Northwest NEWS

April 16, 2001


Konnichiwa! Seto (loose translation: Hey! Sister)

by Bronwyn Wilson
   Senior Staff Reporter
   For some Woodinville residents, Japan conjures up mental images of words beginning with the letter "s": Suzuki, sake, sumo, sushi, samurai and sister.
   Yes, sister. For a group of Woodinville citizens and city officials, "sister" comes to mind.
   This is because a city called Seto, set in Japan's Owari hills where there is much greenery, has a desire to become Woodinville's sister city.
   And the city of Woodinville is now considering the possibility and has designated Parks Commissioner Liz Aspen as ambassador for the project. Aspen explained that Seto already has sister cities in Australia and in China. However, when Seto agreed to host the 2005 World Expo, the citizens wanted to establish a sister city in the United States.
   A former Woodinville resident, Russ Taniguchi, happened to be on the Expo Board, so naturally Woodinville was put on the short list as a strong possibility for Seto's American sister. To date, the process is still in the exploration stage.
   "We want it to be a good match," said Aspen. Woodinville has never had a sister city and the city hoped for an exchange of ideas and culture with a city of comparable size.
   The drawback with Seto is that their population of 130,000 residents is so much larger than Woodinville's population of 10,450.
   Even if Woodinville's surrounding neighborhoods in unincorporated King County are included, bringing the numbers up to 50,950, that is still not even half of Seto's residents.
   "They're so dense over there, population-wise," said Aspen. "But their land may not be that much bigger."
   Still, there's much positive gain to be had should the city of Woodinville decide to move forward with the sister-city project.
   Woodinville's students would benefit from the knowledge and experience they would attain from communicating with their counterparts across the Pacific Ocean.
   Aspen and Woodinville's Communications Coordinator Marie Stake plan to contact the Northshore schools with the hope of setting up an Internet exchange between Seto and Woodinville junior high students. Seto has approximately 22 junior high schools.
   "I'm really excited about talking with the [Northshore] schools," said Aspen. "It's a really exciting opportunity to learn and exchange beyond our borders." She went on to say, "Also, to experience other cultures is an invaluable life lesson. And to see how things are done in other countries broadens your thinking and makes you more accepting of differences."
   Way before the idea of Seto as a sister city was ever imagined, Liz Aspen met Russ Taniguchi's wife, Pat, when her son Stefan and Pat's son Kenny were teammates on a Woodinville soccer team.
   As their sons kicked the ball on the field, Taniguchi told Aspen about her former life in Japan where she had lived before coming to Woodinville. Although a U.S. citizen herself, Taniguchi attended college in Japan, then married and started a family there.
   She and her husband moved from Japan to Woodinville in 1985 when they began an importing business based in Kent.
   From that time on, Taniguchi and Aspen's friendship began to develop. Then two years ago, Taniguchi moved back to Japan, but the two friends remained in touch. When Russ Taniguchi became a member of the board for the World Expo to be held in Seto, Woodinville became the subject of a U.S. sister-city project. Pat Taniguchi is now attempting to make things happen by presenting information about Woodinville to the government of Japan.
   And the city of Woodinville sent a letter to the Mayor of Seto and the Superintendent of Seto City Board of Education stating their vision of shared resources and cultural exchange if Seto and Woodinville were to become sister cities.
   "It will be slow steps," said Aspen of the process. But she has great plans should the sisterhood become official. "If it works out well, then an eventual physical exchange of students would happen between the two cities," she said.
   Down the road, she added, there could be a physical exchange of city officials as well. Aspen talked a little about Seto's biggest industry. She explained, "Everything about the city is tied to their ceramics."
   She said that the city makes use of its rich natural resources, china clay and silica sand, by producing detailed blue and white pottery, ceramic ornaments and a wide-range of high tech ceramics used in technological as well as musical applications.
   Aspen described "Shirashi ware" as the first ceramic ware artificially glazed with ash in the ninth century. The city is so ceramic-centered that they even crown "Miss Ceramics" princesses in their festivals.
   The Japanese people have a reverence for delicacy shown in their traditional homes made of paper and wood and in their love of woodblock prints.
   In addition, they have an appreciation of traditional arts, such as judo, the tea ceremony, bonsai and haiku.
   Japan is a land of contrasts, from crowded city streets to serene gardens and from ornate temples to thatched roof farmhouses. Sumo wrestlers colliding forcefully are as much a joy to watch as kimono-clad geishas dancing daintily.
   Seto's pottery industry, plus colorful culture and long history brings about all kinds of possibilities for a dynamic association with Woodinville.
   "We would love to have Woodinville citizens embrace the relationship that would ultimately bring the support through the schools," said Aspen.
   A whole new world is ready to open its door to Woodinville's students.