Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Monday, April 1 @ 2:32 p.m.

Second Annual Kamome Festival Marks New Chapter In Sister City Story; Student Exchanges Set to Resume In June

A delegation from Rikuzentakata helped unveil a mural dedicated to their Sister City relationship with Del Norte at last year's Kamome Festival. | File photo: Jessica C. Andrews

To some, this year’s Kamome Festival may feel like a re-run.

Young Del Norters will learn about disaster preparedness. There will be activities celebrating cultures on both sides of the Pacific. And festival-goers will have another chance to watch “Kamome,” the NBC Sports documentary featured at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

But Crescent City Mayor Blake Inscore says things are in transition. An almost entirely new delegation from Rikuzentakata will land at the Del Norte County Airport on April 11. And the Kamome Foundation, the nonprofit organization created to further cultural exchanges between the Sister Cities, has been the primary driver for the festival itself this year.

“The relationship is becoming less and less dependent on government,” Inscore told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Thursday, adding that Crescent City is focusing its efforts on the Forest Moon Festival scheduled for June. “I do believe that next year, the Kamome Foundation will take over as lead of the Kamome Festival. The city will be involved, but they will not be the key driver of the festival itself.”

Kamome Foundation founder Bill Steven, who was with the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office at the time, recruited his son John and five of his classmates to de-barnacle the boat. They then worked with Use and Shipping Lanes in Oakland and Recology Del Norte to send Kamome home.

That gesture led to a series of exchanges between Del Norte and Takata high schools and, ultimately, a Sister City pact between the two communities in 2018. Last year’s Kamome Festival commemorated the 10th anniversary of Kamome’s arrival as well as the fifth anniversary of the formal Sister City relationship.

This year, the Kamome Foundation is urging Del Norters to gather at the airport at about 4 p.m. April 11 to welcome nine delegates from Rikuzentakata. Six of them, including Mayor Taku Sasaki, will be visiting Crescent City for the first time, Inscore said. In addition to delegates representing the City of Rikuzentakata, some will be representing the Rikuzentakata and Crescent City Friendship Association, the Japan counterpart to the Kamome Foundation, Inscore said.

Inscore said the Kamome Foundation is paying for the delegation’s visit “the city and county are not.”

There will be a meet and greet with Sunset High School’s Farm to Table program providing refreshments in the airport’s observation deck.

On April 12, Rikuzentakata’s mayor will join an interpreter and Steven for a radio interview first thing in the morning. The delegation will also visit local city, county, school and tribal officials at the Washington Boulevard fire hall, Inscore said.

“Since this delegation is made up of primarily city hall [officials] it seemed appropriate to have a time for all government agencies to come welcome them and say, ‘We’re thankful they’re here,’” the mayor said.

That evening at 7 p.m., Unit Souzou, a Portland-based taiko group, will bring its “Constant State of Otherness” performance to the Betty Green Event Center at Elk Valley Casino. This event will be hosted by the Del Norte Association for Cultural Awareness and the Kamome Foundation.

Kids from Del Norte High School’s Japan Club will sell dessert plates to raise the money necessary to send a student delegation of three to four to Rikuzentakata in June. In addition to purchasing dessert, people will also have a chance to sponsor an individual student, he said.

“Del Norte Office Supply has donated 2-foot by 3-foot posters that has the kids’ pictures and a bio and QR code,” Inscore said. “If people look at that and go, ‘I want to do more than $2.50 to help with this kid,’ they can click right there and make a donation to help that student go. This is a big component of trying to re-engage the importance of student exchanges.”

The COVID-19 pandemic put a wet blanket on the student exchanges, Steven told the Outpost on Monday. He said he was adamant that a student exchange take place this year. As a result, the Kamome Foundation has fronted them buy-in money for candy sales and other Japan Club fundraisers throughout the school year, Steven said.

Steven introduced the Kamome Foundation to the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors and the Crescent City Council in 2021. The organization’s board members also include Inscore, District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard and Del Norte Superintendent of Schools Jeff Harris.

On April 13, the Cultural Center will host the festival. There will be a drum circle, a regalia demonstration from the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation, whose members will also provide an opening prayer. Hmong dancers and dancers from the Crescent Elk International Club will provide entertainment before a screening of the documentary “Kamome.”

Humboldt Taiko will close out the festival with a performance at 3 p.m. April 13. People will also have a chance to visit fundraising booths belonging to the Japan Club and Del Norte High’s International Club.

On Monday, Steven said the Kamome Foundation received a lot of taxpayer help in the beginning, but now it’s expanding. The organization is now up and running thanks to private donations, for the most part, he said.

The festival will bring much-needed business for local hotels, restaurants and retailers, Steven said.

“And we’re getting some exposure from out of the area too,” he said. “We’re one of the darlings of the Sister City organization because of our origin story.

In between festival events, there are plans for the delegation from Rikuzentakata to visit the Grove of Titans with the Redwood Parks Conservancy. An invitation-only dinner is also being planned at SeaQuake.

In addition to helping further the student exchanges, Inscore said he hopes the dinner at SeaQuake will spark further community interest in the sister city relationship.

“We’re hoping the dinner gets us at least three things: No. 1, another level of exposure to the community about the fact that this relationship is moving forward,” he said. “Secondly, people who see the important of student exchanges and choose to pony up some money. And third, people who want to step into this relationship and would like to know how they can be part of the foundation’s work.”

That could mean being on the Kamome Foundation’s Board of Directors, Inscore said, or being part of a Del Norte delegation to Rikuzentakata.

“Nobody understands this dynamic until they go there,” he said.


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