This summer, Waupaca and Mitoyo, Japan, are celebrating their 15th anniversary as sister cities.
“It’s really taken off and had a life of its own,” said Jennifer Blum.
She spent 1993 and 1994 in Japan, teaching English in Nio and Mitoyo as part of an exchange teaching program.
While she was there, the idea to start a sister city relationship between the two communities began to form.
In 1994, the first groups of students and adults from the two communities began visiting each other.
Blum’s parents, Dr. Barton and Colleen Blum, helped then Waupaca Mayor Jim Lewinski coordinate that first trip.
Three years later, representatives from the two communities signed a formal sister city agreement.
“We want to continue the relationship for many years to come by visiting each other,” said Takashi Fujimura.
He was among the approximately 20 adults from Mitoyo who were in Waupaca last week.
The group arrived on Tuesday, July 24 and departed for home on Sunday, July 29.
For Fujimura, it was his fourth trip to Waupaca.
This trip, however, was different. There were only adults on it.
Yukari Ishii, coordinator of the Mitoyo International Exchange Association, said the planning began two years for this particular trip.
“We always send students,” she said. “In Mitoyo, we had a host family who always wanted to come to Waupaca.”
Many of those who made the trip had either hosted Waupaca students and chaperones or sent their own children to Waupaca.
They wanted to experience what their children had.
“I think they’re having so much fun,” said Ishii, who last week made her third trip to Waupaca.
During their time here, they met with Mayor Brian Smith and recognized Emilie Hagen, who went to Mitoyo in 2008 and who raised money for Japan after the country was devastated by a tsunami.
The Japanese visitors also went to Madison for a tour of the capitol, to Stevens Point for a brewery tour and to Zittau to watch cheese curds being made at Union Star Cheese – and to sample them, too.
Some members of the group went to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture in Oshkosh and to Gusmer Enterprises for a tour.
Usually, those visiting Waupaca from Mitoyo are between eighth and 11th grade.
On this trip, most of them were in the 60s and 70s, with the oldest a 78-year-old woman.
Kevin Derkowski was a chaperone in 2007 when Waupaca’s group went to Japan.
“They learn about Waupaca as part of school,” he said of the students in Mitoyo. “When you go there, they treat you like royalty.”
On Tuesday, July 31, three students and two adults left Waupaca for the annual trip to Japan.
The students who make the trip raise funds for it.
The group from Mitoyo is set to arrive here around Friday, Aug. 10.
Derkowski said that many of the students from Waupaca who have gone on the trip have gone on to be Rotary exchange students.
“We don’t have a lot of cultural diversity in Waupaca,” he said. “When they go, it opens their eyes.”
Now, the discussion is beginning about sending a group of adults to Mitoyo in 2014.
Ishii said they appreciate the support of their sister city. “Supporting each other is important in the world,” she said.
Derkowski said when residents from the sister city visit, those who live in Waupaca see the community through their eyes and makes them more appreciative of the community.
Ishii said being sister cities is about deepening an “understanding of each other.”