Sunday's celebration at the Drumm Farm Center for Children in Independence was 40 years in the making, and representatives of both sides say they'll have a similar reason to celebrate in 10 and even 60 years.
The Mayor's Banquet marked an anniversary in the sister-city relationship between Independence and Higashimurayama, Japan – one that grew from a chance meeting in Kansas City in the mid-1970s.
For the 40th anniversary, 37 delegates made the trip from Japan, and Clifton Truman Daniel, grandson of Independence's native president, served as keynote speaker.
“We always say that this program is about friendship,” said Jeannae Segura Brown, chairperson of the Japanese Sister City Committee. “It's the center of the wheel; it's the blossom in the center.
“This blossom grew from a single act of friendship that you (Lana Setsuko White, committee founder) showed to Mr. Ishizu.”
Brown also read a proclamation for White, a native of Kokura, Japan – the original drop site for the second atomic bomb ordered by President Truman but spared by cloud cover – who left home and met and married a serviceman from Independence after the war.
Decades later, Hajimei Ishizu had traveled from Japan to meet with an Independence educator he had met at a convention in Japan and had been corresponding with.
Unable to contact the local man after a couple days, Ishizu asked Kansas City police for help. They remembered White, who had been a translator during a recent international convention in town. They put her in contact with Ishizu.
They couldn't locate Ishizu's friend, but White gave him a tour of the city, including the Truman sites, and invited him to stay with her family. So impressed with the hospitality and friendliness from his visit, he shared the story with Higashimurayama's mayor.
That eventually gave birth to the sister-city idea that White shared with Independence Mayor Dick King. In January 1978, the first Japanese delegation visited Independence, and the mayor signed a sister-city charter.
Naoki Ito, the Japanese consulate in Chicago whose region includes 10 Midwestern states, said the Independence-Higashimurayama friendship stands apart from the 68 sister-city connections because of “rich history and very, very active exchange programs and enthusiasm to carry these programs forward into the future.” The sister-city school program, started in 1988, adds to that richness, Ito said.
The Japanese delegation visited several business sites and sister school Glendale Elementary on Friday, along with lunch at a local barbecue joint, then gave an entertaining presentation Saturday at Santa-Cali-Gon Days.
Shinichi Ito, chairperson of Higashimuraya's city council, said he visited Independence 10 years ago and didn't know if he'd ever be able to come back.
“There are so many (favorite memories); tonight was such a wonderful occasion,” Ito, sporting a Kansas City Royals tie he picked up at Friday's game, said through translator Mako Hall. “I saw so many old friends that I remembered.”
Daniel discussed his unique personal connection to Japan, obviously traced to his grandfather's much-debated decision made several years before Daniel was born.
“My grandfather never spoke to me about the atomic bombings,” he said. “I learned about them the same way much of you did – in history books.”
When his then 8-year-old son Wesley read the book about Sadako Sasaki and her 1,000 origami paper cranes for peace, he said, that was the first human story of Hiroshima he'd heard. After meeting Sasaki's brother Masahiro at the World Trade Center Memorial and receiving the purported last crane that Sadako folded, Daniel was invited to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which he did in 2012.
“He and the other survivors were remarkably kind and forgiving,” Daniel said. “They were also remarkably firm in that the only thing they asked is that I do everything I could to keep talking about their stories so it would never happen again.”
The people there light lanterns in remembrance and send them floating down the river, and Daniel recalled lighting a lantern with a man who lost a brother to the Hiroshima bomb and then a son when the second plane hit the World Trade Center on 9/11. The son's remains have never been found.
“He asks his brother to help find his son,” Daniel said.
Another story came courtesy of a late World War II veteran who was scheduled to be in the invasion force in Japan and while in the occupying force received a surrendered military sword. Decades later, using the tiny wooden tag that remained, the man was able to track down the former soldier's son in Japan to give the sword back.
“Because of my travels, I've seen acts of kindness and empathy from both sides,” Daniel said.
Peaceful relations between countries are forged, he said, not by politicians but by relationships such as this sister-city bond.
“It's people making connections,” Daniel said.
After the mayors exchanged gifts and the banquet concluded, White's pride of such an anniversary was brightly obvious. To have been spared one of the bombs, ultimately moving to the hometown of man who ordered the bombs, and then forging a long-lasting sister-city relationship – it all could be some divine intention
I've been very, very lucky to be an Independence citizen,” she said. “Something God's made for me.”