Fifty Years of Friendship: Several US-Asia Sister-Partnerships Celebrate Their Golden Anniversaries

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by Grace Ruch

It was 1963 when Paul Morrison, then the mayor of Kalamazoo, Michigan, suggested the idea of becoming sister cities with Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. This would become the first of many sister city relationships between communities in Michigan and Japan. This year the Kalamazoo-Numazu partnership is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a goodwill visit to Numazu in July which will feature home stays and a performance by a jazz band from Kalamazoo College.

There are over 900 sister relationships between the United States and the Asia Pacific region. Nearly every US state has at least one sister linkage with Asia, and 22 Asia Pacific countries have at least one partnership in America. Not limited to sister cities, these sister relations with Asia are found at many levels, from the 90 US-Asia sister state agreements, to linkages between shipping ports.

In the mid-1950s, the movement to bring communities together as sister cities, championed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, was founded on the belief that the mutual friendship and understanding that comes from face-to-face interaction by regular citizens could in turn bring nations closer together. The idea caught on and has continued through the decades. Today, many US-Asia sister partners are celebrating relationships that have spanned generations.

In addition to Kalamazoo and Numazu, several of these partnerships are commemorating their 50th anniversary this year. Palo Alto, California’s first sister city relationship was established with Palo, Philippines, in 1963. Observing the five decades of cooperative community service projects that have included scholarships and a children’s library, Palo Alto welcomed Palo’s Mayor, Remedios Petilla, and Economic Development Director, Cynthia Nirras, for a 50th Anniversary celebration this past spring.

Similarly, the state of Washington is preparing to welcome an official delegation of over 200 Japanese visitors, led by Governor Toshizo Ido, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Washington State-Hyogo Prefecture sister relationship. Among the many events planned is a conference on sharing best practices for earthquake and disaster response, an example of the practical value of municipal exchanges.

For San Mateo, California and its sister city Toyonaka, Japan, however, the task of being a goodwill ambassador for their 50th anniversary is all fun and games. The Little League teams of the two cities hold a baseball exchange every summer, with teams of 10-12 year old players from each community visiting their sister city in alternate years. This year the 50th anniversary visit from the Toyonaka will feature ceremonies and special dinners, in addition to five games of baseball!

Other US-Asia sister relationships celebrating their 50years in 2013 include Kauai County, Hawai‘i and Ishigaki, Japan; Orange, California and Orange, Australia; Long Beach, California and Yokkaichi, Japan; and Redlands, California and Hino, Japan.

Sister cities are a valuable part of our initiative to showcase the US-Asia relationship at the local and state levels because they are sources of direct interaction between the people of the United States and Asia, and many of our historical and cultural ties. Sister partnerships often overlap with our other areas of interaction, such as student exchanges, tourism, and investment. Please see our data section, for a comprehensive list of US-Asia sister partnerships.