Statue marking friendship between Newport and Okazaki, Japan, is blessed in library ceremony

With bamboo in the background, strains of Japanese music in the air and a guest in a kimono bowing to others wearing jeans, the Newport Beach Central Library on Tuesday morning set a perfect stage for an East-meets-West celebration of 30 years of Sister City partnership with Okazaki, Japan.

"We are grateful you are here with us," Mayor Rush Hill told 32 delegates visiting from Okazaki as a translator repeated his words in Japanese.

Okazaki Mayor Yashuhiro Uchida also spoke.

"I hope we can continue to cultivate this wonderful friendship," he said.

To mark the 30-year anniversary, the Japanese delegates had given a statue to Newport Beach depicting Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was born in Okazaki and is considered to be the founder of the Edo period and the first shogun to establish a peaceful Japan. The sculpture is made of granite from Okazaki.

"To us, he's a superhero," Uchido said. "Any Japanese person would know about him."

Then he and Hill lifted a black cloth to unveil the Friendship Statue, and Yasuko and Seth Siegel of the Sister Cities Newport Beach group blessed it.

"This statue will be here, hopefully eternally, as a symbol of peace," Seth Siegel said.

The Japanese delegates also received gifts — pens and lapel pins — from Newport Beach. At Tuesday's City Council meeting, they were scheduled to receive a proclamation and keys to the city.

The Japanese delegates arrived Sunday and Monday and have toured City Hall and the Civic Center Park, where they enjoyed the bunny sculptures, said Liddy Paulsen, president of Sister Cities Newport Beach.

The group spent the afternoon at Fashion Island and enjoyed a harbor cruise; they plan to leave Wednesday or Thursday, said Connie Skibba, a Sister Cities board member.

The ceremony included photo opportunities, a performance of "Amazing Grace" and a traditional Japanese dance known as the Crane and Turtle, performed by Kyoko Kamio, who wore a pale pink kimono with a gold obi and danced with a gold fan.

Before she began, she insisted the guests of honor move from the front of the audience because dancing with her back to them would be impolite, her translator said.

Robyn Grant, a Newport Beach Board of Library trustee, said her favorite part of the event was noting the similarities in the two cities and their organizational systems.

"They have a mayor and a city council; we have a mayor and a city council," she said. "The symmetry between our cities is amazing."

About 75 people attended, including former Mayor Don Webb, current City Council members Keith Curry and Nancy Gardner, and City Manager Dave Kiff. The ceremony concluded with cups of tea and trays of sushi.

The statue already has been removed from the Central Library's Bamboo Courtyard, said Tim Hetherton, library services director.

Eventually, he said, it will be installed at Irvine Terrace Park, where other gifts from Okazaki are placed, along with benches that commemorate two men who helped forge the Sister City friendship.

City staff said the statue was unveiled at the library because the setting was more suited for the event.

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