SPECIAL TO THE MIRROR
Santa Monica City Hall – Council Chambers: A slice of Mt. Fuji – Japan’s highest and most sacred mountain – was presented to council members at the September 28th meeting. Traditional walking sticks used by climbers ascending the 12,000 foot mountain, along with other gifts were given by the girls of the Santa Monica AYSO Cultural Exchange soccer team in expression of gratitude.
The team recently returned from Japan, where they played in a tournament hosted by Santa Monica’s sister city, Fujinomiya, as part of a five-day cultural exchange. Earlier this year, Santa Monica’s City Council had approved funding to help support the intercultural trip.
“We want to thank the honorable mayor, City Council, Nat Trives and the Sister City Association for making this incredible experience possible,” said AYSO regional commissioner Vincent Landay.
Former Santa Monica mayor, Nat Trives read from a proclamation on behalf of the mayor of Fujinomiya.
“We have been touched and inspired on many occasions as we welcomed delegations from your esteemed city, and sent delegations from Fujinomiyi to Santa Monica.” The proclamation noted that the exchange had deepened the bonds between the cities since they became sister cities 35 years ago, and that the number of people who had already participated in exchange trips was more than a 1000.
Fujinomiya is a city of 135,000 located at the base of Mt. Fuji. The 2010 cultural exchange team was scheduled to climb on the world-renowned mountain. But the climb was cancelled when the team arrived to 60 mph winds and the driving rain of a typhoon. Nonetheless, the trip to Fujinomiya was filled with many adventures, often chronicled in letters the 11 and 12-year-old players wrote to the City Council.
Twelve-year-old Kailey Paris recounted having to learn a brand new custom -- bowing to the other team’s coaches at the end of every game. “We weren’t very good at that in the beginning, but in the end we were practically experts.” Abby Benn recalled reaching out to a defeated Fujinomiya team with small gifts and compliments. “We ended up becoming friends and supported each other for the rest of the games.”
Many of the most memorable moments came from off the soccer field. Players were housed by local families. There they shared meals, witnessed annual celebrations honoring ancestors, learned traditional dance, and experienced daily life in a typical Japanese home. Soba and udon – tradition Japanese noodles -- became the favorite meal for many girls. Sushi and even octopus pancakes were part of the daily fare. But ultimately, it was the family settings that often included grandparents and even great-grandparents, which left the biggest impression. Annabel Renshaw called the home stay was “the best part.”
For Fiona Story, the experience of “staying with total strangers,” and getting to play “in a new and intriguing environment was incredible and unforgettable.” Naomi Miller-Altuner said the trip was “once in a lifetime.” Full versions of the players’ letter can be read online at http://japan.ayso20.org/.
The 2010 cultural exchange trip is part of an ongoing commitment for AYSO, the largest youth sports organization in Santa Monica. AYSO has collaborated with the Sister City Association to send a tournament team to Fujinomiya every five years for a quarter of a century. Funds for this years’ trip were raised by the players and their families through bake sales, car washes, rummage sales, and donations. In addition to support from the City of Santa Monica, donations and equipment came from extended family and friends, the Kiwanis Club, Santa Monica Toyota, SoccerOne and MTV. The 19 girls raised enough to fully fund their trip.
“I am very grateful I got to go,” wrote Kate Rusk-Kosa in her letter about the experience. “Thank you Fujinomiya and the 2010 Cultural Exchange soccer team!”
The time the players spent in front of the Council was brief, but by all accounts, the impact of the trip will be lasting. “This experience,” said Vincent Landay, “will reverberate throughout their lives.”
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