. It is an incredible combination of experiences that they have available to them and it creates a beautiful setting for a community. That's one of the things you got a sense of is community, a really strong sense of community.

Carrie Flood - I didn't find language to be a significant problem. We had official interpreters with us at any of the formal events and I think in the households where we stayed there was at least one person who had basic English. In my family the wife actually works, and that is unusual and I gather becoming less unusual, where they speak English. The husband had a pretty good vocabulary but he was embarrassed by his pronunciation but I assured him his English was much better than my 10 words of Japanese, and the little girl, who as I said was just six, had picked up some English from her mother. What was really remarkable was that she would ask me what something was in English and I would tell her and she would repeat it absolutely perfectly with no trace of Japanese accent which made me understand you know how they say it is much easier for children to pick up a different language than it is for adults because their language forming capacity is very active for their native language at that time, and it doesn't make any difference what the sounds are, what the words mean, they can repeat and store and recall those words later on. It was much more difficult for me. I could be told ten times what a word was in Japanese and still kind of awkwardly try and question whether I had it right. Even when I was speaking English and they were speaking Japanese, you seem to understand because it is in context. You're at a meal and you can laugh about things, you're asking directions, the language barrier was not a barrier is what I basically found. Even when we were in Sapporo earlier sightseeing and walking around, people were offering to help you.

Jim Terry - That was the thing that struck me was that it appeared that so many of the Japanese people knew that we wouldn't speak Japanese very well and they would offer to help even though it would be difficult and awkward for them. Being embarrassed is a difficult thing for Japanese people and often there would be a reluctance to do something like that but I think we were all very surprised how helpful people were. I remember one time when we were passing a group of school children and invariably one or two people would get up enough nerve to say something in English, they'd say "hello" or something like that, and when we answered back, the whole group of them would giggle. They were happy that there was a response but they didn't want to push it too far.

Tom Scott - One of the fascinating things is when you're in a foreign or unfamiliar setting, people are more intimated, quiet and reserved, and when students would come here generally speaking, they're very quiet and reserved and very formal, yet when we visited their schools that was great. I had such a great time because we walked into a high school and it was like walking into any high school. It was an after school time and the kids were just full of laughter, they were horsing around having a great time and of course, having a couple of Americans walk in was an opportunity for them to show off and have fun, someone is challenging me to a basketball shooting match and kids are running around the corridors and wanted to talk to us. So when you're in familiar surroundings, a lot of those barriers sort of just fall off. I think that is one of the things you're trying to achieve is more of that opportunity.

After the very formal ceremonies, there were occasions where we had informal events and people were very relaxed and they were very much like we were. Those who spoke more English were able to banter with us just like we would be talking among ourselves at some sort of party. It's just amazing that you can just take a layer away and see that we're not that dissimilar.

Arthur Fulman - I remember distinctly going to a tea ceremony, a very formal ceremony with lots of historical significance and appropriate dress ¾ kimonos. In fact this was a group of women who had been trained for many years to be hostesses for tea ceremonies and they were in the process of training other young women to follow in their steps, and we all went to this very formal proceeding where everything was explained from the china used to the process of making the tea. Then afterwards when everything was done we walked out of the teahouse into the outdoor garden and I remember the magnificent women who had conducted the tea ceremony took out their cameras and wanted to take pictures of us -- a real role reversal. But that is really what the sister city is about in many respects is that we are sort of looking each other over and sharing and learning.

Just to add one other tidbit, Diane and I stayed with a retired middle school principal who was absolutely the most curious person. He wanted to learn new words at every opportunity. When he walked around his home, he had this little computer device that we told him he should call a gadget, that was a new word he learned from us, and he could take a word in English and type it into the computer and it would give him the Japanese equivalent, correct pronunciation, primary translation, secondary translation, and this was his very systematic method of trying to improve his skill in English.

Diane Fulman - Three icebreakers early on were photos, you don't have to say much just smile at photos of their family and they really appreciate that, CNN¾ they watch CNN just as we do, and suddenly I can't think of the other, but anyway those are the kinds of things that are quick icebreakers.

Arthur Fulman - Every night when we came home from the events, we had not necessarily been to the events with our host or hostess, they wanted to be briefed and find out exactly what we had done. They would sit down and they would have beer and tea and we were very conscious that it would be rude not to share these experiences so we would sit for another hour and chat about the day's activities and events.

Jim Terry - On Saturday evening after the formal ceremony, there was an informal get-together with the CNN members of Nanae and the Mayor was there and a lot of other people, and I was called up to the front and was told that there was something that they wanted to present to us. The presentation of gifts is even very formal. There was a piece of paper that was neatly folded with some writing on the outside of it. I opened it up and it said a gift bear and that didn't mean anything to me. Then they pointed over in the corner. There was this magnificent carved brown bear with it's paws grasping down to get a salmon. We were taken over to it and we were told that a private citizen in the town of Nanae had been quite taken by the formal ceremony earlier in the day and had wanted to give this to the town of Concord. It was an amazing thing and quite heavy. We had no idea how it would get to the town of Concord. One of the people in the town government who was one of the official government relations said, "Do you have a seat on the airplane for Mr. Bear?" We didn't think we did. But the town took care of everything and they sent it to us and it arrived here shortly before Christmas and three or four of us went down to the Town House and opened it up. Someone from the newspaper was there to take some photographs of it and we are looking for an appropriate place in the Town House so that it can be protected and viewed by all of our citizens.

The bear is a very common motif in the northern island of Hokkaido. When the delegation had come to Concord in October 1997, the Town Manager was presented with a smaller carving which also had two bears sort of climbing off large tree branches, so I believe it is something that is quite common as bears are quite common in the area.

Tom Curtin - The bear carving is done by the native Ainu people and the bear was very significant to the Ainu who were the original people and that has continued to be a symbol of Hokkaido. That's one thing that they don't speak more to and that is Hokkaido is so different from the rest of Japan. Most Americans have no clue about that. That is one of the things that is extraordinary about our relationship is we think of Japan as this multi-thousand-year-old culture whereas Hokkaido was essentially settled in the 1870s and a lot of that was done by Americans and other Europeans so it is their wide open spaces and it's totally different from the rest of Japan.

It's a very wild and beautiful place and there were just lots of salmon. Nature just flourished there just like it did in our country before it was destroyed in many ways. They have had their environmental problems too but essentially the salmon was the biggest and the best of the fish.

Tom Scott - Hokkaido has been settled a lot later than Honshu and a lot of other areas of Japan. I think that it is an area that people really sort of value the natural environment and it is a place where I suspect by looking at it that the people are doing outdoors kinds of things and I think that is probably indicative of both the animal life and so much of what they depend on in terms of waterways.

Carrie Flood - We were told by people in Sapporo that if you were sent by your company to work in Hokkaido it could be taken as a mixed blessing. In one way it was a very nice place to go compared to being in Kyoto or Tokyo or one of the much larger cities to the south, on the other hand it was a little bit like being banished to the north. But most people who had gone there had been very happy and then become concerned about potential destruction of just what makes Hokkaido so beautiful and so open compared to the south.

With my family in Nanae, Tom Scott spoke earlier about the wonderful scenery and from my house which was on a slope, you could look down over the town and up hill against the mountain and there was a farmer's field right across the street. I was admiring that one morning sitting on their front porch and they said that somebody had bought the field and there would be houses there within a year and a road going through. They were very sad but they could understand that other people wanted to come there as well, but they were also concerned about how they would keep the open space.

Tom Curtin - The same issues that we're dealing with here.

Jim Terry - There is one thing I would like to mention, when we were at the airport we were very surprised at the number of people who were there from Nanae. We had to go through security into the area where we would wait to get on the plane and we were probably there for 10-20 minutes and when we walked onto the plane, we were able to see back out there and they were still there. We had left them 20 minutes early and they waited until we actually got on the plane. That's just another indication of the kind of warmth and friendship that we're going to have to work really hard to be able to keep even with them.

Tom Curtin - The friendship is very real and those who are suspicious about what do they want¾ they want friendship, they want exchange, they want to move forward.