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S.L., sister city celebrate 40-year ties - rain or shine

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Tadashi Aruga, mayor of the Japanese city of Matsumoto, is one who looks for the silver lining.

Aruga didn't mind the wind and rain that blew away place settings, messed up hairdos and otherwise complicated the celebration of the 40-year sister city relationship between Matsumoto and Salt Lake City at This Is the Place State Park Thursday.In fact, he welcomed the adverse weather as highly appropriate.

"When Mormon pioneers entered this valley 150 years ago, they planted trees and they sowed seeds," he said. "But without rainfall the seeds would not grow and the trees would not bear leaves. We call such rain `blessing rain.' "

Aruga and Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini did the traditional exchange of gifts at the ceremony. Corradini got a Japanese doll in a glass case and an egg-shaped object called a Daruma, which cannot be pushed over - it pops back up like one of those punching bags. It was meant to symbolize Olympic success.

Aruga got an engraved platter.

(Corradini has occasionally lamented the fact that Matsumoto's gifts always seem to outclass Salt Lake City's.)

President Dwight Eisenhower created the sister city relationship between Matsumoto and Salt Lake City in 1958, one of the first such programs in the world. For many years, however, it languished, with nothing more than dignitaries exchanging token gifts every now and then.

That changed when Fred Ball, who recently retired as chairman of the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, stepped in two decades ago. He and Fumi Hongo, his late Matsumoto counterpart, started getting together and quickly formed a strong relationship.

"I can't explain it," Ball said. "There was a very good chemistry right from the start. We both loved the program."

Under Ball's nurturing, the two cities began exchanging high school students and sponsoring tourism and education programs. "The whole purpose of this is to exchange cultures and ideas with the Japanese people," said Bob Spring-meyer, who has hosted Matsumoto exchange students for 19 years.

With both Ball and Hongo out of the picture, the future nature of the relationship is somewhat up in the air. It was given a boost recently, however, when various Salt Lake dignitaries attended the Nagano Winter Games and stayed in nearby Matsumoto.

"The experience we had in February during the Olympics, and your wonderful hosting of our people from Salt Lake City, has very much enriched and deepened our friendship well beyond what it was before," Corradini said during the ceremony.

Friday night Corradini hosted the Matsumoto delegation, over 50 strong, at a game the United States and Japan hold very much in common: baseball. It was Matsumoto night at the Salt Lake Buzz.

A smaller delegation from Keelung, Salt Lake's sister city in Taiwan, also was in town.