Matsuyama, Japan

It’s All About Friendships!
FFNI Welcomed Friendship Force Ehime, Japan
Friday, June 14 – Monday, June 17, 2013

Ten years ago Northern Illinois had a wonderful exchange with Matsuyama/Ehime, Japan. Our hosts dressed us, even the men, in kimonos, taught us the fine points of their traditional Japanese tea ceremony, took us to the Dogo Hot Spring Bath, and we slept on tatami mats. At the 2012 Friendship Force International Conference, many of us reconnected. In addition, Tom and Sally Coyle stayed with their 2003 Matsuyama hosts for several additional days. To our delight, the Matsuyama club decided to visit Northern Illinois after their Connecticut exchange.

Word spread and soon Sharon Spear who lives in Spokane joined the exchange. Why? Mitsuko Kawabata, the Ehime exchange director, and Sharon had each home hosted the other plus Sharon joined FFNI on our exchange to Turkey in 2009. Sharon was standing in line to pay for her hot air balloon ride and what an unbelievable surprise—Mitsuko was in line behind her!
Carolyn Olson enjoyed her home hosts, Akiko and Isao Murakami, in Ehime so much that she invited them to visit her in Arizona after the Northern Illinois exchange. When that was not possible, Carolyn asked to join our exchange so she could spend time with her friends. Dear friends reunited that is the force of Friendship Force.

The Matsuyama ambassadors arrived a day late due to a cancelled flight. The welcome party was postponed to Saturday lunch and highlighted by a Japanese fan dance and delicious German food. Four of the Matsuyama ambassadors shared their local prefecture dance traditions with us. A few hours later a picnic under the stars was moved indoors. The weather held and the group enjoyed the beautiful music of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at Ravinia, outdoor summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Our Japanese fathers celebrated Father’s Day for the first time. The Sunday morning two-hour private trolley car tour included the Art Institute of Chicago, museum campus with its glorious view of the Chicago skyline, Navy Pier, Magnificent Mile, Water Tower, River North, Sears/Willis Tower, and more. After lunch, hosts gave a personal tour of Chicago’s Millennium Park to their ambassadors. It included the Pritzker Pavillion, Lurie Gardens, Crown Fountain and the Cloud Gate better known as “the bean.” Ambassadors loved window shopping as they walked along Michigan Avenue. A ninety minute boat cruise on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan gave everyone a chance to relax, soak up the perfect weather and learn about Chicago’s architecture and history. New friendships were formed. It seemed like no one ever stopped talking and laughing and snapping photos.

Small club dinner parties highlighted Sunday evening. Monday morning our Japanese friends departed for Tokyo after a four hour weather delay. We hope they will come again and stay longer.

Most important of course was sharing our lives and culture and also learning more about Japan. There is talk of hosts and ambassadors meeting in Las Vegas and Alaska next year. As home host Dean DiBrito said, “ We loved our ambassadors.” Dean, I’m sure, speaks for all home and dinner hosts for the Matsuyama/Northern Illinois exchange.

A world of friends is a world of peace.

Sally Coyle, Exchange Director