Japanese delegation met with southern hospitality

Published 12:54 pm Saturday, September 1, 2018

AMERICUS — For over 27 years, two communities continue to enjoy an exchange of educational and cultural experiences between Americus and its sister city in Japan, Miyoshi City. Students and families from Sumter County Schools have appreciated the chance to be immersed in a new and exciting culture and realize their own connectedness with the international community. This year was no exception with 27 students and eight dignitaries traveling from the small town of Konu.

Former President Jimmy Carter was invited to visit the town of Konu to promote peace and cooperation between Japan and the United States. He was influential in saving Konu’s bell of Shoganiji Temple, which had survived World War II. Later, Carter donated a replica of the bell, which hangs in the temple. In appreciation, Konu donated a similar “Bell of Hiroshima,” which now resides at the Carter Center as a symbol of peace and the ongoing relationship between Konu and Carter’s own home of Sumter County.

Before arriving in Americus, the delegation toured the King Center and Stone Mountain.

The delegation from Americus’s Sister City, Miyoshi City, Japan, were treated with the best of southern hospitality. As usual, a warm welcome was on display at every site visited and very much appreciated by the Japanese delegation.

Japanese student gave a dance performance at Sumter county Elementary School.

Representatives from various organizations were on hand to greet the delegation as they arrived Saturday afternoon. They were entertained by the impressive music of the Americus-Sumter High Jazz Band under the direction of Debra Hughes. The group played “The Pink Panther Theme” and “Rolling in the Deep.” The delegation was welcomed by the Sumter County School Superintendent Torrance Choates, Americus City Council member Charles Christmas and state school board member Mike Cheokas. Gayla Braziel, organizer of the five-day visit for Americus and Sumter County Schools, also welcomed the delegation and introduced the homestay families to their honored guests. A southern tradition of fried chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, corn bread, and strawberry short cake along with sweet tea was served.

“It is always a special time when we are able to welcome our friends from Japan to Americus! We are always so excited to have the opportunity to share our culture, schools, community, and the warm southern hospitality of Americus/Sumter County with the students and adults that come each year. It is a privilege and honor to be a part of the continued peace and friendship efforts extended to Japan through the humanitarian efforts of our very own, President Jimmy Carter,” said Braziel. “I would like to say a special thank you to Paula Martin, Dr. Torrance Choates, the Sumter County Board of Education, the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce and all of the private citizens, organizations, schools, and businesses that helped to make this year’s visit such a successful event. The success of the visit could not have been accomplished without everyone’s help.”

“The Japanese delegation has been a wonderful tradition here in Sumter County. Anytime time we get to experience other cultures and customs it always makes for a great learning experience, especially for our students and the homestay families. Over the years we have developed some great relationships, both here and abroad. I would like to thank all the homestay families for their patience and hospitality and the community for working with us on this exchange program” said Choates.

Torrance Choates, Sumter County Schools superintendent, is shown with Miwako Nagauchi who teaches English in Konu, Japan.

The adults in the delegation experienced true southern hospitality at various social events, including a supper party at the home of Americus Mayor Barry Blount and his wife, Tami; a dinner party at the home of Charles Christmas and his wife Kim, co-hosted by Chris and Meg Usrey; and dinner at Rosemary & Thyme located in historic Windsor Hotel with school administrators and board of education members.

The Americus City Clerk, Paula Martin, and other city employees presented bouquets of flowers as they entered the Americus Welcome Center to tour and learn more about the community.

The delegation visited Sumter County Elementary and Intermediate schools where they performed a traditional Japanese dance and karate demonstration. They also enjoyed playing with students at Sumter Elementary during their physical education class and were entertained by the Intermediate School’s Pep Squad and Middle School’s cheerleaders. While at Sumter Intermediate school the students participated in an art project. The students met with other students at a mixer on Sunday afternoon hosted by Gia Sandwich, Sgt. Eric English and wife Jennifer, and Christin Rushin. Special visitors were Mary-Margaret Wadell, 2018 Petite Miss Melon; “Sleeping Beauty” better known as Londyn English; sisters Nalley and Litzy Lepiz. On Tuesday they visited Americus-Sumter High School where they were treated to lunch by Principal Kimothy Hadley and students from his culinary arts program. The jazz band once again entertained the group with two selections: “Rolling in the Deep” and “Respect” with soloist Maliyah Clark. The chorus, under the direction of Keith Thomas, performed two musical selections: “He’s Able” and “I Need You to Survive” with soloists  Kameron Carter, Sha’terria Morgan, Zaccheaus Morgan and Phylisicia Lundy.

“It was a pleasure to welcome the delegation and share some of our traditions with them. The students at Americus-Sumter High School enjoyed preparing for them and always looks forward to their time with the Konu-Miyoshi Japanese delegation. I hope the partnership will continue for many years. It is an opportunity to allow educators and students to learn from each other,” Braziel said.

The delegation had an educational and fun-filled few days in Americus and Sumter County. Of the many places visited during their stay included the following:

Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains where they attended Sunday School with the lesson presented by former President Jimmy Carter. The students and adult leaders were privileged to pose with Carter and his wife Rosalynn for photos after the lesson.

After Sunday School and shopping at Walmart the delegation enjoyed Sunday lunch hosted by the Sumter County Shriners, where they offered a feast of food at their local lodge.

Habitat for Humanity Global Village Global Village & Discovery Center, where the students learned how Habitat for Humanity International works in partnership with families to build strength, stability and self-reliance.  They were welcomed and given a short presentation and then were taken on a tour of the Global Village. The students traveled “around the world” and received stamps from each country represented in their “passport” booklet.

The Japanese contingent visited Cafe Campesino Roastery where the coffee beans are processed. They were given a tour, a demonstration of grinding the roasted beans to make coffee, and sampled the coffee.

Welcome Center Director Steve Short led a tour of Lee Street pointing out the historic homes and churches in the area. The group road on the famous Americus Street Trolley.

The group visited two Jimmy Carter National Historic Sites: Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm and Plains High School Museum and Visitor Center.

The adult delegation visited Wolf Creek Plantation and 13th Colony Distillery. They were taken on a tour of the winery, led by co-owner/vinter Matt English where he explained how the business was started and about the process of producing wine. They toured the vineyards and were able to taste different varieties of muscadine grapes. At 13th Colony Distillery, the group was educated by Graham Arthur, Production and Facilities manager and cistiller, on the process of producing unique, small batch spirits that are handcrafted for a great taste.

A sincere thank you must be given to the homestay families. These residents from the community opened their homes to the Japanese students. They provided many traditional American experience from swimming, cook outs, fixing pizza from scratch and offered various American dishes like grits and eggs, pizza and fried chicken. This year’s list included: Travis and Shaceda Mansfield; Mike and Susan Ruckman; Natasha Lewis; Mike and Gaynor Cheokas; Nicole Thurston; Yolanda Coley; Michael and DeAnn Pepito; Edjuardo and Nely Jimenez; Jessakeetha Maddox; Charles and Kim Christmas; Mark and Angela Meadows; Charles Moses and Grace Erra.

The committee if very fortunate to have Michiko English and Yuka Thomlinson give of their time and talents as the translators for the week.

After saying farewell, the Japanese contingent traveled to Atlanta where they toured the Carter Center before they returned to their country.

— Sumter County Schools