One of the most influential NSW Japan relationship stories is the unlikely friendship that struck up in the very early 1970s between Bill Forrest from Tamworth, and Ichibay Matsuo, a sake brewer from Sannohe Aomori. Both of them were of a similar age, from a rural background, and very active Rotarians.
What started as an exchange of correspondence developed into a comprehensive system of youth exchange between NSW and Japan that eventually formed the basis of the Rotary Youth Exchange Programme between Japan and Australia. Since then, hundreds, perhaps thousands of young Australians and Japanese have spent up to 12 months living with families, attending high school, and learning each other’s language. The impact this has had on families, careers, professionals and business would be difficult to quantify but is no doubt immense and profound. My brother Allan and I were both Rotary Exchange Students to Japan, with Allan having the pleasure of becoming a member of Ichibay Matsuo’s family for a year. Personally and professionally we are still both heavily involved with Japan.
In 2001, Tamworth and Sannohe signed a Sister City Exchange Agreement, formalising the relationship between the two cities. Since then, many exchanges have taken place between both cities especially at the high school level.
In Feb 2006 Bill received the sad news that Ichibay Matsuo had passed away after a short illness. That night, without hesitation, we took Bill to Japan so that he could be at his friend’s funeral in Sannohe.
Bill turned 91 in January this year. Bill and his wife Ruth, still live in a retirement village in Tamworth. Every so often, before Covid-19, the retirement village would get a busload of visitors from Japan. They come not to see the retirement village but simply to meet and shake hands with one of the men who started it all.
Written by Peter Forrest
The full interview with Bill, conducted by Jim Booth, is here.