Today marks the first anniversary of the sister partnership between Vermont and Tottori Prefecture (鳥取県) of Japan. As one of Japan’s smallest prefectures, Tottori shares many similarities with the Green Mountain State, including a population of about 600 thousand and a rural, mountainous landscape. Similar characteristics lead to similar policy concerns, such as environmental sustainability, promotion of a rural economy, responses to population aging, and the provision of a global education for their citizens. On these and other issues, Tottori and Vermont have found natural partners in one another.
The signing ceremony was held on July 18, 2018 at the Vermont State House. After signing the agreement in both English and Japanese, Governors Hirai Shinji (平井伸治) and Phil Scott exchanged commemorative keys made from Tottori iron and Vermont granite. In a parallel ceremony the day before, Tottori Prefectural International Exchange Foundation (TPIEF) signed a Sister Organization Agreement with Green Across the World (GATW), a Vermont nonprofit that has been instrumental in fostering educational exchange. At one point during the celebration, Governor Hirai led the room in a chorus of the song Edelweiss in reference to The Sound of Music.
Though the sister agreement was only signed in 2018, the Vermont-Tottori relationship is not nearly as new as it may seem. Its beginnings can be traced back to 2000, when collaboration between TPIEF and the Japan America Society of Vermont (JASV) led to a meeting of then-Vice Governor Hirai and Governor Howard Dean. Exchanges between Vermont and Tottori have continued ever since, covering topics as varied as environmental protection, local crafts and performing arts, medicine, and even local governance. In 2008, Governor Hirai and Governor Jim Douglas signed an Agreement of International Friendship, highlighting the “special relationship” between them and paving the way for the sister partnership a decade later.
With their new status, Tottori and Vermont hope to expand tourism and exports for their small economies while continuing to deepen the established trend of educational exchange. This growth will contribute to the already thriving relationship between Vermont and Japan, which is responsible for nearly $124 million in Vermont exports per year and $10 million in Japanese greenfield investment. Small partners though they may be, Tottori and Vermont see their collaboration as an opportunity for both to grow. As Governor Hirai put it, “Small state and small prefecture but we have the power, power to develop ourselves.”
The relationship with Tottori is the newest of three sister partnerships between Japan and Vermont. Though I cannot be sure, I suspect that one of these partnerships may be to thank for the Japanese teacher who visited my kindergarten classroom in the tiny town of Shrewsbury, VT many years ago, giving me my first-ever exposure to the study of a foreign language. As a Vermonter, I share Governor Hirai’s hope that the strong friendship between our sister states will continue to “bloom and grow.”
Sierra Janik is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is pursuing a Master of Arts at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and is a graduate of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and Yale University.