East Meets West As Cranford Welcomes Japanese Athletes

A judo team from Nakadomari, Japan, met with local officials prior to a tournament at Cranford Judo and Karate Center.


While the world watched athletes from every nation compete in the 2012 Olympic Games, Cranford celebrated international athleticism on a local level as a former Olympic coach and owner of a township judo studio helped officials welcome a team of Japanese martial artists to the municipality.

The young judo karate team from Nakadomari Town, Aomori Prefecture, Japan met with local officials at town hall on July 29 as part of a special ceremony that preceded a tournament at Cranford Judo and Karate Center.

Clad in navy blue and white uniforms and joined by their coaches and the mayor of Nakadomari, the Japanese team entered council chambers, smiling as they extended a traditional greeting to local officials and guests by bowing cordially. The athletes were in Cranford as part of an "international youth sports exchange mission." The team competed in a tournament on July 31 at Cranford Judo and Karate Studio.

The studio is owned by Yoshisada Yonezuka, who hails from Nakadomari. Yonezuka taught and trained at West Point Military Academy with the U.S.
Air Force Team and the U.S. Olympic Team and World Team, from 1960 to 1979. In 1980, he was elected head coach for the U.S. Olympic Team and World Team. He also served as the coach of the Olympic Judo Team during the 1988 games in Seoul and 1992 games in Barcelona. Yonezuka is also the former president of the U.S. Judo Federation.

Gathering in council chambers, Cranford Mayor David Robinson, Deputy Mayor Andis Kalnins and Commissioner Lisa Adubato Nesi joined members of the township's Business & Economic Development Office as well as Police Chief Eric Mason as they welcomes the Japanese delegation and exchanged gifts.

With a little help from Yonezuka, who served as a translator during the visit, Robinson read a formal proclamation honoring the athletes. In turn, Nakadomari Mayor Shin-itsu Ono read a brief statement thanking the township and the local judo school for their hospitality and explaining a little bit about the geography of his Japanese town.

"Our town is located in Aomari Prefecture, which is at the northernmost tip in Honshu, the main island of Japan. And latitude is almost the same as Cranford's. It is hot during the summer and severe snowstorms cover the town during winter," Ono said in Japanese, as Yonezuka translated.

Ono went on to describe Yonezuka as the "pride" of Nakadomari. He also mentioned the "importance of this trip" for the Japanese athletes.

"I am excited for our youth to take advantage of this opportunity and I expect this will be a very important trip for them," Ono said. "I hope our two towns will work together again in the future."

As cameras flashed, Ono and Yonezuka presented Mayor Robinson and township officials with gifts from Japan. The first was a pair of traditional wooden shoes. Yonezuka said he wore similar shoes as a boy growing up in Nakadomari. What made these shoes even more significant, however, was the fact that the glossy, brown paint covering the shoes is very special - there is only one place in the entire world that makes the paint. Ono also smiled as he handed Robinson another gift: a framed painting of traditional Japanese artwork.

The exchange of gifts continued as township officials presented Ono with a Cranford Police Department patch and pins and a township flag. Robinson then greeted each athlete, presenting them with gift bags. It wasn't at all difficult for  the Japanese visitors or township commissioners to make their gratitude obvious as they left council chamber, bowing and shaking hands in a display that easily crossed cultural barriers.

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