Taking Gateshead to Japanese People

Taking Gateshead to Japanese People

Gateshead’s relationship with its twin town Komatsu in Japan is being further strengthened this week with the visit of one of the city’s most influential figureheads, who is an educationalist of national renown in Japan.

Mrs Sumiko Yahara has been Superintendent of Komatsu City Board of Education for the last ten years and has played an integral part in building the relationship between Gateshead and Komatsu.

Mrs Yahara and deputy director of international affairs, Mr Kazuhiro Yamaguchi are spending a week visiting schools, children’s centres, various young people’s groups and of course the Komatsu UK construction equipment plant at Birtley.

They have been greeted by the leader of Gateshead Council, Councillor Mick Henry, chief executive Roger Kelly, cabinet member for children and young people Councillor Catherine Donovan and director of children’s services
Maggie Atkinson.

Gateshead twinned with Komatsu in 1991, following the opening of the Komatsu UK factory in Birtley in 1985. Since then the two Councils’ have worked together to understand each other’s government, traditions, practices and cultures, for the educational and social benefit of young people and to develop trade and industry between the two communities.

Sumiko Yahara was Head of Komatsu Municipal High School earlier in her career. She said, “I am delighted to be in Gateshead. This visit was my dream for a long time. I have always wanted to come to visit out twin city
Gateshead since I took the post as the Superintendant of education of Komatsu 11 years ago. My aims of the visit was first of all to find new ways to deepen our links after our established 15 year relationship and learn about the excellent education system of Gateshead, including what education is offered for people with disabilities. Finally I came to see the splendid historical heritage in different places and buildings and see how they are connected with cultural activities in Gateshead.”

Education is a high priority in Komatsu and education is provided from Kindergarten to college standard. Komatsu is home to eight Kindergartens, 26 elementary schools, ten junior high schools, seven high schools and
Komatsu Junior College. A key focus of my visit is to share knowledge of the Japanese and British education systems.

Two of Gateshead’s schools are twinned with Komatsu schools. Whickham Front Street Primary with Nomi Elementary School and Lord Lawson of Beamish Community School with Komatsu Municipal High School. Both schools met Mrs Yahara this week, the primary children with greetings in Japanese and much flag waving and the older students with an impressive choral and musical
recital of the Japanese National Anthem.

Leader of Gateshead Council, Councillor Mick Henry, said, “We were delighted to welcome Mrs Yahara this week. The education system in Komatsu is very similar to what we have in Gateshead – they too believe they should never
rest on their laurels and continue to develop education. Japan has a long history of academic prowess and on this visit we’ve found how interested they are in developing the integrated work of health, social and education
services to support every child’s needs.

“Japan also has a long history of building international links from which they can learn new ways of working – that’s something we’re doing more and more of and it benefits both our communities. Many of our young people have
already benefited from these links and many more will in the future.”

Mrs Yahara has supported almost 15 youth exchanges over the years, in which more than 220 young people from both Gateshead and Komatsu have been able to visit their twin town, learn about the cultural differences, represent their home for two weeks and enjoy home stay with a host family. The last exchange took place in July.

Mrs Yahara has seen a range of education opportunities in the Borough including the teaching of Japanese at Ryton Comprehensive school, the Gateshead Young Women’s Project and Gateshead Youth Assembly.

Komatsu, which means ‘Little Pine’ is situated in the region of Ishikawa on Japan’s main island, Honshu. The city has a population of 110,000. Primary industries are textiles, rice production, construction and manufacture, as
the founding town of the global Komatsu Company, the second largest construction machinery company in the world. Komatsu is famous for Kutani, a centuries old style of decorative pottery. The city is also home to
Komatsu international airport and a national air defence base. It is a city that is proud of its strong ties with places all over the world including Belgium, Brazil, China and Singapore.

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