Tales of eating authentic Japanese food, exploring vast temples and participating in a tea ceremony were only a few of the topics presented at RP’s latest Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, where the first ever student to visit the sister city of Hashimoto, Japan spoke about his experience and presented a gift to the commission.
Carlos Gutierrez, a senior on the cross country team and band member at Rancho Cotate High School, was selected in early March to travel to Japan by the Sister Cities Relations Committee, which as stated in the mission statement of the commission, aims to “foster international understanding and friendship through exchanges of people, artifacts and ideas with citizens of foreign cities and to develop an increased appreciation of cultural diversity…”
Sachiko Knappman, a member of the committee, said Gutierrez was selected of a group of eight students who applied to go on the trip, but what set him apart from other applicants was his enthusiasm and his ability to bring knowledge of various cultures of North America.
“All of them were very qualified students, so we felt it was very hard,” Knappman said. “Before we had sent a lot of students with European background, ancestry wise and I think more women were chosen somehow than men... and we thought it would be good for Japan to receive a different side of America.”
For Gutierrez, the trip was completely free and funded by the committee’s budget, which is allocated by the city, according to Knappman.
“The student didn’t have to pay, we are covering the airfare and transportation. Once they’re in Japan, the sister city organization in Japan takes care of it (other expenses). So it is mostly a free trip for American students, except for souvenirs and gifts,” Knappman said.
Gutierrez spent 10 days in Hashimoto with a full itinerary of culturally immersive activities, such as learning how to write in Japanese characters, attending a Japanese baseball game and touring the Golden Pavilion Buddhist temple at Kyoto.
In a phone interview with Gutierrez after the latest Parks and Rec meeting, he said his favorite place and activity in Japan was visiting the high school in Hashimoto.
“I think my favorite activity was visiting the school over there. Everyone is equal to each other, there are separation of groups, like from cheerleaders or football players, everyone is together,” Gutierrez said.
He said during his appearance at the meeting he was able to meet with the local high school and the city committee, as well as the mayor of Hashimoto, Hiraki Tethuro.
During his brief presentation at the Parks and Rec Commission, he talked about connecting and making friends with the people that he met on his adventure and with the family that hosted him.
“It was a heartwarming experience… because I just grew a connection with the people of Hashimoto… and up to this day I still stay in contact with them and it’s amazing to share my experiences with the students over there. The Sister City Committee has really opened my eyes up as culturally and internationally,” Gutierrez said towards the end of his presentation.
Despite being nervous for leaving his home town and country without his family, Gutierrez said that the trip was a “dream come true” and was thankful for the committee.
“I’ve always dreamed of going to Japan ever since I was a little kid, so it was just a dream come true. I am really grateful to the Sister City Committee for sending me,” he said.
After his presentation of his story and photos, Gutierrez presented a gift from Mayor Tethuro, an authentic “daruma” tapestry, which will be hung in the RP Community Center.
According to Knappman the committee would like to send more students to Japan in the future. “I would like to send at least two in the future, but we are running with the city’s budget,” Knappman said.
When asked what is the most important aspect about having a Sister City Committee for the city and being able to have an exchange program, Knappman said it is important for students to get a glimpse of “a different history, different race and different culture.”
“We’re basically the same human beings and we have differences but at the same time we have similarities and we feel love and respect for others. And there is also a different way for doing things, the Japanese way, or the American way,” Knappman said. “So I would like these young people to see; what you may know, may not be the only way, there is no right or wrong. Knowing the alternative and expanding the way you see things is what I would like them to know.”