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Garden symbolizes friendship between Hastings and sister city
Ozu, Japan and Hastings enjoy a thriving sister-city relationship that dates back 14 years. The symbol of that relationship is a Japanese garden planted on the campus of Hastings College.
NEWS 5's Dennis Kellogg spends "A Day in the Heartland" with the men and women from Ozu and Hastings who just spent a week together renewing their friendship.
The seeds for this "friendship garden" were planted in 1996. Seiichi Kamaura designed the garden, and then traveled with three others the thousands of miles from Japan to Hastings to construct it.
"First time it took five days work," said Kamaura.
Mitsunara Sakamoto was alongside Kamaura working on the landscaping and planting. He said the garden begins with the rocks.
"You put the rocks, that's the most important. So it took awhile to set the stones, rocks, in the right place," said Sakamoto.
Burton Nelson of Hastings knows all about those rocks. He was there 14 years ago and helped put them in place. It just was not the right place. It is a story he told back then, and one he still tells today.
"Kamaura came out and he stood right there in front of the windows and he looked back and shook his head, 'No, no, no.' That is not going to work," said Nelson.
The next morning Kamaura came out, looked at it and shook his head, 'No, no, no, no.' And we moved it three and a half inches to the north.
"That is the artist in Kamaura," said Nelson.
Kamaura and his Japanese friends also wanted the garden to have a spiritual presence to it.
"We had a little ceremony in the garden before we ever started dedicating this land to God. And I think it has worked. Knowing Nebraska and how it can kill things, I think we need everything we can get going for us [laughs]," Nelson said.
Today, the garden has blossomed. Franc E. Wagner knows it well. She cares for the garden now.
"The purpose is to depict a typical Japanese garden here in Nebraska so, of course, we have the Japanese Maples and the mound there is to typify Mount Oso, which is their volcanic mountain," said Wagner.
This garden is more than just the trees and the rocks and the shrubs that you see, it is also about the relationship between the people of these two cities, a relationship that has grown through the past 15 years.
"This relationship has been continuing for more than 15 years and this garden is a symbol of our friendship," Kamaura said.
"Our relationship will be deepened, so very symbolic," said Sakamoto. "We are so proud that Hastings has a Japanese garden for people to know the Japanese culture."
The friendship garden is just the beginning of the relationship between Hastings and Ozu. Students and adults schedule annual trips between the two cities to learn more about the other's culture and homeland.
"They host us when we are there and we host them. And they just think Nebraska is the best thing going. Of all the United States, they do not want to go to New York City. They want to come to Nebraska," Wagner said.
And so the relationship between these two cities continues to grow just like the garden they built together.
Many of the Japanese gardeners have traveled back to Hastings several times to make improvements to the garden. If you would like to see the garden, it is located on the east side of the student union on the Hastings College campus.
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