New friends from the Land of the Rising Sun

James Phillips
Posted 7/9/17

“Konbanwa” means good evening in Japanese.

I learned that phrase Tuesday night on the 32nd floor of the Regions Harbert Plaza at The City Club of Birmingham. Andrea and I were there for an event honoring the delegation that had traveled from …

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New friends from the Land of the Rising Sun

Posted

“Konbanwa” means good evening in Japanese.

I learned that phrase Tuesday night on the 32nd floor of the Regions Harbert Plaza at The City Club of Birmingham. Andrea and I were there for an event honoring the delegation that had traveled from Maebashi, Japan to Birmingham for a Sister City signing between the two cities.

As we were waiting on the “Thunder on the Mountain” fireworks show to begin that night, Jennifer Williams Smith, a member of the Jasper City Council, Tana Collins, public relations director for Bevill State Community College and myself were talking to a Japanese interpreter. Jennifer wanted to learn a phrase that we could use to impress the delegation. “Konbanwa” was the phrase given to our group by the interpreter. We practiced the word a few times before Jennifer taped the interpreter, Tana and myself attempting to say the word. The interpreter nailed it, of course. Tana, whose only experience with the Japanese language was the song “Mr. Roboto,” also said the phrase 99 percent correct. With the pressure on, I made my attempt. I confidently said, “kon-ba-ba.” While I totally botched the word, I had hoped saying it with confidence would make my attempt seem legit, but Council Member Smith wasn’t very kind when she said, “No…that wasn’t right.”

All of us got a big laugh out of it, and of course, the video was later posted to several social media sites for the entire world to enjoy.

I felt better when the interpreter told us that our new friends from Japan would not mind that I got it wrong, because they would be impressed that I gave it a try.

My new friends from Japan are whom this story is all about. The event at The City Club was the second night in a row that we had the opportunity to spend time with the visitors from Maebashi.

We first met the Maebashi crew a night earlier at the home of Mark Jackson, honorary consul general of Japan in Alabama. Andrea and I, along with Smith, Collins, Jess Drummond and Suzanne Milligan were at the home to represent Jasper and ask the visitors from Japan to help our city secure a Sister City in their area.

The reception was fantastic. I got a few minutes to talk with Birmingham Mayor William Bell, met many new friends and even bumped into a high school classmate that Andrea and I haven’t seen in a decade.

Before that first night was over, the Maebashi delegation was impressed with us Jasper folk and wanted to assist us in our Sister City search. I think that’s how we got invited back for the second event on July 4.

Growing up Walker County, I have traveled to Birmingham for “Thunder on the Mountain” countless times, but this marked the first time I’ve been able to watch it from the top of one of the Magic City’s tallest buildings. The night also gave me the opportunity to present Mayor Ryu Yamamoto with a copy of the Daily Mountain Eagle, which he was excited to see, especially since it was a paper dated July 4, his birthday.

It’s not every day that you get to spend time with the mayor of a major city from another country. I was happy to be there, because I believe in the Sister City project. As a child, my first interaction with Japan was doing Kumon math at Sumiton Elementary-Middle School. As I have grown up, I’ve seen first-hand the importance of having global partners and international businesses locating to our city. We have three Japanese businesses (Nitto Denko, HTNA and Yorozu) in Jasper. With that kind of industrial impact in our community, building a relationship with a city in Japan would be beneficial to our city. We need to show that we want to embrace Japanese culture. We also need to be excited to share our own culture with an international city. A Sister City will do those things.

A Sister City will also provide educational opportunities for students in our area that would not be available otherwise. Bevill State is supporting this idea, and it is because their leadership sees the benefits in a relationship like this.

The Sister City project is moving forward in Jasper. After being a part of the Sister City events in Birmingham over the past week, I’m excited for the day that we will sign our on declaration. That will be a good day for Jasper.

Konbanwa, Y’all!

James Phillips is editor and publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He may be reached at 205-221-2840 or james.phillips@mountaineagle.com.