Sister City visitor tours Spa City

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published January 31, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated January 30, 2013 at 10:52 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Ken Kanazawa, left, and interpreter Mariko McCallum look at a display donated by the city of Hanamaki, Japan, during a tour of Summit Arena and the Hot Springs Convention Center. Kanazawa’s visit is the first official event of the 20th anniversary year of the Sister City signing agreement between Hot Springs and Hanamaki.

Hanamaki Visitor

Ken Kanazawa is visiting from Hanamaki, Japan, the sister city of Hot Springs. (By Rusty Hubbard)
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Ken Kanazawa, a registration clerk from Hanamaki, Japan, was the first visitor for the 20th year of the Sister City exchange between Hot Springs and his hometown in Japan.

There will be many others following him to the Spa City, while a group of students and a delegation of residents from Hot Springs will later this year visit Hanamaki, a Japanese city of more than 103,000 known for its own thermal springs, or “onsen” in Japanese.

Speaking through translator Mariko McCallum, Kanazawa said his position with the Hanamaki municipal government is close to that of a city or county clerk in the U.S., but with duties that can be very different.

“The department is for registration of things like birth, marriage and death, and the office is where a Hanamaki resident puts in an application for a passport,” Kanazawa said. “I wanted to see how our procedures were alike and how they were different.”

He met with Hot Springs, Garland County and state government representatives as he toured local facilities as part of a city staff exchange sponsored by Hanamaki.

On the first full day of his visit, Kanazawa visited with Jessieville students. He said he was surprised to find that all of the schools, from elementary to high school, are on the same campus.

“This allowed me to talk with students of all ages as we moved from building to building,” he said through translation. “It was fun. I enjoy talking with the children very much.”

Mary Neilson, coordinator of the Sister City program’s activities in Hot Springs, said Kanazawa visited Jessieville schools because few students from the school system have applied to be exchange students. She said she hopes the visit will create more interest among students in Jessieville to travel as delegates to Japan. The applications are in for the 2013 trip, and Neilson said the program’s first application from the Cutter Morning Star School District had been received.

The visitor from Hanamaki later met with Mayor Ruth Carney and City Manager David Watkins at the Hot Springs City Hall for an official welcome. That night, Kanazawa attended a private reception in Hot Springs that included an appearance from Hanamaki Mayor Mitsuo Oishi via webcam connection.

“Mayor Oishi gave a speech in English, and Mayor Carney spoke though a translator,” Neilson said. “The event celebrated the 20 years we have been a Sister City to Hanamaki. The exchanges and special events will be huge this year.”

On Friday, Kanazawa toured Summit Arena across the street from City Hall. One of the first stops on the tour was an exhibit about the Sister City program that features gifts presented to Hot Springs from Hanamaki, as well as the mask and robes of a traditional shi shi ordori, or deer dancer, who plays a major role in local festivals in the Hanamaki area of Japan.

“Last year, we had a visit from one of the deer dancers from Hanamaki, who was a little upset that our representation of the dancers was beginning to sag a bit and is fading because of the sunlight behind the case,” Neilson said. “The delegation coming to visit in November will include a deer dancer who will reset the figure and replace some of its robes and headdress.”

During the tour, Kanazawa entered the area where an

Arkansas Beta Club meeting was planned and asked about the concrete floor.

Jimmy Sample, director of visitor services for Visit Hot Springs, the convention and tourism bureau for the city, explained that when basketball is played on the arena floor, a wooden basketball court is snapped into place over the concrete floor to provide the proper playing surface. The arena has served as the home of the Arkansas high school

basketball state tournament, as well as recent Sun Belt Conference championships.

Kanazawa spent the weekend in Hot Springs and was scheduled to leave Arkansas on Wednesday, following a tour of Little Rock.

In June, two Hot Springs-area teachers will travel to Hanamaki on scholarships provided by the Sister City Foundation. Applications are still being received, Neilson said.

A citizen delegation will visit the Hot Springs Sister City in July and will be present for the centuries-old Hanamaki Festival.

In November, two delegations from Hanamaki will visit Hot Springs, followed by two student groups.

For more information about traveling to Japan or volunteering to host a Hanamaki visitor, contact Neilson at (501) 545-6960.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or

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