Japanese woman rediscovers teenage roots in Issaquah

August 30, 2011

By Tom Corrigan

The story Miku Banno and Issaquah’s Barrie and Margaret Austin tell isn’t necessarily complicated, but it covers just over a few decades.

Moto and Miku Banno prepare sushi on the deck of the Austin family home during their recent visit to Issaquah. Contributed

As of August, in fact, it was 21 years ago to the month that Miku Banno first visited Issaquah.

At the time, she was 17 and a high school student who came as part of a program run by the Japanese government.

“I had been interested in the U.S.A. since I was little,” Banno said.

Her family had served as host to a visiting American girl when Banno was about 12.

“At that time nobody spoke English in my family and she felt homesick,” Banno continued. “I didn’t do anything for her and I was so sorry about it.”

With her family, Banno traveled to Guam and Hawaii, and then spent a month in Canada, including a short amount of time living with a local family.

“It was only a few days, so I wanted more,” she said.

It was a short time later that she ended up in Issaquah for about a month on a trip that also included an excursion to Disneyland.

“My host family was so kind and I remember they were interested in Japan,” Banno said.

But she said her English skills still weren’t very good, something she made up her mind to remedy. She ended up in England studying English for a year. She also studied English literature in college.

Barrie and Margaret Austin entered the story in 1994. With Margaret along for the ride, Barrie was sent to Japan as part of his job with the International Civil Aviation Organization. The Japanese government looked around for host families, preferably including someone who spoke English. Guess who they found? None of the group initially realized they had Issaquah in common.

“Somewhere in the course of the conversation, the subject came up about where people were from,” Margaret said.

A long-time Mirrormont resident, Margaret actually previously had spent some time in Japan as a teacher.

According to both Barrie and Margaret, the two women quickly became friends. They spent time together, even took a Japanese pottery class together. Barrie noted the class instructors mixed up the pieces produced, sending Banno’s creation to Margaret and vice-versa.

“It’s become kind of a sentimental thing,” Margaret said of the misrouted cup.

Margaret and Banno have stayed in contact over the years, at least at Christmas. Banno regularly sends long letters and some type of gift.

Now 38 and married with children of her own, Banno wanted to visit the U.S. again and did so the week of Aug. 8. She made a point of returning to Issaquah and brought along her husband, two children and a younger brother.

Besides Issaquah, the group spent time at the Pike Place Market and Safeco Field, the latter especially because Banno’s son wanted a souvenir of Seattle Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki, born in the same prefecture of Japan the Banno family calls home. The group also took in Issaquah High School, where Banno spent time in classes all those years ago.

Incidentally, according to Barrie, Banno found the new entrance to Issaquah High “unwelcoming.” But she still admired the beauty of the mountains visible behind the school.

Banno was unable to meet up with the hosts she stayed with here as a teen. The family has moved to the East Coast, though Barrie said Banno still keeps in touch with one of the daughters.

No one seems quite sure if Banno and her family will return to Issaquah again. If the visit does happen, Margaret said she hopes it doesn’t take another 21 years.

Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or tcorrigan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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