Michael Kelly Writes on Sunpu Chaya Dedication, 50th Anniversary and Eisenhower

” In a stirring ceremony at Lauritzen Gardens, five men from Shizuoka serenaded Mayor Jean Stothert at the dedication of an addition to the Japanese park.

The “Kiyari singers” sang traditional selections as well as an original song written for the dedication of the Sunpu Chaya, a traditional Japanese wooden structure. It was built by craftsmen from Shizuoka and presented May 6 to Omaha, its sister city for 51 years.

Stothert thanked former Shizuoka Mayor Zenkichi Kojima and a Japanese delegation, who had traveled to Omaha for the ceremony. Stothert referred to “a decade of generosity from our sister city” and said the gift was a reminder of how “the power of friendship across borders can build relationships that will endure forever.”

In 2005, Shizuoka contributed a replica of its Sunpu Castle Gate to Omaha, and a 30-foot imitation of Mount Fuji was created. In 1996, plans were announced for a $5 million Japanese garden that hasn’t yet happened.

Spencer Crews, executive director at Lauritzen, Omaha’s 100-acre botanical garden, now says it would take $15 million to realize that dream.

Lauritzen Gardens is coming off a record attendance year, 225,000, up from the previous 175,000. The increase was fueled partly by the opening of the glass-enclosed conservatory, which needed a $30 million capital campaign.

It’s too early, Crews said, to return to donors and ask for more to complete the Japanese garden. But he said he believes it will happen. The Japanese park and garden would cover a combined 13 acres, and Crews said it would rival the best in the country.

Two decades ago, the idea was pushed by Yuichi Kawai of Shizuoka and Jim Leuschen of Omaha. Kawai’s son and Leuschen’s widow, Pat Leuschen, spoke at the May 6 ceremony, expressing hope that the garden would be built.

The United States and Japan are strong allies today, and on April 12 a delegation representing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, including a former ambassador, visited Omaha. Nebraska’s exports to Japan, mainly agricultural, rose to nearly $800 million last year, a 200 percent increase from 2005.

The pledge of enduring friendship last week at Lauritzen Gardens came in the same month that President Barack Obama will make a historic visit to Hiroshima, where the United States dropped the first atomic bomb in 1945. The Enola Gay, the plane that carried the bomb, was built at the old Martin Bomber Plant, the site of today’s Offutt Air Force Base, a mere 11 miles to the south of the May 6 ceremony.

A survey last year by the Pew Research Center found that 56 percent of Americans approve of the use of atomic bombs that hastened the end of World War II. A 1945 Gallup Poll indicated 85 percent approval.

President Dwight Eisenhower, who created sister-city programs, expressed hope that personal relationships would keep disagreements from escalating to war. Gifts and gardens help maintain friendships.

So does singing. ”

POSTED: SATURDAY, MAY 14, 2016 12:30 AM

Contact the writer: 402-444-1132, michael.kelly@owh.com