Recently residents from Tokai-mura, Japan visited their sister city in Idaho Falls, Idaho, celebrating 37 years of friendship. Despite being on opposite sides of the world, the two cities share many similarities such as commitment to nuclear energy and growing potatoes. Kicking off the trip, Tokai-mura residents were treated to an authentic Idaho experience complete with a Thanksgiving dinner and an Idaho State football game. Later in the visit the group toured city offices, the fire department, the Idaho National Library, and the Grand Teton National Park. There was also a reception to swap gifts between the two countries to promote a lasting friendship.
At the end of the trip, the Japanese visitors were taken to Bonneville County’s newest school. One Idaho Falls local commented that even though Japan’s high schools are much larger, there is not as much integration with the community as there is in Idaho. The guests visited the school’s band and choir rooms, media centers, arts classes, rooms for special needs children, auxiliary gym, and community performing arts center.
Idaho Falls Sister Cities is an organization that advances understanding between the people of Idaho Falls and its sister city in Japan and are planning to visit Tokai-mura in 2019. The organization also offers a program for Idaho youth to visit Japan for ten days in order to promote cultural exchange. The cities alternate sending a group of students; on odd years, Toki-mura students will visit Idaho and on even years, Idaho students visit Toki-mura. Idaho currently has four sister cities, half of which are with cities in Japan. Asia has the most sister cities with the United States, and Japan boats the most relationships by far with 456. The state also hosts 1,055 students from Asia, 61 of which are from Japan. Thus, Japanese students contribute $1.5 million out of the $26.7 million that Asian students bring to the Idaho economy.
Idaho’s other past events with Japan include the 70th anniversary of the Japan Flour Millers Association. Wheat representatives from Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Oregon as well as senior managers of the U.S. Wheat Association visited Japan earlier this year for the occasion. Additionally, the U.S. Wheat Association sponsored a visit to Japan and South Korea in 2016 to learn more about the Asian market. Farmers from Idaho, Minnesota, Washington, and Oregon spoke to those involved in the grain trade in Japan and South Korea and addressed inquiries regarding the importance of wheat quality and yield and on the importance of plant variety.
Celine Mahne is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a third-year undergraduate student at the George Washington University studying International Affairs, concentrating in Security Policy and minoring in Korean.