A group of student jazz musicians from Monterey performing at the Monterey Jazz Festival in Noto in 2018. ©2018 Monterey Jazz Festival/Hana Komai (Courtesy of Mr. Timothy Orr)

Friendship Through Jazz: Sister Partnership between Monterey, California and the Japanese City of Nanao, Ishikawa

Japan Asia

People of the Japanese coastal city of Nanao on the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture will soon have the opportunity to visit the long-awaited Monterey Jazz Festival in Noto, the first jazz festival to be held in Nanao since 2019. The festival is the only event in the world allowed to use the name “Monterey Jazz Festival” (MJF) outside Monterey, California, and it will be celebrating its 32nd anniversary this July.

Nanao used to thrive as a port city for fishing and physical distribution of timber and coal. However, as Japan’s physical distribution system shifted away from vessels to trucks during the 1960s, the port and the city of Nanao began to decline. Feeling a sense of urgency, the local Junior Chamber brainstormed to come up with a unique idea that could save their city. Looking for a perfect model, the Junior Chamber came across Monterey, California, which has a similar historical and geographical background as Nanao. In 1986, an inspection team from the Nanao Junior Chamber visited Monterey and discovered the model for an innovative solution. Monterey also used to be a small fishing city, but as sardine catch declined in the 1940s, so did the city. However, Monterey was successfully rejuvenated by utilizing Fisherman’s Wharf and starting the world-renowned Monterey Jazz Festival. The inspection team that visited the city believed Nanao could be rejuvenated, following the Monterey model.

Immediately after this visit, the Junior Chamber, in partnership with the City of Nanao, proposed the Nanao Marine City Initiative, with which they sought to reinvigorate the city through tourism utilizing its waterfront setting. The first product of this initiative was the Monterey Jazz Festival in Noto, which was first held in 1989. Akin to the original festival, the MJF in Noto aimed to popularize jazz through education. A selected group of student jazz musicians from Monterey was invited to perform at the MJF in Noto and do homestays in Nanao, while sending junior high school students from Nanao to Monterey. More than 160,000 people visited the first MJF in Noto, making it one of many successes in the Nanao revitalization story.

Nanao-Monterey exchange continued to grow through the people-to-people engagement at the civic and municipality level. In 1995, Nanao and Monterey entered a sister city relationship. It has been 27 years since the two cities became “sisters,” and Nanao-Monterey relations have recently seen a major challenge, particularly by the COVID-19 pandemic. They had no choice but to halt the youth exchange programs and cancel the jazz festivals. However, an event in Nanao celebrated Monterey’s 250th anniversary, with online participants from Monterey, demonstrating the sister partnership lives on. “The commonality between the jazz festival and the youth exchange programs are both supported by Nanao and Monterey citizens who are passionate about the sister partnership and jazz,” said Ms. Setsuko Miyakawa, who has been on the organizing committee for the MJF in Noto for more than 20 years, through correspondence with East-West Center Young Professional Kenji Nagayoshi. “Though we have realized resuming these programs being halted by the pandemic is not an easy task, we are working hard with a passion so that more people can visit the jazz festivals and appreciate jazz, both in Nanao and Monterey,” said Ms. Miyakawa.

Kenji Nagayoshi is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. Originally from Japan, he is a second-year MA candidate at American University's School of International Service, studying international affairs with a focus on international security. His interests include Japanese and East Asian security as well as Japan-U.S. relations.