2017-07-06 / Front Page

A Life-Changing Journey to Shimoda

By Betsy Sherman Walker

Will Fuery and Stella Garcia, Manae Ito, Mizue Ito with host parents, mother Miyabi Ito and father Masaaki Ito. 
(Photo courtesy of Will Fuery) Will Fuery and Stella Garcia, Manae Ito, Mizue Ito with host parents, mother Miyabi Ito and father Masaaki Ito. (Photo courtesy of Will Fuery) Maybe it’s the constant views to the ocean’s horizon and a curiosity about what lies beyond. Maybe it’s living in a town whose history is defined by lives spent at sea that incites a certain restlessness. For generations, there has always been something about a life lived in Newport that can give one the travel bug.

When Stella Garcia and Will Fuery took off from Boston’s Logan Airport bound for Shimoda, Japan on May 15, along with Mayor Harry Winthrop and members of the Newport Hospitality Commission, they boarded the plane as the two youngest delegates on the city’s annual Sister City trip. Both freshmen at Rogers High School, Garcia and Fuery earned their places by completing an application, which included an essay about why they wanted to go.

Both wanted an opportunity to see the world.

Garcia said it was a desire to be exposed to the culture. “I knew this would be a life-changing experience,” she said.

Her essay focused on her being a third-generation Newporter on both sides of her family. “I also talked about how my dad exposed me to the history of Newport at a young age,” she said.

Fuery, whose family moved to Newport last summer, wrote that he thought he “would be a good representative of Rogers and of Newport,” and that he has a "passion for his school and city."

After he returned, Fuery told Newport This Week, “Going on this trip has changed so many [of the] ways I think about the world.”

Winthrop said that students have been included in the Shimoda trip for about 10 years. The Hospitality Commission works with Rogers to solicit the applicants and to find ways to cover the costs. This year, the Preservation Society of Newport County underwrote the students’ expenses.

Neither Garcia nor Fuery speak Japanese, but they were schooled on the basics, and were aware of the significance of the Newport- Shimoda relationship. The seaside towns were “twinned” as sister cities in 1958, but Shimoda shares an even more historic link with the City by the Sea. In the summer of 1853, Commodore Matthew C. Perry, another restless Newporter, made his historic entry into Tokyo Bay. He arrived with his fleet of Kurofune, locally described as “Black Ships of evil mien.” A year later, the United States signed the Treaty of Kanagawa, opening the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to American trade.

Both cities also celebrate a Black Ships Festival. Shimoda marked its 78th year on May 17-19, with the Newport group in attendance. Newport will celebrate its 34th year on July 13-16, when it will host a reciprocal delegation from Shimoda that includes students.

For Garcia and Fuery, every day in Shimoda was an education. One of the more unexpected realities they encountered was on a visit to an elementary school, when, according to Garcia, “The students asked us to autograph their notebooks and earthquake helmets.”

“We were leaving, and all of the kids gathered outside with helmets and pens,” Fuery said, “and we signed the helmets. The kids wear the helmets when they go to and from school.”

The visit to the elementary school, he said, “was my favorite thing about the trip.” Another revelation: How the international language of friendship wasn’t lost in translation, but instead emerged. “I was so surprised by how helpful and nice people were,” said Fuery. “I never expected to feel so honored and welcomed by the people of Shimoda.”

Garcia felt the same. “The most amazing part was how the people there treated us,” she said. “I expected everyone there to be really nice, but what surprised me was they acted like we were celebrities.”

There is a reason for that, says Winthrop. “If you go outside and ask anyone on the streets of Newport if they know who Perry is, most of them couldn’t tell you.” Or tell you much. Or where to find his statue, which stands at the top of Touro Park, his gaze fixed to the east across Bellevue Avenue and beyond. But in Shimoda, Winthrop said, Perry is a local hero. There are visual references everywhere to his arrival, he said, “from across the sheet of magnificent water” (Perry's words) nearly 164 years ago. “The sewer covers on the streets,” Winthrop added, “all have a likeness of the Black Ships.”

Perry is considered the father of the modern U.S. Navy. Not only born in Newport, he is buried here. “We learned about him in history a little bit before we went, but just the very basics about how he opened up trade between Japan and America. I definitely learned more about him on the trip,” Garcia said.

Winthrop thinks the students are a crucial part of the experience, helping the adults on both sides of the ocean connect in more meaningful ways. “If the students weren’t making these trips,” he said, “it would be nothing more than a [series of social events] for the adults.”

The group also included Newport Hospitality Commission Chair Michelle Shevlin, who went as a chaperone for Garcia and Fuery, Winthrop’s wife, Deborah, and representatives from Discover Newport. The mayor pointed out that the city and taxpayers picked up only his tab and Shevlin’s. The remainder of the party covered their own expenses.

The trip was Garcia’s second time out of the country. For Fuery, “It was my first time out of the country,” he said, “and only my second time on a plane, so I was very excited and anxious.”

A week in Japan took care of the jitters. On the return trip, Winthrop said it was evident that the students had morphed into seasoned travelers. “When we were driving from Newport up to Boston, the kids were tentative and a bit nervous,” he said. At the other end of the week, he said, “We all saw an entirely different side. They were more confident and outgoing. They started interacting with the grown-ups. It was a noticeable difference.

“The kids going along is the best part of the trip. If that didn’t exist, I wouldn’t go.”

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