Pendleton, Oregon and Minamisoma, Japan are designated sister cities, but it’s not a relationship meant to take literally.
But Satomi Hase, said she feels like she found a big sister for real with her host family.
The girl from her host family had been to Minamisoma as a part of the Sister City exchange program, and she and Satomi have been spending some of their spare time translating the Japanese from a picture book the American girl bought while in Japan.
Satomi and the five other Minamisoma 16-year-olds who participated in this year’s exchange program have been immersing themselves in Pendleton and Eastern Oregon since Aug. 7.
In that week, the group has gone to the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute, the Umatilla County Fair and Hamley’s, and they hit another milestone on Monday when they visited the Round-Up.
The girls were led through a tour of the Round-Up and Happy Canyon Hall of Fame Museum, where Yumie Keller, the contingent’s chaperon, acted as translator.
With Keller mixing her Japanese with “cowboy” and the occasional wrist spin to indicate a lasso, the girls learned the stories of Roy Raley, Til Taylor, and other Round-Up history.
The group gasped when they saw archival footage of cowboys bronc riding, steer wrestling, or calf roping, oohing in recognition when the tour touched on something recognizable.
Keller connected with the exhibit on Yakima Canutt and his career in Hollywood, where he did stunt work for famous films like “Ben-Hur,” “Stagecoach,” and “Gone with the Wind.”
“My father would like this photo,” Keller said as she snapped a picture on her phone of a montage of Canutt’s film work.
As they scattered into the Round-Up gift shop, the girls shared their thoughts on their time in Pendleton so far.
Several group members said they enjoyed the Umatilla County Fair and the Farm-City Pro Rodeo, a prospect they hadn’t anticipated.
Minamisoma and Pendleton were connected as sister cities because of their shared passion for horsemanship, as evidenced by the Round-Up and the Soma-Nomaoi Festival, a Minamisoma tradition that features horse racing and processions.
Despite Minamisoma being more than four times the size of Pendleton, the feeling among the group was that the Round-Up looked like the larger event.
But beyond rodeos, the Minamisoma teenagers mused on some of the other cultural differences.
Haruka Kyoya said American meals feature much larger servings than in Japan, although she had no trouble finishing any of the food she was offered, prompting giggles from her classmates.
Miya Sato said American kids her age were more independent than they are in Japan, as evidenced by their ability to drive themselves to school.
While many of the group members were making their first trip to the U.S., Keller was making her return trip to Pendleton.
Keller was just a chaperon when she made her trip to Pendleton 15 years ago and has since become a staff member for the Japanese side of the exchange program.
Back then, Pendleton hosted the Japanese students during Round-Up week, and she was surprised to see the rodeo grounds looking so empty a few weeks before their signature event.
But Keller’s memories seemed fond, and many of the girls expressed fondness for their host families.
Jordan McDonald, who was chaperoning Monday’s activities with his wife, Pendleton City Councilor McKennon McDonald, was glad to hear that the host families were treating their guests well.
McDonald chaperoned the group of Pendleton High School students who made the trip to Minamisoma this year and was impressed with their hosts’ level of hospitality.
“It was like going back in time with an extra large dose of politeness,” he said.
McDonald will take over as president of the Pendleton Cultural Foundation, the group that sponsors the exchange locally, next year. He plans to focus on educating host families on Japanese hosting customs to make sure they’re keeping up with their sister city partners.
Contact Antonio Sierra at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0836.