|From Out West #31, July 1995
Mt. Rushmore cloned in Japan
By Chuck Woodbury
Once he reached South Dakota, his hosts drove him to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. Ominami was dazzled by Gutzon Borglum's massive sculptures.
Back home a week later, he awoke in the middle of the night with an idea to build a replica of the sculptures in his theme park. He contacted the Mount Rushmore Memorial Society with the idea. The reception was hardly enthusiastic.
"Our hearts about stopped," said Sharon Lee, secretary of the society's board of trustees. "Later, our concern was that the replica would be to scale, that all the heads would be in the right places." Ominami promised a first-class effort. He commissioned South Dakota sculptor Dale Lamphere to create a model.
Using satellite-plotted topographical maps and other state-of-the-art information, Lamphere was able to fashion a perfect scale model. A Japanese firm then fabricated the Western Village replica of Fiberglas-reinforced plastic.
Meanwhile, in South Dakota, tourism officials had now figured they'd been handed a golden egg; the Japanese, they reasoned, would surely want to cross the Pacific to see the real thing. In short order, Mr. Ominami was declared an honorary governor of South Dakota as well as an honorary citizen of Rapid City. Rapid City and Imaichi became sister cities. And Japanese travel agencies began planning travel packages to the Black Hills.
In May (1995), the 82-foot-high replica was unveiled to a gathering of 150 members of the Japanese media, plus three reigning Miss South Dakotas (all winnners of different contests), five Dakota Sioux, the mayor of Rapid City, South Dakota's lieutenant governor, and about 500 Japanese dignitaries. A U.S. Navy band played "Stars and Stripes Forever" and a Shinto priest blessed the mountain.
Above it all, George, Tom, Teddy and Abe gazed into the distance, over the bullet-train tracks and across the busy highway, their images flawlessly replicating sculptor Gutzon Borglum's originals.
Kenichi Ominami shook hands, bowed and accepted congratulations. "There's a saying in Japanese that passions will move mountains," he said. "In my case, passion has built a mountain."
©2002 by Out West Newspaper
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