California and Washington represent the two US states with the most sister city relationships with Japan. Image: East-West Center in Washington.

California and Washington Celebrate Decades of Friendship with Japanese Sister Cities


The month of October was a month of milestones in US-Japan relations. On October 2nd, the city of Concord, California welcomed a delegation from its sister city Kitakami, Japan to celebrate 40 years of partnership. This visit also marked the continuing trend of delegations from each city visiting their counterparts every five years. Concord residents had hand-crafted 10,000 paper cranes in an expression of support for Japan following the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster, and the visiting Japanese delegation had the opportunity to see the display in person.

Another California-Japan relationship was also honored, as on October 14th, the city of Newport Beach celebrated 30 years of friendship with Okazaki, Japan, a sister city relationship that formally began in 1984. Every year, in cooperation with the Newport-Balboa Rotary Club, Newport Beach has sent between 4-6 junior high school students to explore Okazaki for 10 days in July. In October, the students invite the friends they made in Japan to stay with them, further cementing the ties they made on their exchange trip. To celebrate the 30th anniversary, Newport Beach Mayor Rush Hill welcomed a delegation from Okazaki for the dedication of a friendship statue depicting Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of the founders of Japan’s Edo period.

These Californian cities were not alone in celebrating an anniversary with a Japanese sister city. The city of Renton, Washington has had a partnership since 1969 with Nishiwaki, Japan and celebrated the 45th year on October 18th-20th. A delegation from Nishiwaki, headed by Mayor Shozo Katayama, traveled to Renton to take part in the festivities, which included visits to landmarks in both Renton and nearby Seattle. The delegation also gifted Renton with a statue of the Buddha, which symbolized the friendship’s enduring ability to “always […] smile through hard work.”

In total, Japan has 101 sister city relationships with California and 35 sister city relationships with Washington, more than any other Asian country including all the countries of ASEAN combined. Together they make up 28% of total 414 sister cities that Japan has with the United States. At nearly double the next largest sister cities partner, China, Japan has the most sister cities with the total United States of any Asian country.

Sarah Batiuk is a Program Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington.