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Sister city delegates from Ohara, Japan, cook for their hosts

Women from Duluth's sister city in Ohara, Japan, cooked up a feast for their hosts on Monday. The eight women descended on Patsy Munger Lehr's spacious kitchen in West Duluth about 4 p.m., and within half an hour delicious smells began wafting th...

Women from Duluth's sister city in Ohara, Japan, cooked up a feast for their hosts on Monday.
The eight women descended on Patsy Munger Lehr's spacious kitchen in West Duluth about 4 p.m., and within half an hour delicious smells began wafting through the house.
"I offered to have them here because we're expecting about 50 people," Munger Lehr said, as she watched the Japanese women prepare the meal.
Many of the ingredients needed to make authentic sushi, yaki soba (Japanese fried noodles) and miso soup, a few of the dishes served that evening, can't be found in America. But the women were prepared. They brought their own sheets of nori, or seaweed, with them as well as soba and other ingredients essential for their cuisine, said Sumiko Gummert, who helped Munger Lehr prepare for the event.
The feast, which included lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, dishes prepared by the delegates as well as Japanese Americans from Duluth, included a humorous touch.
Munger Lehr made some Norwegian kringle for dessert. "We had to have something Norwegian here," she joked, as she arranged the dessert on one of the tables almost groaning with food.
Lots of laughter and joking accompanied the preparation of the meal, which was only one of the highlights of this successful visit.
In all, 12 delegates from Ohara came on this trip, four men and eight women.
They stayed with families throughout the city and participated in family life as well as official events. Some played golf with their hosts. Others went shopping at the mall or walking on the Lakewalk, seeing the city in all its aspects.
"It's been very nice, wonderful, fantastic," said Eriko Irie, who was staying with Emil and Mary Ann Hill.
Mary Ann said she and her husband hosted two delegates who had a chance to experience Grandma's Marathon firsthand.
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"We're school bus drivers," Mary Ann said. "So they rode our bus on Saturday morning to bring the runners up to Two Harbors. I think they had a good time. We're new friends, sisters."
In some ways, the banquet prepared by the Japanese women capped off one of the most important days of the visit. The new peace bell had been dedicated earlier that afternoon in a moving ceremony that brought tears to people's eyes.
"It all started when Ohara's peace bell was taken by the American military more than 50 years ago," said Isabel Rapaich, a former city councilor who is now president of the Ohara Sister Cities Committee.
Rapaich, who grew up in Duluth, said she remembers seeing the bell sitting in City Hall when she was a girl. She always wondered about it, she said.
When the peace bell was finally returned to Ohara with ceremony and celebration several years ago, a strong sister city relationship developed between Duluth and Ohara.
Ohara sent a replacement peace bell, and last year, the Japanese delegation arrived for the dedication ceremony on the 10th anniversary of being sister cities. But when the bell was rung, they discovered it was cracked.
Shocked, the head of the delegation, Soichero Oya, vowed that there would be a new peace bell in Duluth within the year. He went home and told the people of Ohara what had happened.
"It was not hard for people to donate money to replace it," Oya said through translator Peter Hetzel.
In Japanese culture, the bell is rung during the day to remind people to be mindful of others and to bring peace to their lives, he said. "All in all, it's to bring you happiness," he said. "To realize you're not alone in this world, that friendship (and peace) is a very important part of your life."
So on Monday, when Oya tapped what he called the second generation peace bell, and a beautiful tone moved through the crowd , it confirmed what he felt deep in his heart toward the people of Duluth.
"We realized our relationship is special, and we'll be friends forever," he said.

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