A delegation from Lawrence left early today on a journey to the Far East that will seal a sister city relationship with Hiratsuka, Japan.
The 14-member delegation includes Lawrence Mayor Shirley Martin-Smith, City Commissioner Bob Walters, Lawrence Chamber of Commerce President Gary Toebben and members of Lawrence's Sister City Advisory Board and the Friends of Hiratsuka organization formed to develop and support the sister city link.
"This visit will cement the sister city relationship, and it is taken especially seriously in Japan," said Carol Shankel, who heads the advisory board.
"The meeting should firm up contacts for various types of cultural, educational and economic exchanges," she said.
Hiratsuka formally will become Lawrence's second sister city on Friday, when Lawrence and Hiratsuka officials sign a sister city agreement. Eutin, West Germany became Lawrence's first sister city last year.
ABOUT 300 people are expected to attend Friday's ceremony, which will be covered by national news organizations in Japan, members of the delegation said.
"I think the Japanese do a lot of ceremony and a lot of things that are much more formal than we do here in the central part of the United States," Walters said.
"I think the vistit will just be another step we are going to take to better this relationship."
Hiratsuka, located about 35 miles southwest of Tokyo on the Pacific coast, has a population of about 244,000.
Like Lawrence, Hiratsuka has a major institution of higher education, Tokai University, with an enrollment of more than 25,000 students.
A SECOND, high-tech research institution, a branch of Kanagawa University, is being developed and will enroll about 6,000 students.
A Kansas University's professor's connection with this institution was a key to developing Lawrence's link to Hiratsuka.
Ted Kuwana, a KU chemistry professor, was largely responsible for Hiratsuka becoming a sister city, officials said. Kuwana knows the director of Hiratsuka's research branch of Kanagawa University and first proposed the idea to Lawrence's Sister City Advisory Board.
Kuwana is one of six Lawrence delegates already in Japan.
As they prepared for today's flight to Japan, Lawrence's delegates said they were looking forward to learning more about Japanese culture and family life.
"I don't know any Japanese," Martin-Smith said Tuesday. "I've got 24 hours to learn some I'll be doing it on the plane," she said.
Fumio Kuribayoshi, a Japanese doctoral student at KU and member of Friends of Hiratsuka, will be the delegation's official translator, Walters said.
Toebben, who first visited Hiratsuka last year, said the trip would allow officials to make some serious contacts with Japanese businesses that might like to do business in Lawrence.
"THIS WILL NOT be a passive relationship, this will be a very active relationship," Toebben said.
"I'd personally be very pleased if we could establish one Japanese business in Lawrence and one Lawrence business in Japan within a year because of this visit," he said.
Toebben said he would be talking to officials from Sankyo Pharmaceuticals and members of a large tobacco research lab about possible expansion to the United States and Lawrence.
He said no agreements are expected immediately, but that the visit would show the Japanese that Lawrence officials are not "just giving lip service" to economic ties with Hiratsuka.
He said the Lawrence/Hiratsuka relationship would be different from the Lawrence/Eutin relationship from an economic standpoint.
"I THINK there's a better chance that companies in Hiratsuka would want to set up business opportunities in Lawrence. I think Eutin offered a place for businesses in Lawrence to have a chance to become established in Europe," he said.
Toebben also said several higher education and secondary school student exchange programs are likely to result from the visit.
"I think there will be a large number of student exchanges that will benefit both communities," he said.
In addition to the ceremonies sealing the sister city link, highlights of the trip will include tours of Hiratsuka factories, a luncheon with Hiratsuka city officials, a trip to Mount Fuji and a reception with members of a KU alumni group in Japan. The reception, to be held on Tuesday, is the last event of the trip.
Here's a list of the members of the Lawrence delegation traveling to Hiratsuka.
Shirley Martin-Smith, mayor of Lawrence; Bob Walters, Lawrence city commissioner; Carol Shankel, chair, Sister City Advisory Board; Jim Schwartzburg, Sister City Advisory Board; Ted Kuwana, chair, Friends of Hiratsuka; Sam Campbell, Friends of Hiratsuka; Fumio Kuribayoshi, Friends of Hiratsuka; Gary Toebben, president, Lawrence Chamber of Commerce; Cameron Hurst, KU professor and member of Friends of Hiratsuka; Robin Smith, Friends of Hiratsuka; Ann Walters, Friends of Hiratsuka; Janice Toebben, Friends of Hiratsuka; and Louis Copt, Lawrence artist who will present a watercolor painting to officials in Hiratsuka.