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U.S. history lesson on the Fourth

Hidemitsu Katoh looks forward to an exhilarating jet boat trip down the Rogue River today, followed by an awe-inspiring visit to Crater Lake National Park on Wednesday.

But those activities, coupled with several others in the Rogue Valley in the next 48 hours, will have to go some way to top Monday's experience when the mayor of Showa, Japan, was the co-honorary parade marshal at Eagle Point's annual Independence Day celebration.

"Throwing candy to children — it is like Japanese festival," he said through an interpreter. "So wonderful, so happy.

"The old people in Eagle Point just get out for the whole parade," he added. "They wave and have fun. Very impressive."

Joining the candy-throwing mayor as honorary parade marshals were Koichiro Takahashi, chair of the Showa village assembly; and Yoshiro Itabashi, superintendent of the Showa village board of education.

Showa is the sister city to Eagle Point. A largely agriculturally-based community located about 150 miles northwest of Tokyo, Showa has about 5,000 inhabitants compared to Eagle Point's 8,500 residents. Eagle Point turns 100 years old this year; Showa is now 50 years old.

Their entry in the parade was the result of a welfare check on the city by the Eagle Point Community Association following the massive earthquake centered near Sendai, Japan, this spring. After learning that Showa was not harmed by the quake, the association invited the Showa contingent to serve as honorary grand marshals.

For the Japanese, Monday's parade was the first one they ever saw, much less participated in. Katoh rode in a convertible with Eagle Point Mayor Bob Russell, while Takahashi and Eagle Point City Councilor Kathy Sell followed in another convertible. And Itabashi rode in a third convertible with Jackson County School District 9 Superintendent Cynda Rickert.

The exchange began in the mid-1990s after John Payne Jr., a graduate of what is now Southern Oregon University, began teaching English in the village of Showa. He is the son of John Sr. and Ellen Payne of Eagle Point.

"It was through his relationship with the village of Showa and their curiosity about where he came from that this exchange got started," explained the elder Payne, a retired teacher, before the parade started.

"I'm so proud of our son for going over there to Showa and getting all this started," Ellen said, noting that the folks in Showa had also pushed for the sister city relationship.

She noted that Central Point residents Dennis and Cathie Quiring, formerly of Eagle Point, were largely responsible for keeping the program alive.

In addition to the sister city status, the two communities now have a student-exchange program, she noted.

"They are such nice people — so generous and kind," she observed of their counterparts across the Pacific Ocean.

While town festivals are common in Japan, parades are unusual, the Japanese visitors observed.

"This was a very at-home, warm atmosphere," Takahashi said through the interpreter. "It was like family."

"People really celebrate here," Itabashi added through the interpreter.

After leading the parade, the Japanese visitors got out to watch the parade pass by.

For nearly an hour, they were treated to an all-American, red, white and blue parade that celebrated Independence Day as well as Eagle Point's 100th birthday anniversary.

They howled in delight over a miniature pony pulling a tin surrey and a wagon which served as the parade pooper scooper.

"Watch your step!" yelled the leader of one group of high school girls that paraded past. The pooper scooper quickly did its job.

There were shiny new fire trucks and shiny old fire trucks, a contingent of Young Marines, Boy Scouts, veterans groups, even a local baseball team. There was a street car from Shady Cove, old cars, 4-H clubs, several old tractors, including a red 1948 Massey-Harris in mint condition. The float from Eagle Valley Cowboy Church — definitely not found in Showa — included two giraffes peeking out of an ark.

Old cars galore rolled past, including a 1941 Hudson pickup and a fire-engine red 1955 Chevrolet, two-door post. Boy Scout Troop 48 marched past.

"We're having a ball," Russell said as he stood watching the parade with his Japanese friends. "They genuinely love Eagle Point. Our cities have so much in common, agriculturally and size. They are the most pleasant people you'll ever run across."

The trio leave Medford Thursday morning for Los Angeles, where they will visit several firms that have connections to Showa.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

Bob Russell, left, mayor of Eagle Point, throws candy with Hidemitsu Katoh, village mayor of Showa, Japan, during Eagle Pointís Fourth of July parade on Monday. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore