by NATHANIEL NELSON
The Winona County History Center (WCHC) will be filled with the sights and smells of Japan next week, when Misato, Japan, ambassadors host the the first annual Japanese Cultural Fair at the museum.
The event will take place on Saturday, October 27, at the WCHC from 9 a.m. until noon. Attendees will be able to test out their chopstick skills with snacks in the lobby, attend a green-tea ceremony, snap a photo in traditional kimonos and yukatas, learn japanese calligraphy and origami as well as play various Japanese games. Each station will be used to help introduce Winona residents to the culture of the city’s sister city in Japan, while acting as a fundraiser for the Winona International Friendship Association and the Winona County Historical Society (WCHS).
“[The fair] will be an open-house style event with various activities for the public to try and interact with this year’s ambassadors from Misato, who are leading the activities,” said Jennifer Weaver, educator at WCHS. “We are excited that more of the community get this opportunity to interact with members of the Misato community.”
In 1997, Winona and Misato began their relationship when Kagoto officials invited the town to join them as a sister city. According to Joseph Lepley, the leader in Winona of the Misato trips, the agreement states that the two cities will help promote art, culture, business and friendship between the two.
To help accomplish that, starting in 2003, several eighth through 10th grade students visit Misato each spring as part of an ambassador program, with students from Japan visiting the driftless area each October. What began as a Winona Area Public Schools program for 10 students has now expanded, and is open to all students in the Winona area with 25 ambassadors from eighth, ninth, and 10th grade sent overseas every year.
Lepley explained that while he was teaching at the middle school, the opportunity to be involved appeared and he decided to give it a try. “I was not as involved as I am now but it grew on me and I could see the value that it created for our students,” he said, adding that those who take on the ambassador trip experience something very few do at their age, learning about a larger world and a new culture.
“All the ambassadors and their families that have participated, on both sides of the ocean, would say that their lives have been impacted in a very, very positive way,” Lepley said, “because of the friendships, and because you do have to step outside of your comfort zone to go to a country 6,000 miles away. You learn about yourself and come back somewhat changed with a more positive outlook on the future. I believe that passionately.”
For the past several years, Winona ambassadors have hosted a Winona Cultural Fair for the Misato students, with five stations teaching them about the culture of the Midwest.
“This is the first year we’re going to do the Misato Cultural Fair, and I think that goes to show our relationship between the two cities has grown and evolved. We’ve done the Winona Cultural Fair for the Misato residents for many years but now they’re bringing their culture so more Winona residents can get a taste of Japanese culture,” Lepley said.
In the past, these fairs were mostly for the ambassadors themselves, but with the new event, Weaver explained that getting the community involved will help foster friendship between citizens of the two cities, and hopefully help the relationship to continue growing in the future.
“I think people should go because people will be able to see how strong a bond we have with Misato, and they’ll be able to learn a little bit more about why it’s important for us to continue our sister-city relationship,” Lepley said.
The Japanese Cultural Fair will take place on October 27 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Winona County History Center at 160 Johnson Street in Winona. Tickets are $4 for adults, $2 for students and free for kids ages five and under, and can be purchased at the history center. For more information, call WCHC at 507-454-2723 or email Jennifer Weaver at firstname.lastname@example.org.