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Checkers, Greenery, and Libraries: West Bloomfield Receives Visitors from Japan

Sister library program brings 10 teenagers in town for tour.

Fifteen months after the hosted a visit from the mayor of Awaji City, Japan, the library once again hosted visitors on Sunday as part of its sister library program.

Ten Japanese teenagers from the city of just over 47,000 ate a "traditional American barbecue" dinner at , received a tour of Apple Island from the , and met Japanese-Americans living in the area as part of a tour organized by the library.

Director Clara Bohrer said that she felt the teens may have most enjoyed simply getting together with students attending and communicating in Japanese with an engrossed audience.

"Our partnership program began with us simply sending artifacts back and forth, but it's grown well beyond that," Bohrer said. "It was very interesting to see what happened. The Japanese Club from the high school gathered in a circle at the library and just had a good time communicating, and that's really what we wanted to see happen."

The Awaji City Higashiura Public Library was paired with the West Bloomfield Public Library in 1999 as part of the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Informational Science’s Sister Libraries program. As part of the program, the two libraries exchange quite a bit of information and hospitality, Bohrer said, including sending letters written by children from the communities to each other and Awaji City hosting her during a visit in 2002.

Last April, , the mayor of Awaji City.

Some of the Japanese teenagers, who were picked to go at random after a popular essay contest at their hometown library, were charged with documenting the experience.

Bohrer said that the library intends to put the video online in the near future for Japanese library patrons to view, similar to a recent video created by the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society to benefit Awaji City. 

Kayo Hishitani, a spokesperson representing Awaji City who accompanied the teenagers on the tour, said that students enjoyed learning to play checkers at the on Sunday afternoon. It marked an obvious difference in library culture, Hishitani explained, which the students appreciated.

"Our libraries are generally a quite place for sitting, reading, and studying. You have many young people and families at your library, but most of ours would be students at books," Hishitani said. "You have colors, games, and computers in your library, whereas ours might be more of a natural color."

One color in particular which Japanese-Americans living in the area enjoyed showing off was green — in particular, West Bloomfield's vast recreational fields at Marshbank Park, where Tomoyo Koehler of Bloomfield Hills met the teen delegates on Sunday evening.

"It's wonderful here and it's fun to show them how we live," said Koehler of the Japanese Business Society of Detroit. "At this time of year in Japan, it's very hot and sticky, so we have a cooler summer. We also have much more green land than there is in Japan and that's fun to see.

Bohrer added, "I think the teenagers really enjoyed Apple Island as well. There are trees fallen over there and I heard them remark that they'd never seen something like that in Japan — it was beautiful to them, like natural art."

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