Fifteen visitors from Hokuto City, Japan, were welcomed to Berea Tuesday, continuing a tradition that began in 1988. The delegation is being hosted by the Madison County International Committee (MCIC), which kicked off the group’s four-day cultural exchange visit to Madison County with a dinner sponsored by the City of Berea.
Berea Mayor Bruce Fraley and his wife, Linda Fraley, were on hand to greet delegates, along with Madison County Judge Executive Reagan Taylor. Other officials who welcomed the Japanese included Berea City Council members John Payne, David Rowlette, Cora Jane Wilson and Jim Davis.
In his remarks to the delegates, Mayor Fraley commented on the remarkable bond that has been forged between Hokuto City and Madison County as a result of the cultural exchange program, in which a delegation from Japan comes to Madison County every spring, and a delegation from Madison County travels to Hokuto City in the fall.
“I have spoken with several citizens of Madison County who have visited Hokuto City in past years, and the impact of participation has been described to me as ‘life changing’ and ‘transformational,’” Fraley told the visitors. “I hope that your visit to Berea, Richmond, and Madison County is also a ‘transformational’ and ‘life changing’ experience. When we work together, get to know one another, and come to understand each other, we do our part to create a better world to live in and promote world peace.”
During his remarks, Fraley also noted the profound impact Japanese industry has had on the local economy. Among Japanese-owned companies in Berea, Hitachi is Berea’s largest employer with approximately 1,500 employees, KIUSA has 115 employees, and Kentucky Steel Center with approximately 65 employees, all of which provide good jobs and elevate the quality of life in Berea, Fraley noted.
Additionally, Mayor Fraley recognized the contributions of former Berea City Council member Vi Farmer and current City Administrator Randy Stone, who was then serving on the Berea City Council in 1988. Both championed the cultural exchange program, along with then-Berea City Councilman Randy Osborne. What began as a sister-city cultural exchange program between Berea and Takane City, Japan, has since grown to a unique sister-region relationship that includes Berea, Richmond and Madison County, as well as Hokuto City, a municipality of eight mountain communities in Yamanashi Prefecture. “It’s the only one of it’s kind,” Farmer said. “Really something to be proud of.”
The program was launched in honor of Kentucky resident Paul Rusch, who founded the Kiyosato Educational Experiment Project (KEEP) in the Japanese highlands. He started KEEP with the idea of helping Japan’s impoverished mountain residents build an agricultural economy and thus recover from the ravages of the Pacific War. Rusch is also credited with introducing American football to Japan, establishing the first Japanese collegiate football league that continues today.
Though Paul Rusch died in 1979, he is still fondly revered in Hokuto City for helping the people in the region. Every autumn, Rusch’s memory is honored with a Western style harvest festival, where the Madison County delegates are treated as honored guests.
The delegation will be in Madison County until they depart on Saturday morning, including a Thursday event in Artisan Village on Thursday, where they will experience a Jammin’ on the Porch concert sponsored by the city’s Tourism Department. The concert is free and the public is welcome.