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Japanese Nobility Visit North Side Educational Center


The Saionji family, leaders of the Goi Peace Foundation in Tokyo, Japan, spent the first part of the week at Manchester Bidwell Corporation in Pittsburgh. Hiroo and Masami Saionji were joined by their daughter, Yuka, and came to the city after Manchester Bidwell CEO Bill Strickland visited Japan last year. The Saionjis took him on a tour of tsunami-ravaged areas.

"He was so impacted by this experience, he and they came to a decision that they wanted to build a center based on the Manchester Bidwell model in Japan," said Paulo Nzambi, chief operating officer of Manchester Bidwell Corporation.

The Goi Peace Foundation promotes world peace through various educational and outreach programs, including the annual Goi Peace Award, which Strickland won in 2011. Manchester Bidwell Corporation is a non-profit organization on the North Side which offers adult career training for those 18 and older, youth arts education for those between the ages of 13 and 17, greenhouse and horticulture training, and a live jazz performance series. The hope is to replicate the center in Japan.

"We are planning to open … the dream to open the center in Ogatsu, the most devastated area in Japan struck by the tsunami last year," said Hiroo Saionji.

He and his wife and daughter spent the last few days at Manchester Bidwell Corporation, observing classes and other operations. CEO Bill Strickland said this is the first step in opening an international center to help tsunami victims.

"People are basically built about the same everywhere in the world," he said. "I think that the same philosophy that governs this place will work in Japan, and we're already talking about working with Goi and Manchester Bidwell maybe to use the center in Japan as an example of how we can do it all over the world."

Manchester Bidwell Corporation has replicated its center in San Francisco, Grand Rapids, Ohio, and Connecticut. There are others planned for Costa Rica, Canada and the U.S. Virgin Islands, in addition to Japan. COO Paulo Nzambi said no center will be identical to Pittsburgh's center, which is why cooperation with the Saionji family is critical.

"We would work with them, not only to develop the site location, but to bring in the type of people they need, decide on the type of programming that would be most suitable for youth in that area and adults in that area, because the goal is to get adults educated so they can get to work, so we need a strong understanding of what's needed in terms of industry in that area," he said.

Manchester Bidwell presented the Saionji family with several gifts, including pottery hand-made by CEO Bill Strickland, a debut performance of a jazz composition in this project's honor, and the planting of a cherry tree outside of its North Side facility. Hiroo Saionji presented Bidwell with a peace pole that reads "May Peace Prevail on Earth" in four languages, including English and Japanese.

"We have been spreading the universal and simple message, 'May peace prevail on Earth all over the world,' in every language, transcending all the differences of nationality, race, religion, and politics to unite the house of humanity," said Saionji.

He said more than 200,000 peace poles have been planted all over the globe. His family's visit was the very first step in the process of building a center in Japan. There is no set timeline for the project.

Masami Saionji is a descendant of the royal Ryukyu Family that ruled Okinawa Island from the 15th century. Her husband Hiroo is the great-grandson of Prince Kinmochi Saionji, who was twice prime minister of Japan.