Miasa is located on Japan's main island of Honshu in Nagano Prefecture, about 150 miles northwest of Tokyo in a small mountain valley surrounded by foothills, rice paddies, and old farmhouses. Miasa, which means, "Beautiful Hemp" in English, is near the Northern Alps and the ski resort of Hakuba, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. Miasa is very small and not found on most maps, but it is situated within ten miles east of the city of Omachi.
In 1957, Bill and Jenny Zacha moved to Mendocino from San Francisco with the dream to build an art center in a community where creative people could live, work and teach. Two years later, Bill found an ideal site, the old Preston estate, which was a burned-out mansion on one acre on Little Lake Street. It had been used in the film "East of Eden" made in 1955 starring James Dean. With $50 down for a total of $5,500, Bill and Jenny bought the property to create what is now known as the Mendocino Art Center. As a result of a 1961 Look Magazine article on Mendocino and the Art Center, ("Young Man Saves an Old Town"), the town became known throughout the country as a tourist destination.
In 1964, the Zacha's went to Japan where Bill made the acquaintance of woodblock artist, Toshi Yoshida. In 1971 Yoshida came to live and teach printmaking at the Art Center. When he returned to Japan the following year, he was determined to create a Mendocino-style art center there. He eventually found an abandoned turn-of-the-century school house in the little village of Miasa which he established as the Bunka ("Culture") Center. The Zacha's returned to Japan, and Bill made a series of 55 serigraphs of scenes along the ancient Tokaido Road.
In 1980, guided by the efforts of Toshi Yoshida and Bill Zacha, Miasa and Mendocino formalized their sister-city relationship. The agreement was signed by Miasa's mayor, Takemoto Nakamura, and Chairman of the
Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, Norman deVall. On July 4, 1982, a Peace Plaque solemnizing the Sister City tie was placed on the Headlands and an identical one was placed at the Miasa School. The plaque, authored by the late Paul Sutterley, reads: "Behold the sea ...the citizens of Mendocino and Miasa, Japan dedicate
this plaque to the peaceful pursuits of the peoples of the Pacific Basin and to the protection of its environment that all living things there-in may exist in perpetual harmony."
At the ground-breaking ceremonies for Friendship Park (named by Bill Zimmer), Miasa Joined Mendocino in the festivities. Again a plaque was unveiled, reading, "Friendship Park - a special place in the Community
of Mendocino dedicated by the Sister Cities of Mendocino and Miasa, Japan, July 4, 1990." Dirt samples from every major league dub and from Miasa were combined and added to the home plate area. Mayor Nakamura had the honor of turning the first shovel of dirt, and the mayor presented the park association with $10,000 from the people of Miasa. A picnic table sits beside a bed of Kikyu poppies from Miasa with yet another plaque which reads, "For Friendship's Sake, from the Sister City Miasa." Miasa's blue and white flag can be seen flying at the ballpark.
In 1992, the Mendocino Sister Cities Association formally joined the national organization, Sister Cities International. And in 1993, under the guidance of our then vice-president, the late John McConathy, the Mendocino Sister Cities Association (MSCA) was granted non-profit status.
The village government invited Mendocino to send a local teacher to assist with the first "youth exchange." In the summer of 1992, Kay Corcoran spent one month in Miasa and returned with the Japanese delegation of 23 fifth and sixth graders and Miasa's mayor, Yoshio Yoshizawa. The following summer (1993), Kay organized the first visit of 23 Mendocino Middle School students and 10 teachers and parents who traveled to Japan. That summer, David and Betty Cross were the guests of the Miasa village and assisted with the arrangements. In 1994, a group of 50 visitors came from Miasa, including 35 fifth and sixth graders. Marci Van Sicklen and Shizuko McConathy organized the 1995 visit of Middle School students and parents to Miasa.
In August of 1996, the Miasa government invited Mendocino County Supervisor, Charles Peterson, to be their guest in Miasa for one week. His return trip was coordinated so that he could accompany the third delegation from Miasa (including 23 students) on their trip to Mendocino.
The sister city relationship was continued with the May 1997 Mendocino student delegation's visit to Japan which was organized by Jeff Kraut and Bob Rhoades. In May of 1998 the fourth delegation of Miasa Grammar School students and adult chaperones came to Mendocino (27 students and 12 adults). Music, dancing (traditional Japanese dancing, square dancing, Pomo Indian dancing), canoeing at Big River Beach, Miasa-Mendocino, youth ball games at Friendship Park and a visit to the Middle and Grammar Schools were featured as part of their stay. In 1999, the fourth group of Mendocino Middle School students traveled to Miasa under the leadership of Marci Van Sicklen, Kay Corcoran and Shizuko McConathy.
For the first time, the MSCA sponsored a young adult, Heidi Kraut, to go to Miasa a few days ahead of the delegation in order to help the Miasa people prepare for the visitors. Heidi was chosen because she had traveled to Miasa as a middle-schooler and bad continued her studies of the Japanese language at Texas A& M University. In 2001, another young adult, Amanda Price, was chosen to accompany the Mendocino group to Miasa. Amanda had been a middle-school traveler to Miasa and was then inspired to spend her junior year of high school as an exchange student in Okinawa, where she became fluent in Japanese.
For the 36th anniversary of the Mendocino Art Center in August, 1995, the village of Miasa presented Bill and Jenny Zacha with a gift of a "doso shin," a granite sculpture, typical of the Nagano region, to commemorate their importance to the people of Miasa. Both communities were saddened by the passing of Toshi Yoshida that summer. His career spanned more than six decades and produced an exquisite body of work, some of which can be seen at the Showcase Gallery. During the month of August 1997, a remarkable show of printmaking by three generations of the Yoshida family was organized by Bob Rhoades at the Mendocino Art Center.
During the November 1997 visit by Mayor Yoshizawa and a delegation of village officials, we were presented with seven tickets to the 1998 Winter Olympics and seven tickets to the March 1998 Paralympics at
Nagano. In addition, we were given the equivalent of $10,000 to pay for the costs of coastal residents with disabilities to attend the Paralympics. As a result, seven fortunate individuals attended the Winter Olympics and seven others, were selected to attend the Paralympics. Once again, the homestay experience was part of the trip and indeed most memorable.
On March 19, 1998, the death of Bill Zacha saddened the coastal community. Our organization notified our sister city by letter on behalf of Jenny Zacha, acknowledging Bill's deep love for the Japanese people and culture. They were very proud of our sister city relationship, one more aspect of the Zacha's legacy.
Mendocino and Miasa continue to do the alternating student visits. Recently there is talk of starting a similar adults-only exchange. In order to inform Mendocino residents about our Sister City relationship and raise money for a scholarship fund to help Mendocino students go to Miasa, the Mendocino Sister Cities Association has held an annual Sushi Sale at the Friendship Park 4th of July Celebration, but now that venue has ceased being profitable and so we are now hosting an annual Dance fund raiser, other events once or twice a year and also researching methods of receiving grants from the government or corporations.
In 2006 the Japanese government consolidated cities and districts throughout the country, during which Miasa was incorporated into the nearby larger town of Omachi. We now refer to our Sister City as Miasa-Omachi. Mendocino and Miasa-Omachi continue to do their alternating student visits.
In addition, in May 2008 a very successful Inaugural Art Exchange Show was held in Mendocino at the Mendocino Art Center. Eight artists from Miasa-Omachi displayed their works and three artists traveled to Mendocino to attend the show in 2008.
The next Art Exchange Show was held in Omachi, Japan to coincide with the Mendocino student visit in June 2009. In June, 2009 nine artists from Mendocino County traveled to Miasa-Omachi to attend the show. A total of 29 artists displayed their works in the month long show and in September ‘09 another successful show was held in the large nearby city of Matsumoto at the Matsumoto City Museum of Art.
In May of 2010 the Third Annual Art Exchange Show took place at the Mendocino Art Center to coincide with the Miasa-Omachi student visit during the same month. 14 Miasa-Omachi artists participated in the show with nine artists traveling to Mendocino for a week long stay. The Miasa Middle School showed up for a seven day visit just as the artists departed. Their student group included 26 students and 14 adults.
In March of 2011 Japan suffered a massive earthquake and tsunami which changed the proposed Student and Artist Exchange trips. So, in late June 2011, two Mendocino K8 students, along with six adult chaperons and four Mendocino County artists traveled to Japan for a two week visit. Both groups went to Miasa-Omachi upon arrival in Japan to participate in the Gala Artists Reception for the 4th Annual Sister Cities Art Exchange Show in Omachi held at the new Asagura Art Center. After six celebratory nights in Miasa. Both groups departed Miasa to a new destination called Takayama. After a few days the student group headed to Kyoto while the artists traveled around the country until the two groups met up again in Tokyo for the flight home in mid July.
After both groups departed Narita airport for Mendocino, MSCA President, Mike L Evans stayed on in Japan to live in our Sister City for a year. While in Miasa-Omachi, Mike worked as an English Teaching Assistant at the Miasa 1-9 School and also helped renovate the Asagura Art and Cultural Center in Omachi while futhering and deepening the relationship between Mendocino and Miasa-Omachi.
President Evans returned to Mendocino in May, 2012 with the Miasa-Omachi Artists Group to participate in the 5th Annual Sister Cities Art Exchange Show at the Mendocino Art Center. Seven artists from Miasa-Omachi traveled to Mendocino in 2012. A couple of days later, the Miasa School Student group arrived for a week long stay in Mendocino. The group contained 23 students and 11 adults.
In late June, 2013, 14 Mendocino Middle School students and nine adults traveled to Miasa-Omachi during a 16 night tour around Japan. 2013 marked 22 years of consecutive student exchanges between the two Sister Cities.
At the same time, Mendocino artists traveled to Miasa-Omachi to continue the Annual Artists Exchange marking the 6th year of its life. The exhibit was held at the Asagura Art & Cultural Center in Omachi.
On May 16, 2014, 20 Miasa School students and 10 adults traveled to Mendocino for a five night visit with homestay hosts. 2014 marked 23 years of consecutive student exchanges between the two Sister Cities.
On August 22, 2014, eight Miasa Artists arrived in San Francisco where they spent a day and then traveled to Mendocino for a five night visit with homestay hosts. 2014 marked seven years of consecutive Artist exchanges between the two Sister Cities.
In late June, early July of 2015, the 24th Annual Student and 8th Annual Artist exchanges, made a journey to Miasa-Omachi. There were 12 participants in the student group, eight students and four chaperones, and four artists making the trip. They all traveled together and visited Tokyo, Kamakura, Kyoto, Nara, Takayama, Matsumoto, Nagano and of course, Miasa-Omachi.
May, 2016 saw the Miasa School Student group returning to Mendocino. Their seven day journey marked the 25th consecutive anniversary of student exchanges between our two villages. 19 students and six chaperones made the journey.
In June, 2016 five artists from Miasa-Omachi arrived in Mendocino for the 8th Annual Artists Exchange Exhibit at the Mendocino Art Center and the following month at the Spindrift Gallery in Gualala. Both exhibits were very successful. Fourteen artists from Japan participated in the exchange. The five visiting artists spent five days in Mendocino and five days in the Bay Area visiting galleries and general sight seeing. One artist, Sugihara-san traveled to the Grand Canyon and several Native American sites after leaving Mendocino.
Plans are now being made for the 14th Bi-annual, 17-day Mendocino K-8 School Student Group return to Miasa-Omachi in late June, 2019. Applications will be available in mid-September, 2018. At the same time, the 11th Annual Artists Exchange will occur. In 2019 Omachi will host an International Art Exhibit and Mendocino artists are to be included. Applications for the artists trip will be available in October, 2018. The groups will visit Tokyo, Kamakura, Nikko (the first time), Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Takayama, Matsumoto, Nagano and Miasa-Omachi.
The City of Omachi is sponsoring an International Artist in Residence program that will occur each year for the months of September and October.
To date, this 27 year consecutive annual exchange has influenced the lives of over 585 students and 290 adults. Some Mendocino students have gone on to attend high school in Japan just as some Miasa students have later attended high school in Mendocino.