Sister City Ties Strengthening Links Between Japan and Southwestern US States

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by Sarah Wang
Marking 40 years as sister cities, Houston Mayor Annise Parker (second from left) and a delegation from Chiba, Japan declared April 15th to be “Houston-Chiba Friendship Day.” Image: Consulate General for Japan in Houston.

Neighboring states New Mexico and Texas have been interacting a great deal with their sister cities in Japan this year. For a week in July, Santa Fe, New Mexico hosted 6 middle school students from its sister city Tsuyama, Japan. Since the beginning of their partnership in 1995, every few years around 20 students from Santa Fe go to Tsuyama to visit. The Monte del Sol Charter School in Santa Fe has been indispensable to these visits. In addition to offering Japanese language classes, it has also established its own sister city school in Tsuyama. Santa Fe, which is located in New Mexico’s third congressional district, benefits from significant economic ties to Japan as well. In 2012, $24 million of the district’s total goods exports went to Japan.

Just to the east of New Mexico, Texas likewise benefits from strong economic ties to Japan, with 2012 good exports from the state totaling $4.75 billion. But that does not mean that cultural exchanges are not equally important. So far this year, three Texas-Japan sister city relationships have produced exchanges. . In February, on invitation from Kumamoto Mayor Seishi Kohyama, Christopher “The Irish Goat” Knodel represented his home city of San Antonio in Kumamoto’s Castle Marathon, which passes numerous historical sites on its 26.2 mile course. The previous year, Mayor Kohyama visited San Antonio to celebrate the partnership’s 25th anniversary, which included a visit to the Japanese Garden that had been built in 1989.

Gardens and friendship also featured prominently in Houston, where a delegation from its sister city of Chiba donated the city’s official flower, the Oga Lotus, to the Japanese Garden in Hermann Park during their April visit. On April 15th, Houston Mayor Annise Parker declared that day to be “Houston-Chiba Friendship Day,” in honor of a friendship that began in 1972.   

Another long-standing Texas-Japan relationship is that shared by Tyler and Yachiyo, dating back to 1992. In the last 22 years there has been roughly one trip a year between Yachiyo and Tyler, either with delegations from Japan to Texas or vice versa. This July, a 12-person delegation headed by Tyler Police Chief and Tyler Sister Cities President Gary Swindle traveled to Yachiyo. During their stay the group experienced Japanese homestays, a summer festival in neighboring Sawara, and even an earthquake. Swindle and he fellow delegates are looking forward to hosting their Japanese counterparts in Tyler next year and cementing the friendships they made on this and previous trips.

Sarah Batiuk is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington, DC.