Skip to main content

Japanese mayor visits Eckerd College campus to honor 57-year-old teacher exchange program

By Robbyn Hopewell
Published October 18, 2023
Categories: About Eckerd, Academics, Alumni, Community Engagement, Global Education, Students

The delegation from Takamatsu, Japan, and Eckerd College—represented by Mayor Hideto Onishi (center left) and President Jim Annarelli, Ph.D. (center right)—were joined by students, faculty, staff and Takamatsu city administrators in a traditional fan dance at the end of the meeting. Photos by Penh Alicandro ’22

Laughter and music rang through the lobby of Eckerd College’s Upham Administration Building on Oct. 5 as a contingent of visitors from St. Petersburg, Florida’s sister city, Takamatsu, Japan, shared a cultural tradition like no other.

The Takamatsu delegation—led by Mayor Hideto Onishi—grabbed paper fans and formed a circle with Eckerd College President Jim Annarelli, Ph.D.; Associate Professor of Japanese Eileen Mikals-Adachi, Ph.D.; and a collection of students and staff to dance the “Ichigo Maita,” a traditional Japanese celebration of the rice harvest.

“It was such a privilege and joy to welcome Mayor Onishi, the mayor of Takamatsu, the sister city of St. Petersburg, to campus,” says President Annarelli. “The afternoon was a warm and thoroughly enjoyable celebration of the 57th anniversary of the relationship between Florida Presbyterian College/Eckerd College and Takamatsu, a relationship that has rebounded to the great benefit of generations of FPC/EC students.”

Takamatsu Mayor Hideto Onishi (left) with President Jim Annarelli

Mayor Onishi’s delegation made its first visit to St. Petersburg since the pandemic this month to honor the deep relationship between the two cities. Eckerd has been sending a graduate to Takamatsu to teach English in one- to two-year appointments since 1966. Mikals-Adachi says the program has been so successful that many Takamatsu residents have gone on to become English teachers themselves. During the visit, the College honored the relationship in a number of ways. President Annarelli presented Mayor Onishi with a crystal triton shell, and the mayor returned the gesture with a handmade, wooden, lacquered soup bowl and spoon made by Takamatsu’s artisans.

There also were a few very special guests. “It was a particular pleasure to ‘welcome home’ Jane Ferguson Niwa ’66, our first graduate to teach English in Takamatsu,” Annarelli explains. Eckerd also invited Nikki Cronen ’18, the most recent Triton to return from the vaunted teaching assignment. Cronen had stayed in the city until the COVID restrictions were lifted in 2022.

Woman wearing name tag labelled "Ferguson"

Jane Ferguson Niwa ’66

Another visit highlight came when Mikals-Adachi’s students performed a short play in Japanese titled “The Racoon’s Secret,” which told the story of mischievous Eckerd campus racoons learning shapeshifting from a Japanese tanuki in order to upgrade their dining options from garbage to the cafeteria.

Mayor Onishi and President Annarelli share a laugh while exchanging gifts.

The racoons transformed into President Annarelli and Mayor Onishi with the help of fans illustrated by Aspen Young-Harris, a junior interdisciplinary arts student from Covington, Louisiana.

“It was a very short play, but it was exciting,” says Jonathan Ballard, a first-year marine science student from Houston, Texas. “I was the drummer for the performance and I accentuated the beats, including the transformations into Mayor Onishi. They seemed to really like it.”

Jonathan is a new student of Japanese language and says learning more about Eckerd’s relationship with Takamatsu has added the coastal city to his list of destinations to visit when he travels to the country.

Eckerd Admission Counselor Sarah LeFebvre ’18—who first met Mayor Onishi on a Winter Term trip with Mikals-Adachi prior to her graduation—capped off a storybook visit with a golf cart tour of campus in Japanese, where a manatee surfaced just as the Takamatsu delegation drove past the seawall.

“It was almost like I had paid the manatee to be there,” she says before laughing. “We couldn’t have timed it more perfectly.”

Students hold fans illustrated by Aspen Young-Harris ’25