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Friday, March 23, 2012

Shimane city looks to revive unique Bhutan friendship pact


By HIROKI OKUNO
Kyodo

MATSUE, Shimane Prefecture — The city of Hamada in Shimane Prefecture plans to form a friendship agreement with Bhutan, after merging with a small town that had established ties with the tiny Himalayan state.

News photo
Paper ties: Akira Kubota, a paper-making craftsman from Misumi, Shimane Prefecture, teaches two trainees during a visit to Bhutan in October 2001. AKIRA KUBOTA / KYODO

The town of Misumi concluded a friendship accord with Bhutan in 1994, but exchanges have stalled since the municipality merged with Hamada in 2005.

Any such agreement, which could be signed as early as autumn, would make Hamada the only municipality in Japan with friendship ties to Bhutan.

Misumi is known for its "sekishu-banshi" traditional paper, and its paper-making craft has been designated as a UNESCO cultural heritage. The town had accepted a total of 17 trainees from Bhutan between 1986 and 2005 to teach them paper-making and other skills.

The turning point came when Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema visited Japan last November, including disaster-hit areas in Tohoku, drawing considerable public attention to their nation.

Akira Kubota, a veteran sekishu-banshi craftsman, met with the royal couple in Tokyo to try to resume exchanges and received a positive response.

Encouraged by the meeting, the municipal government of Hamada decided to send Kubota and one of its officials to Bhutan later this month for consultations before concluding the friendship pact.

The Foreign Ministry has welcomed the move, viewing it as boosting Japan's international contribution through cultural exchanges.

"I felt that what we had done was not enough, so I wanted to continue the training again someday," said Kubota, 61, referring to his experience of teaching paper-making techniques to Bhutanese trainees and his five visits to Bhutan.

"If possible, I would like to train instructors in Bhutan to improve their paper-making techniques," he said.

Hideki Toko, the municipal official in charge of the program, will travel with Kubota.

"We are planning to promote exchanges not only in making paper, but in a wide range of fields, including agriculture, education and other traditional cultural fields," he said.

According to Toko, 51, he and Kubota will stay in the country from Monday to Wednesday to meet with Bhutanese officials.



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