As cities go, Miami Beach gets around. At least around the world. Our sparkling burg on the Atlantic counts Santa Marta, Colombia; Cozumel, Mexico; Pescara, Italy; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Fujisawa, Japan among its ten or so sister cities.
A nationwide program encompassing more than 1000 cities in the United States, and close to 2000 overseas, the sister city program was established in the mid-Fifties by President Eisenhower as a way to bring folks together. People don't have the luxury of choosing their relatives, but Sister Cities can. And often, as in the case of Miami Beach, they have more than one sibling.
Why forge so many alliances with such far-flung places? "The purpose is to promote multicultural business exchanges," says Amparo Vargas-Lothian, secretary for the Miami Beach Sister Cities Coordinating Council. But the personal rewards can be great as well. Vargas-Lothian says the best thing about her experiences in sister city land have been "learning about my fellow world citizens and realizing that no matter how poor or how hard times are here in the States, I'm a queen compared to a lot of people."
Taking a look at how the people of the industrial city of Fujisawa, Japan, keep their culture through an artistic exchange is the point of Japan Week 2000, which begins this Saturday and runs for an entire week on Miami Beach. Home to an Isuzu auto plant and an IBM computer factory, Fujisawa couldn't be more different from Miami Beach, where a visit to the local sushi restaurant is the closest most residents get to anything Japanese. And that's exactly what will be celebrated.
Martial-arts demonstrations will take place at 4:00 p.m. daily on an outdoor stage on the 400 block of Lincoln Road. That stage will also play host to local and visiting taiko drum ensembles, plus at the end of the week, a daylong festival featuring performers, games, food, and more.
The Miami Beach Community Church will feature performances by Bunraku Puppet Theater, a traditional Japanese art form similar to Noh or kabuki theater; the Toho Koto Society, showcasing visiting artists from Washington, D.C., playing traditional folk songs and favorites on stringed harplike instruments; and a concert by Tamiko Asai, a koto artist visiting from Japan, who in an odd Latin-American twist will perform with salsa musicians.
During the week the Miami Beach Botanical Garden will offer workshops about bonsai, Japanese gardening, and ikebana flower arranging; present a tea ceremony; and exhibit two shows featuring works of art by children. The exhaustive roster of events also includes a visual arts exhibition highlighting new Japanese painting in the Nineties and the Japanese paper-collage art form known as washi every day from noon to 7:00 p.m. on the third floor of 420 Lincoln Rd.
Organizers hope this one-time flurry of events will grow eventually into a yearly festival, honoring a different city every year, but this week it's all about Fujisawa. "People in South Florida have very little exposure to Japanese culture," says Yokohama, Japan, native Akiko Endo, a 28-year resident of Miami and coordinator of the event. "They think Japan is so far, so different, so exotic, but it's not. We are very close. We're the same people who enjoy the same things."