MEDFORD — The City Council Thursday welcomed four educators from a junior high school in Arao-shi, Japan, in town this week to strengthen ties with the city forged through pen-pal letters between Arao-shi students and pupils at McLoughlin Middle School in Medford.

MEDFORD — The City Council Thursday welcomed four educators from a junior high school in Arao-shi, Japan, in town this week to strengthen ties with the city forged through pen-pal letters between Arao-shi students and pupils at McLoughlin Middle School in Medford.

Arao-shi junior high vice principal Isao Kodama, his wife, Etsuko Kodama, and teachers Kazutoshi Takeshita and Etsuko Shimizu lunched with council members and shared information about their coastal town in Kumamoto on the southernmost island of Kyushu.

At the council meeting Thursday, the educators presented officials with wax renderings of Jamb Nashi pears cultivated in Arao-shi and other gifts.

Pear cultivation is just one commonality between the two cities, which prompted the educators to explore the possibility of their town entering into a sister-city relationship with Medford.

"They grow very large pears," said Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler. "We saw one that was literally the size of a baby's head."

The council gave its guests myrtlewood carvings of Oregon pears, and a Harry & David representative gave them a box of Rogue Valley products.

Pear cultivation in Arao-shi involves using frames so that the pear trees grow horizontally rather than vertically. Pears are individually wrapped in bags to protect them from weather and insects, Takeshita said.

The four guests, guided by McLoughlin English teacher Denise Tschann and two McLoughlin students, toured the Harry & David plant after the council meeting and later met some of the staff and students at McLoughlin.

"It was really cool when we first met them," said McLoughlin eighth-grader Matty Quinn. "It was really exciting."

Delegation members gave their two student tour guides, Matty and Molly Pritchard, some manju, Japanese cookies, and miniature cloth fans.

"We learned some words in Japanese," Matty said. One was "ju-di," which means "teenager."

Since their arrival Wednesday, delegation members have visited Ashland and seen a dance group at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

"When we were arriving into the airport in Medford in the aircraft, the scenery was so beautiful," Shimizu said.

The delegation is scheduled to visit Crater Lake National Park today.

The ties between Medford and Arao-shi began 45 years ago when a McLoughlin teacher visited the town's junior high and initiated the pen-pal relationship, which was re-established last year.

The idea was to make studying English more enjoyable for Arao-shi students. English is a required course beginning in the fifth grade, Isao Kodama said.

"One of the biggest purposes of our visit is we want to see how the city is, and we want Medford to see how our city is," Shimizu said. "We wanted to see the city and meet the people with our own eyes."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.