In commemoration of the 60th anniversary of its sister city relationship with Nagasaki, Japan this past April, St. Paul changed the name of one of its streets to “Nagasaki Road.” The city of Nagasaki also has a street named after St. Paul, in recognition of their six decades of enduring friendship. The relationship shared by these two cities was the first sister city relationship to be established between an American city and any location in Asia. The renaming of the street kicked off a year of events commemorating the partnership, including planned mutual visits between Japan and Minnesota by official delegations for festivals and other events. Over the years, the number of sister city ties between Minnesota and Japan has grown to nine in total.
St. Paul has many Japanese cultural offerings, including Ordway Japanese Gardens, which hosts several Japanese cultural events throughout the year. The Como Japanese Lantern Festival and Japanese tea ceremonies are among the events the gardens host for local residents and visitors alike. St. Paul and Minneapolis also have a robust Japanese art collection, which recently grew considerably through large donations from private collectors.
In addition to cultural exchange, the North Star State also enjoys strong economic ties to Japan. Of the foreign owned firms in Minnesota, Japan ranks as the fourth largest source overall and has the most of any Asian country, with 34 firms, which employ 6,300 people. One of those companies is Olympus Surgical Technologies America, which opened its new headquarters in Brooklyn Park in April, 2015. Olympus invested over $37 million into a new building, and hopes to add 100 new manufacturing jobs at that facility. Japan is Minnesota’s fourth largest international trade partner, and is second only to China when it comes to trade with an Asian country, valued at $306 million.
Japan’s importance to Minnesota’s economy may grow even further, as the state recently hosted an agricultural trade group from Japan. The Japanese delegation visited pig farms and soybean farms to learn about current practices in the American industry. Agricultural products are Minnesota’s largest category of goods exported to Japan, underscoring the value of such visits.
Nina Geller is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a recent graduate of the Monterey Institute of International Studies.