Cherry blossoms just beginning to bloom in Virginia Beach. Image: Flickr user brian gautreau.

Friendship in Bloom: Cherry Blossoms and Art Bind Virginian and Japanese Sister Cities


The Hampton Roads region of Southeast Virginia, including the cities of Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Newport News, has a longstanding relationship with Japan. On March 29th, Virginia Beach celebrated its 10th annual cherry blossom festival with representatives from its Japanese Sister City, Miyazaki, with whom it has had a relationship since 1992. One hundred and fifty cherry blossom trees were planted to celebrate this partnership in 2005. To mark the 10th iteration of the annual festival, a Peace Monument was donated to Red Wing Park, home to both the cherry blossoms and the Miyazaki Japanese Garden. Another Virginia Beach park, Mount Trashmore, began a sister park relationship with Miyazaki’s Hagino Dai eco-park in 2007.

The sister city relationship between Norfolk, Virginia, and Kitakyushu, Japan, began with art. In 1961, Kitakyushu’s mayor presented Norfolk’s Chrysler Museum of Art (then known as the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences) with 16 woodblock prints. On March 30th, to celebrate this exchange the Chrysler Museum will hold an exhibition entitled “Gifts from Japan: Landscape Woodblocks in the Shin-Hanga Style” through July 26, 2015. Shin-Hanga refers to the “new” style of woodblock prints that was prevalent in the first half of the 20th century. This exhibition marks the first time ever that these prints will be shown as a complete collection.

Newport News’ sister city, Neyagawa, is located in the Japanese prefecture of Osaka, and they share a relationship dating back to 1982. In November 2014, a delegation from Newport News visited Neyagawa. During the visit, the delegation visited local schools and cultural sites while participating in homestays with Japanese families.

All three of the Hampton Roads-area cities belong, in whole or in part, to Virginia’s 2nd congressional district. In 2013, the district exported $107 million worth of goods and services to Japan, predominately in machinery goods and travel-related services. Japanese visitors to the congressional district contributed $39 million to the local economy. Norfolk and Newport News also are covered in part by Virginia’s 3rd congressional district, which exported $223 million worth of goods and services in 2013. Newport News is also represented by Virginia’s 1st congressional district, whose economy was boosted by $17 million in 2013 from spending by Japanese visitors.

Sarah Batiuk is the Event Coordinator and a Project Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington.