Bath sister city program taps new president

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BATH — The new president of the Bath-Tsugaru Sister City Exchange Program is no stranger to Japan.

The board on Feb. 10 elected Phippsburg resident Anne Schlitt, a member since 2014, to head the organization. She replaced Andy Bailes, who succeeded Dr. Deborah Patten a year ago. Patten led the program for 15 years.

Schlitt, a Michigan native who is assistant director of the Maine Humanities Council, spent three years in Ako, Japan, after college graduation, teaching English to high school students as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme.

She is married and has one child, and also serves on the Maine Historic Records Advisory Board and is a hospice volunteer for CHANS Home Health Care.

Although she has not visited the Tsugaru region of Japan, Schlitt said in an interview Feb. 19 that she understands it has much in common with the Mid-Coast; both are oceanside, smaller communities, with local festivals.

“It’s a lot of tight-knit, small town community-type stuff,” Schlitt said.

One of the first activities to be held during her tenure is the program’s annual Japan Culture Day, which will be at several Bath locations Saturday, March 12. This summer – dates still to be determined – a group of Bath area residents will travel to Japan, and a Japanese group will visit Bath, continuing a friendship that goes back more than 125 years.

“We do culture day once a year as a way to keep … it fresh in people’s minds that this is a long-term relationship between the two cities,” Schlitt said. “And we really want to be able to provide a lot of these cool opportunities for people to learn more about Japanese culture because of this friendship.”

That connection was born out of tragedy, after Japanese residents cared for survivors of a Bath-built ship that wrecked offshore of Skariki, Japan, in 1889.

A delegation of officials from Shariki – which later merged with four other villages to form Tsugaru City – traveled to Bath a century later to propose a formal sister-city relationship. A declaration of the relationship was signed in 1993.

Students from the Bath and Tsugaru regions now take part annually in an overseas exchange program. The trip is geared toward middle and high school students, who travel with adult chaperones.

Once her 7-year-old daughter gets old enough for the whirlwind tour of Tsugaru, Schlitt would like the two of them to venture there.

“There are tons of activities, and they really roll out the red carpet over there and take you into their homes and show you their town,” she said.

Those interested in making the journey are likely to learn a lot in advance on Japan Culture Day. Activities will include trying on kimonos, experimenting with woodblock printing, and speaking and writing Japanese at the Patten Free Library from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

About 10,200 kilometers separate the two cities, half of which Bath and Tsugaru swimmers have covered by swimming laps in their respective pools. That effort will continue on Culture Day at the Bath Area Family YMCA from 9 a.m.- 4 p.m.

Now You’re Cooking, 49 Front St., will offer Japanese rice wine, or sake, along with sushi from 1-3 p.m.

Log onto bath-tsugaru.org or facebook.com/bath.tsugaru.exchange for more information about the day’s events.

Residents who wish to be host families for visitors from Tsugaru can reach Schlitt at anneschlitt@gmail.com.

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

Anne Schlitt of Phippsburg is the new president of the Bath-Tsugaru Sister City Exchange Program.

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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.