Delegation members from Tyler recently experienced Japanese life and culture — from food and language to music and clothing.
It was all part of a trip to one of Tyler’s sister cities — Yachiyo, Japan. Tyler Sister Cities also include Lo Barnechea, Chile; San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; Jelenia Gora, Poland; and Liberia, Costa Rica.
Tyler’s relationship with Yachiyo as a sister city began in 1992. Tyler Police Chief and Tyler Sister Cities President Gary Swindle said it is the longest relationship Tyler has had with any sister city.
During the last 22 years, there have been more than 22 trips between the two cities — either a delegation going to Yachiyo or a delegation coming to Tyler.
This time, a delegation of 12 people left on July 7 and returned July 15. Those who went were Mayor Martin Heines, Swindle and his wife Linda Swindle, Tony Tadasa, Kathy Tadasa, Kent Bower, Bailey Bower, Mary Delaney, Kleanthe Caruso, Nikki Nunn, Michael Ashigbi and Crystal Crisp.
Swindle, who has made the trip with small and large groups, said small groups are good because they are able to do more.
He said the whole premise behind the sister cities relationship is to share culture, as well as business and economic experiences. For instance, the mayors of both cities are relatively new to the office, so it was a valuable experience for them to share information.
During previous trips, Swindle himself has met with what would be considered the “police chief” for the Yachiyo area.
He said getting to see the issues and problems and concerns there as far as law enforcement is important, and the same with government.
Swindle said delegation members on this year’s trip got to meet with Tyler teachers who have been in Japan as part of Yachiyo’s Assistant Language Teacher Program.
As far as cultural exchanges, a lot of the delegation was able to experience different clothing, ceremonies and Japanese music, Swindle said. Delegation members also heard drummers from Yachiyo public high school.
“It’s just experiencing and learning about the whole culture and looking at how they do things educationally and how that compares for our teachers here,” Swindle said, adding that the schools in Yachiyo are not air-conditioned, and there are no custodians. Instead, he said, children and teachers clean schools.
Swindle said people in Yachiyo love to visit Tyler for the Texas Rose Festival, and many times people from Tyler have been invited to Japan when they have a summer festival and similar parades. This time around, the delegation went to a summer festival in Sawara, which adjoins Yachiyo.
Swindle described it as a big celebration that reminds him of a fair.
“There’s food and games, parades, dancing, singing and floats,” he said. “So again it’s experiencing that culture and learning about them.”
He said individuals take away different things from the trip, and for him, it is the deep friendships he has formed with people in Japan. He said he enjoys getting to reconnect with those people when he goes over there, and those friendships have lasted a long time.
“I think it (the goal of the trip) really is … to share experiences and culture and learn about other people because if we know about our fellow countrymen and we become friends then there’s the potential to share to learn,” he said.
In the past, the delegation from Yachiyo brought a boys and girls choir to Tyler, and Tyler Junior College Apache Belles have gone to Japan, Swindle said.
“So again, it’s also sharing youth and exchange and education,” he said, adding that medical doctors from Tyler also have been on past trips to Japan and have been able to visit hospitals there.
“It’s a constant learning process — learning from each other — because we probably all do things a little bit differently, and if we can save lives or make life better for our citizens in Tyler or our patients or our students then it’s well worth it”
The group not only experienced the culture but also an earthquake.
“For some of us, the earthquake to us was probably very scary and traumatic, but to them it was just like another day,” Swindle said.
He said buildings there are constructed to withstand earthquakes.
Members of the delegation also got to go into families’ homes.
“It is kind of the behind the scenes. It’s a home visit where the family takes you into their home and shows you how they live,” Swindle said. “You’re actually getting to go inside a home of somebody from a different country and experience for a day their lifestyle.”
He said he doesn’t know of anyone who has not enjoyed the trip.
One person who went on the trip was Ms. Crisp. She is in real estate and a counselor at Dixie Elementary School.
She said the people there were fabulous, and she would get up early and walk around the city. She said she noticed how similar the foliage was with Tyler’s, and in the downtown area, the trees were labeled in English and Japanese.
She also recalled that the local newspaper had a Tyler symbol in the corner.
“That was impressive. They were so welcoming and so warm and wanted to make us feel at home — to make it special for us. I was just blown away by that,” Ms. Crisp said.
She said the overall trip was more than what she expected, and it definitely made her want to be involved and reciprocate when people from Yachiyo come to Tyler next year.
Ms. Caruso, who works at The University of Texas at Tyler, had never been to an Asian country before.
She said the experience exceeded her expectations, and she experienced the Japanese culture.
She recalled going to a cultural arts center, where there were various demonstrations, and said she learned some Japanese during the trip.
“The people were so warm and welcoming and flattered to have us there,” Ms. Caruso said.
Next year when people from Yachiyo come, “We’re really going to have to kick it up.”