Japanese ladies from Macon sister city visit, share sushi

alopez@macon.comNovember 8, 2013 

The cultures of Japan and Middle Georgia came together Friday afternoon as a contingent of 25 women from Kurobe, many of whom couldn’t speak English, shared the afternoon with locals in one of Macon’s grand, historic homes.

The women from Kurobe -- one of Macon’s sister cities -- visited the Neel House on College Street. They received a tour of the English Tudor Revival house and were introduced to midstate residents before preparing a 20-foot roll of sushi and exchanging gifts with their new friends.

The visitors represent an agricultural bureau in Kurobe, said Yoshiko Robnett, the Atlanta tour operator who helped organize the event.

Robnett translated for the Macon women who introduced themselves to the Kurobe group.

Elaine Flanagan, of Lizella, helped coordinate the event with Robnett. Flanagan is a member of the Middle Georgia chapter of Ikebana International, which practices the Japanese art of flower arrangement, and she also is a member of the Federated Garden Clubs of Macon.

One of the Kurobe ladies who introduced herself, Takamota Kazue, said this was her second visit to Macon. She visited 10 years ago during the Cherry Blossom Festival.

The Japanese women wore matching pink aprons and yellow bandanas, and they darted from the Neel House foyer, where the sushi roll was assembled, to the kitchen and back. They arrived prepared with all the ingredients, which included white rice, cucumber, egg and salmon.

In preparing the sushi, they were helped by Macon members of Ikebana International and the Federated Garden Clubs, and by Cherry Blossom Festival President Jake Ferro.

Ferro, who has visited Japan several times, said he was excited to participate in Friday’s gathering. Flanked by several Japanese women, he communicated as best he could and helped cut the roll into individual pieces.

“I really enjoy working with the Japanese,” he said, referring to them as “fantastic people, hardworking people.”

“They love cherry blossoms dearly, and so do we,” he said.

Ferro arrived with gifts for the visitors, including official Cherry Blossom Festival pins and postcards depicting Macon.

Both groups enjoyed the sushi and green tea inside the Neel House parlor.

Flanagan received a green silk kimono with cherry blossom prints as a gift from the Kurobe ladies. Ferro received a printed cloth that is traditionally hung at kabuki (traditional Japanese dance) theaters. Katherine Kalish, president of the Middle Georgia chapter of Ikebana International, received a printed hand fan.

Kurobe has a population of 43,084, according to the official city website. It is surrounded by the Sea of Japan to its north and mountain ranges to its south. It is also home to the international headquarters for YKK, which has a factory in Macon and is the world’s largest zipper manufacturer.

Leaving Macon on Friday evening, the Kurobe ladies will travel to Washington, D.C., before heading back home.

“I think everybody had a wonderful time,” Flanagan said.

To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 744-4382.

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