While a lot has changed in the past 20 years, a lot has remained the same. For that, the city can thank Mayor Senbo, who was mayor there when I was there... with whom I used to have lunch with every once in a while and who every time would ask me if I could use chopsticks.
Of course I could. My boss Hanazaki-san at the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) office taught me my first day on the job using two pencils. While I did eventually develop my own unique style, I could not only keep up with the Japanese in chopstick speed, I could surpass them.
I still use chopsticks with every Chinese or Japanese meal I eat - which is surprisingly quite often... and when I do, I always think of Hanazaki-san who was the age I am now and the ever-young-looking Mayor Senbo and his great wit.
The video below (and a whole lot of others right there on this same site) was shot in 2009, so I can only hope he is still mayor. I'm sure my good friend Matthew Hall who married local girl Takako Kurita would know. Her dad was long a city councilman in town.
Check out Video number 8! Look at all of the Indians! The city has the Asian Rural Institute up north where visitors come to learn Japanese methods of farming. And no... I only understand one work spoken in that video: ucha... which means "I understand"... but of course, I do not.
By the way... in the video, the city insists on spelling the name as Otawara, but it is a long O sound, which is why I always insisted they spell it with an Oh. Bloody politicians... as soon as the best gaijin they ever had working for them left, they reverted. technically, Matthew worked in the outskirts of Ohtawara, though I believe all of his schools and the surrounding towns have since been incorporated into Ohtawara.
They did, however get it right on all of their websites! While I had nothing to do with the video or websites, I like to think it was my insistence on the proper spelling that enabled the city - though not the funny mayor - to get it right! You can see what I mean: HERE. If you Google Ohtawara, and see this site... try asking it to translate it for you. If I was there, there would be a proper English website. And I would have done it for free. But don't hold me to that now. I'm not there any more unfortunately.