The two communities have been twinned as sister cities for nearly three decades.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - A delegate from Nyuzen, Japan, Forest Grove's sister city, samples sake on Tuesday, July 3.Continuing their tour of Forest Grove for the 30th anniversary of their two communities' sister city relationship, delegates from Nyuzen, Japan, got a taste of the town — quite literally — on Tuesday, July 3.

Forest Grove city officials and volunteer members of the Forest Grove Sister Cities Committee met the delegation for lunch and a tour at Saké One, Forest Grove's own sake-making company. The visitors enthusiastically sampled various sakes and followed the tour with obvious interest.

"I hope your visit to our American sakery, a real rarity here in our country, is … enjoyable," said Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax, after Forest Grove and Nyuzen residents alike noshed on a not-so-traditionally-Japanese meal of tacos from the El Charito Mexican Food truck.

Nyuzen Mayor Haruhito Sasajima, speaking through a translator, admitted during the tour that he usually prefers beer to sake. But he nevertheless enjoyed the sake he tasted at Saké One, he told the News-Times.

Sasajima is making his fifth visit to Forest Grove, as he has participated previously in cultural exchanges between the sister cities. (Truax and other Forest Grove residents have also previously visited Nyuzen, a port town on the Japanese island of Honshu roughly the same size as Forest Grove.)

"The people in Nyuzen always look forward to visiting or welcoming people from Forest Grove," he said through translator Azumi Stapp. "Forest Grove treats them every time, they treat the delegation every time so well that the people, once they get here, they always want to come back again and again because of the hospitality."

In his own remarks to Tuesday's sake tour group, Sasajima said through Stapp, "I'm happy to see that Japanese culture is widely accepted here in the United States. I believe this is a result of cultural exchange movements such as our sister city partnership."

Saké One has strong roots in Japan, as it was founded by the Murai family, which also produces sake across the Pacific as Momokawa Brewing Japan.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Tawnie Clark of Sake One opens up a fermentation tank full of sake during a Tuesday, July 3, tour as visitors from Nyuzen, Japan, marvel.A sign on the wall inside the sakery pronounces Oregon's water and climate to be the best in the United States for sake production — both a simple and deceptively complex process that involves the fermentation of rice, water, yeast and a special mold known as koji. Tawnie Clark, who led the tour through Saké One, said Forest Grove in particular has the "softest" water in Oregon, good for steaming rice and making sake.

Some of the members of the Sister Cities Committee are conversant in Japanese, and they helped translate Clark's remarks during the tour.

Stapp is particularly adept with the language — it's her native tongue. She is from Kumamoto, Japan, on the southern island of Kyushu; her mother, she said, is from a prefecture not far from Nyuzen.

Stapp has been living in the United States for about a decade, and when she moved to Forest Grove five years ago, she said, she learned about the sister city relationship with Nyuzen and decided immediately she wanted to participate on the Sister Cities Committee.

"I saw the flier … that we have a sister city, and as a Japanese living in America, I wanted to be involved," Stapp said. "When I lived in Japan, my hometown had a sister city in Nebraska, so I was involved in that from the Japanese side. And now it's time to be involved in it from the American side."

Delegates from Nyuzen have been staying with Forest Grove "host families" since their arrival Monday, July 2. Among the hosts are Aoife Barnhart and her family.

"I was worried about it at first," Barnhart said. "I mean, I have no head for languages whatsoever. … They have a wonderful grasp of the English language. So we've had some little hiccups, but that's what translation apps are for — which has been fantastic."

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Molly and Aoife Barnhart are hosting member of the Nyuzen delegation during their visit to Forest Grove. Here they are enjoying lunch at Sake One on Tuesday, July 3.Barnhart's husband was deployed to Okinawa, the largest and most populous of the Ryukyu Islands, before the two met, she said. The Ryukyus have been administered by Japan since 1972, but the United States maintains a large military presence on Okinawa.

"Our daughter loves the Japanese culture. So does my husband," Barnhart said. "He brought back a lot of art and décor from Japan, and ever since she was … 5, she just loves it, loves everything about it, loves the culture, the art. She's teaching herself Japanese calligraphy. She's got me going to the library and getting the Japanese language books, and (she's) teaching herself."

When the Barnharts heard that the Forest Grove Sister Cities Committee was looking for volunteers to host the Nyuzen delegates, she said, their reaction was: "Sign us up."

Barnhart and her daughter Molly, who is 11, were all smiles talking about the delegate they are hosting for the week. Molly has already been invited to come to Nyuzen for a visit, Aoife Barnhart said.

"It's been fantastic," she said of the hosting opportunity. "Everybody here's been so wonderful. The delegates are wonderful. They're so sweet."

The Nyuzen delegation will be hosted on the campus of Pacific University for a gala Tuesday evening. Sasajima will fly out from Portland International Airport on Wednesday, he said, but most of the delegation is staying in town for Independence Day and will depart Thursday, July 5.STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Nyuzen Mayor Haruhito Sasajima enjoys a sample glass of sake at Sake One in Forest Grove on Tuesday, July 3, after taking a tour of the facility.

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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