Seeking friendly relations – Montevallo, Japanese village work together

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The city of Montevallo and Miyazaki Village in Japan have taken a further step in a connection between their two people, arts and culture separated by an ocean and 14 hours of air travel.

In the latest phase of this connection that traces its beginnings back about nine years ago,

five Japanese students and two adult escorts recently visited Shelby County for a five-day cultural exchange visit with Montevallo students and their families.

The visit was the result of an agreement between Montevallo Middle School and Miyazaki Junior High School and the Tourism Department, according to Cindy Warner, public relations/community education supervisor for Shelby County Schools.

The Japanese group arrived at the Birmingham International Airport on July 28 and departed for home again on Monday, Aug. 2. While in Shelby County, Japanese students stayed in the homes of host families paired with Montevallo Middle School students by age and sex, according to Warner.

During the visit, the adults visited the Birmingham Museum of Art while the youngsters visited Vision Land, went bowling, shopped at the Galleria and visited Lay Lake for fun on jet skis and took a quick tour of Montevallo Middle School and the Japanese art exhibit at the University of Montevallo.

In return students from Montevallo Middle School will travel to Miyazaki, Japan in October.

On the Sunday before their scheduled return to Japan, the visiting Japanese and their host families gathered at the home of Dr. Ted Metz and his wife, Catherine, in Montevallo.

The Metz home was the setting for a farewell meal for the entire group in which host families provided the vegetables

while Dr. Metz and Catherine provided the meats.

Tracery and Lisa Lawley and their daughter Heather hosted Shiho Aoyama and Nami Saito; Deloris Stoudmire and her daughters Neko and TiaLeigh hosted Asuka Shitamiya; Warren and Rita Payne and their children Mary-Grace and Josh hosted Ayako Koto and Takuya Kida.

Assistant host families included Steve and Patsy Sears, Manuncio and Dru Martinez and Johnny and Annie McClain.

Japanese adults making the trip included Naomi Hashimoto, assistant section manager of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, and Shigeru Yoshida, principal of Miyazaki Junior High. They stayed at the University of Montevallo.

According to Hashimoto, Miyazaki Village is a town of about 4,000 people in the middle of Japan. It is famous for its ceramics with many potters.

The connection between the two cities actually began nine years ago with a pottery exhibit at the Birmingham Museum of Art, according to Dr. Metz. At that time, he said, &uot;Japanese Living Treasures&uot;

(potters) arrived for a workshop.

Dr. Metz was principal professor of art at the University of Montevallo and also worked in ceramics and sculpture.

Later Dr. Metz and Caherine’s son and his jazz band traveled to Japan.

Fast forward to last year, when Japanese Imperial Dancers called Gagaku performed for a large crowd at the Birmingham Museum of Art and a standing room only crowd at the University of Montevallo.

At that time the Mayor of Miyazaki (a Mr. Kimura) and Montevallo Mayor Grady Parker pledged &uot;friendly relations&uot; between their cities. Dr. Metz called the agreement a &uot;preliminary step to a true sister city relationship.&uot;

This led to the first visit by exchange students from Japan this summer and a corresponding trip by children from Montevallo to Japan this October.

Hashimoto said one similarity

between his Miyazaki Village in Japan and the city of Montevallo is the tranquil. peaceful atmosphere of the two cities.

While the University of Montevallo is home to Dr. Metz is known for his pottery and sculpture, Miyazaki is home to the Echizen Potters Village.

According to information provided by Hashimoto about 800 years ago farmers needed pottery for everyday use.

And the first Echizen kiln was at Ozovara in Miyazaki Village. Now with the establishment of the Echizen Pottery Village in 1971, &uot;the flame of Echizen Pottery burns again.&uot;

Hashimoto said the trip from Japan to the U.S. and back cost each person $2,200. Each person making the trip raised half the funds on their own and the government paid the other half. He said the trip took 14 hours.

Warren Payne whose mother was Japanese said his guest, Kida &uot;was a blessing.&uot; He said Kida plays baseball in Japan and has a very good knuckle ball.

When asked about their trip to Montevallo, Hashimoto translated the answers from the some of the youngsters. He said the Shiho liked the nature of the area and was surprised at the size of American houses which are large compared to those in Japan. She also like the roller coaster at Vision Land.

Takuya enjoyed taking a 35-foot drive a Lay Lake. He was surprised at the large farms with animals and the large portions of food eaten by Americans.

Also among those on hand for the farewell dinner were Mayor Parker and Montevallo Councilmembers Sharon Anderson and Willie Goldsmith