Meet your Sister City Commissioners

Jan 24, 2013
Members of the Edmonds Sister City Commission gather during their retreat. Front row, left to right: Marlene Friend, Iyoko Okano, Ray Olitt, Rita Ikeda, Carolyn LaFave, Jill Van Berkhom  Back row:  left to right: Kody McConnell, Beth Fuhriman, Michelle Van Tassell, Yoshitaka Inoue, Paul Anderson, Kay Vreeland Not pictured:  Joseph Fletcher

The Edmonds Sister City Commission will be leaving soon for Hekinan, Japan, Edmonds’ sister city.

Representing the city of Edmonds will be members of the Sister City Commission, Mayor Dave Earling and other citizens from the city.

In an effort to give background on those representing the City of Edmonds and the importance of the commission, the Beacon is presenting profiles of the Sister City Commission. We start with two – Michelle Van Tassell and Yoshitaka (Yoshi) Inoue.


Michelle Van Tassell, Chair, Edmonds Sister City Commission

Michelle is a real estate broker at Coldwell Banker Bain. She and her family live in downtown Edmonds, and love being close to Puget Sound.

She has been a commissioner since 2010.

What is the Edmonds Sister City Commission (ESCC) for you?

I had a sense from a pretty young age that the world is a big place, that I wanted to see more of it, and that people from different cultures understanding each other can only be a good thing.

Being a commissioner with ESCC is an opportunity for me to be involved in my local community and help in a direct way with efforts to expand cultural awareness.

It is also personally rewarding, as it keeps me connected with my interest in Japanese culture and language.

What is your connection with Japan?

I first went to Japan during the summer after my junior year of high school on a cultural exchange program sponsored by our state senators.  My sponsor was Senator Slade Gorton, and I got to meet him and other senators.

For a 16-year-old from a small-town island community (Oak Harbor), this was thrilling for me.

I will always be grateful to my high school counselor for seeing something in me that gave him the idea to recommend me to the program.

In college, I studied Japanese, and went to Japan again, this time for one-and-a-half years as an exchange student at Waseda University and part-time English teacher for a local company.

Both times, I stayed with host families who will always hold a special place in my heart for their generosity and kindness.

I worked at Microsoft in the International Marketing Department as the Japanese subsidiary liaison for a few years, as well.

What are you bringing to ESCC?

A genuine interest in the Commission's mission, some good applicable skills and experiences.

I am also a proud Edmonds resident who would like to show off her community.  The student and adult delegations that have visited Edmonds from Japan have all loved it here.

Do you have a dream for ESCC?

I would like to hone our program so that we have lots of Edmonds families every year that would like to host both students and adults from Hekinan.

It is an ongoing challenge because people's lives are very full; we realize it's difficult to add more people to an already packed family schedule.  But, it is such a rewarding experience, unlike any other.

Anyone interested in hosting visitors from Hekinan is always welcome to contact us.

I also would like to provide scholarships every year to students who are interested in study abroad.

I would not have had the initial opportunity to go to Japan without a scholarship, and it impacted my life more than I'd ever imagined it would.


Yoshitaka (Yoshi) Inoue, Vice-Chair and immediate past Chair

Inoue has been a Japanese language teacher for 20 years and currently teaches at Kamiak High School in Mukilteo.

Prior to immigrating to the US, he was a high school English teacher in Japan.

He loves baseball and plays in the Puget Sound Senior Baseball League and also studies karate with his children Kimi, age 12, and Erina, age 9.

Inoue loves classical music and enjoys playing guitar, ukulele and piano.  He is an enthusiastic adopter of social media.

What is Edmonds Sister City Commission (ESCC) for you?

ESCC is one of my connections to Japan.  Since I moved to the US in 1992, I have been promoting exchange programs between Japan and the US for both adults and children.

My high school has sister schools in Austria, Russia and Australia, and I established a sister-school relationship with Japan.

We host exchange students from these countries every year.

I take a group of my students to Japan every other year, and I even visited our sister school in Austria four years ago as a chaperone.

This is my second tour of service with ESCC.

Since I came on as a commissioner over ten years ago, I have visited Hekinan twice and recommended three of my friends who served as Assistant English Teachers in Hekinan.

Our family has hosted many teachers and participants in the adult delegations from Hekinan.

We now have so many friends there that Hekinan has become my second hometown in Japan.

How long have you been a Commissioner?

I was on the commission from 1999–2004 and returned in 2010.  I have served as Host Family Coordinator, Treasurer, Chair and Vice-Chair twice.

What is your connection with Japan?

I am originally from Japan, and was raised north of Kobe.  As you know, Kobe is a sister city of Seattle, and Yao, Osaka—where I lived and taught English at high school for five years—is Bellevue’s sister city.

Also, Washington State is a sister state with Hyogo where I grew up.

My first experience with exchange programs was when I was a high school student in Japan.  I helped at an event for exchange students from Lindsay, California.

I met some American students for the first time in my life and used English!

It was an eye-opening experience and I found it very interesting to learn about kids from a different culture.

I also have experience hosting students from the Soviet Union to my high school in Osaka in the 1980s.

They were peace ambassadors during the Cold War era.

We held heated discussions about world peace in our only common language, which was English, and we learned how important it is for people of the world to communicate with each other.

What are you bringing to ESCC?

I believe it is critically important for people to learn from different cultures and appreciate the different ways of looking at the world.

It is especially important for the younger generation to learn to be open-minded and appreciate diversity because technology and the ease of travel are breaking down many of the barriers between people and nations.

The exchange program consumes a huge part of the Commission’s energy and time, but I think the personal connections that are formed are very natural and compelling.  Personally, I love to work on exchange programs.

I believe building bridges between different cultures is one of my lifetime missions.  Meeting people from different cultures and sharing ideas helps me to grow as a person.

Do you have a dream for ESCC?

Yes!  Someday I hope we can send and receive all the students who want to participate in our exchanges without budget concerns.  They deserve to see the world!

For more information on the Edmonds Sister City Commission please go to:

Michelle Van Tassell
Yoshitaka (Yoshi) Inoue
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