Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey can't read one side of his business card. It's printed in Japanese.
Maybe Carey will be able to read the card on Aug. 8, the day he returns from a nine-day trip to Japan.
If not, at least the mayor will have handed it out to many leaders in Akita, Japan, which is a sister city to the Kenai Peninsula Borough. Carey and an entourage are headed to Japan on July 31 for a trip meant to bolster the relationship between the two cities.
"A sister city is where we learn about each other and get an understanding of each other's economies and cultures," Carey said. "But it's primarily about building friendships."
Akita is the borough's only sister city, according to Carey. The partnership began in the 1990s, in part, because both regions depend on fishing and oil.
Mayors Dale Bagley and John Williams had active relationships with the city.
The upcoming trip will be Carey's first venture to Akita, and he is calling it the "gold" trip because, in addition to his business card, Carey will be handing out gold coins as a kind of peace offering. The tokens will be given at Carey's expense.
Borough Assemblyman Bill Smith, the mayor's special assistant Susan Wilcox and a translator will accompany the mayor on the journey. The borough paid $3,500 apiece for their trips, according to borough records.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Fire Service Area footed the bill for Central Emergency Services Fire Chief Chirs Mokracek and an engineer to make the trip. Two doctors and three students will also be traveling with the group, but they are paying for the visit independently.
The travelers are getting excited about their upcoming journey because an important deadline recently passed.
Aside from all the paid travelers, Carey will tote a "Flat Stanley" and Flat Stanley's pet to Japan.
Until June 7 borough residents could send in their ideas for Flat Stanley's pet (see box for suggestions). To pick your favorite, head to the mayor's page on the borough website.
Flat Stanley, a fictional character in several children's books dating back to 1964, was flattened one night when a bulletin board holding pictures and posters fell on top of him. Being paper-thin allows Flat Stanley to travel many places because he can easily be stuffed into envelopes and suitcases.
The mayor will document Flat Stanley's adventure to Japan partly as a way to document the trip as a whole.
While many older borough residents might be more interested in how the trip may lead to potential economic partnerships with businesses in Japan, Flat Stanley could help involve local kids.
"Because mayor Carey is a teacher and the Flat Stanley project is so unique to children, it's one component of the trip that we can engage our children in to understand where we went, why we did the things that we are doing and to help get them engaged with the international community," Wilcox said.
Carey said he intends to inform all interested members of the community about what came of the trip once he returns.
The trip will begin when the group departs Anchorage at 2:25 a.m. on July 31. They will not arrive in Akita until late in the day on Aug. 1. In Akita, they will meet local leaders, tour the area and take in the unique rituals.
"We would like you to enjoy the summer in Akita experiencing the daily life and the culture, especially 'Kanto Festival,' which is one of the representative summer festival in Japan," Motomu Hozumi, Akita's mayor wrote to Carey on April 15. "When we see you this time, we would like to talk with each other in a friendly manner to share a vision of the friendly cooperative relations."
On Aug. 5 the group will fly to Hiroshima and on Aug. 6 they will attend a ceremony at Peace Memorial Park in remembrance of the infamous atomic bomb dropped on the city in 1945.
Carey said having kinships with former enemies helps to bury the pugnacious past.
"There are people in this community who hated the Japanese and who still relive what happened. By sharing friendship and knowledge it increases the chance of peace," Carey said. "This is a time that peace needs to be stressed."
After Hiroshima, the group will head to Tokyo before flying home on Aug. 8.
In addition to the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Akita has sister and friendly city exchange programs with Passau, Germany; Lanzhou, China; and Vladivostok, Russia, according to the city's website. Akita was founded in 1889 and has a population of about 330,000.
Andrew Waite can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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