Hiratsuka Mayor Kyoichi Ishikawa is unabashed in his opinion of what he sees as the key to the future of the sister city agreement between his Japanese city and Lawrence.
The youth of the two cities, he said, will make the relationship fruitful.
And so it was no surprise this morning that Ishikawa and the 15 delegates from Hiratsuka were overwhelmed by the reception they received from the school children at Lawrence's South Junior High.
The event was a continuation of a whirlwind of activities lined up over the past two days for the visitors from Hiratsuka.
On Monday afternoon, the Japanese delegates visited several buildings at Kansas University, including the Natural History Museum and the Kansas Union. The visit to KU was followed by a motor tour of the city.
THIS MORNING, the group toured South and Broken Arrow School, then left for a visit to Packer Plastics before a noon luncheon at Alvamar Country Club.
With the school band striking up a song and students and teachers lined up near the main entrance to South, the Japanese visitors received a resounding welcome prior to the tour of the school this morning.
"Thank you all for this very special welcome," Ishikawa told his greeters. "I hope you all can visit Hiratsuka City. When you come, we will have a special place for you."
South Principal Randy Weseman guided the 15 delegates through the school, where they waved to students as they passed by classroom after classroom.
At one point, Weseman learned that Hiratsuka City Councilor Takashi Kamiya used to be an English teacher.
"Would you care to teach a class?" Weseman asked while Kamiya took a good-natured ribbing from the other delegates.
NEAR THE end of the tour, the Japanese were treated to a mini-concert by the South Singers. Then Jerome Whiteplume, a South student, performed a Native American dance in authentic costume.
After an exchange of gifts between student council representatives and Ishikawa, the mayor renewed his invitation to the students to visit Hiratsuka.
"We are waiting for you to come to Hiratsuka," the mayor said, donning a hat emblazoned with the word "South" across its front. "When you come, I'll be wearing this for you."
During a brief interview, Ishikawa said it was his hope that student exchanges will be one of the hallmarks of the Hiratsuka-Lawrence relationship.
"Instead of learning about different cultures from textbooks, the young people should be able to experience those cultures," he said. "Such experiences enrich the education of the young, and that is what I hope we can accomplish."
Although the Hiratsuka delegates are scheduled to leave Wednesday morning, discussions between the two cities will continue well after the visitors are gone. Ishikawa said one of the first tasks for representatives from the two cities will be to work to establish student exchanges on a regular basis.