ORONO, Maine — In October 1898, the Cheseborough, a Bath-based ship, sank off the coast of Japan. Residents of the village of Shariki, in Aomori prefecture, saw the ship go down and went out into the turbulent sea to rescue any survivors.
Four Americans were pulled from the water. The rest, including the ship’s captain, never made it back to shore.
The Shariki townspeople built a memorial in honor of the wreck’s victims, and many of them developed an interest in this place called Bath, Maine.
After the wreck, crates of pears from Maine washed up on shore. The townspeople tried them, enjoyed them, and planted trees of their own. To this day, on the anniversary of the wreck, the people of Shariki leave pears on the graves of the sailors who lost their lives when the Cheseborough sank.
A relationship between the Japanese prefecture and the American state grew — and persists 113 years later.
A pair of delegates from Aomori, Japan, visited the University of Maine on Thursday for a tour of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center and to swap ideas about projects.
They are part of a larger group of government officials, university faculty and business leaders visiting Maine for the week to learn about and share knowledge of fisheries, sustainable energy efforts and food product exports and imports.
Aomori City has about 300,000 residents and is located in Aomori prefecture, the northern part of the same island that holds Tokyo.
Delegations from Maine and Aomori have visited back and forth at least a half-dozen times, according to Don Hudson, a member of the Maine-Aomori Sister State Advisory Council and president emeritus of The Chewonki Foundation, a Wiscasset-based nonprofit group that offers educational programs for youth that focus on the environment.
After a tour of the wood composites laboratory, wind turbine blade testing lab and other facilities at AEWC, the delegates, AEWC officials and several sister state advisory council members shared presentations on sustainable energy projects in the works in Japan and Maine.
Hirotada Nanjo, assistant to the president of Hirosaki University in Aomori City, talked about the university’s efforts to install underwater turbines to create energy using tides and currents running through Tsugaru Channel.
“But it’s been difficult and very controversial,” Nanjo said.
Fishermen have been fighting the project for years because of aesthetic concerns and worries that it might hurt the fishing industry in the area — an issue often raised in Maine’s debate over floating wind turbine farms that the AEWC is working to develop, test and deploy in the Gulf of Maine over the next decade.
“You aren’t alone in that,” said Jake Ward, UMaine’s assistant vice president for research, economic development and governmental relations.
Nanjo also shared information about 1-meter-tall vertical wind turbines that the city uses to power lamps along busy streets. He said they are discreet and extremely efficient.
Ward discussed AEWC’s wind turbine testing efforts and the university’s goal to install a one-third-scale floating turbine in the Gulf of Maine next year as a first step toward a full-scale offshore wind farm.
Other delegates visited the Gulf of Maine Research Center in Portland to discuss fishing issues and met with the Maine Aquaculture Association and Maine Shellfish Growers in Walpole. Delegates also visited Augusta and Eastport.
On Friday, the entire delegation will visit Bath, home harbor to the ship that sank off Japan’s coast more than a century ago, to tour Bath Iron Works, visit the Maine Maritime Museum, meet the Bath City Council and attend a reception.