Bath enters 20th year with Japanese sister city

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BATH — It started as a tragic shipwreck and blossomed into a longtime friendship.

Poor weather battered the Cheseborough in 1889, running the Bath-built vessel against a shoal a mile from the shore of Skariki, a small Japanese village. Townspeople managed to rescue and care for a few crew members, fostering a strong connection between people who might not otherwise have met.

That goodwill led to a delegation of officials from Shariki – which later merged with four other villages to form Tsugaru City – traveling to Bath a century after the wreck to propose a formal sister-city relationship. The proposal became a reality in 1993 with the signing of a declaration of the relationship, according to Deborah Patten, president of the Bath-Tsugaru Sister City Exchange Program.

Twenty years later, the program is going strong and planning a variety of events for the year ahead. Coming up March 1-3 will be its second annual Japan culture weekend, which benefited from a $1,000 Alfred Senter Fund grant.

That weekend’s agenda is still in the making, but among events planned around Bath are a Japanese movie night, a green tea ceremony and a Japanese gardening talk at Patten Free Library. There will be a class on ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arranging, as well as an afternoon family festival, a kimono fashion show and Japanese dinner with Bowdoin College’s taiko drumming group.

“The idea is to raise awareness of the relationship between the two (communities) and the Japanese culture, but also we try to pass the hat to collect money for scholarships,” Patten said.

The exchange program started offering scholarships last year to send students 14 and older, along with adults, to Tsugaru. Partial scholarships will be offered this year; one full scholarship, funded by Martin’s Point Health Care, will be awarded based in interest, merit and need. The trip will last 10 days in July and August.

Two Japanese groups will also be visiting Bath this summer, the first an official delegation from Tsugaru to take part in the city’s annual Heritage Days celebration. In the second, Japanese students will visit Maine and stay in area homes for a week in early August, after the American exchange students have returned.

“We’re always looking for host families,” Patten said.

Log onto for more information on the student exchange program and Japanese culture weekend, as it is made available.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.