As we reported earlier on this site, American communities with sister cities in Japan were at the vanguard of providing support and aid to Japan in the wake of the devastating March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters. The fishing village of Otsuchi, Iwate prefecture, was hit particularly hard by the massive wave. The city maintains a sister city relationship with Fort Bragg, California, and the connection between these two harbor towns and the strength of their ties in the wake of tragedy was the focus of a recent segment on the CBS news program “60 Minutes.”
According to the data collected for the Japan Matters for America/America Matters for Japan initiative, the Otsuchi-Fort Bragg sister relationship is one of 7 such US-Japan linkages in Iwate Prefecture and one of 97 in the state of California. There are more sister city relationships between American communities and Japan than any other country.
Reporter Bob Simpson interviewed Ken Sasaki, the Otsuchi city worker who launched the sister partnership of the seaside community after finding that the California town of Fort Bragg lay directly across the ocean from his home. Researching the latitudinal neighbor, “Ken-san” discovered deeper similarities between the two communities, such as both boasting ties to salmon fishing. It was his invitation to the Mayor of Fort Bragg in 1997 to visit a marine convention in Otsuchi that launched a vibrant sister relationship that has persisted through the devastation of the Japanese town.
The television program brought Fort Bragg exchange participant, Sharon Davis, to Otsuchi to tour the post-disaster town and reconnect with friends made through the sister-city relationship. She experienced a tearful reunion with the two students who she had hosted the year before in her California home, both girls survived the disaster to Davis’ relief. Davis also brought with her over a thousand letters from kids in Fort Bragg to their Japanese neighbors.
Heartfelt wishes were not the only gifts sent by the people of the California town to Otsuchi. Though Fort Bragg boasts only a modest population of 7,000, the city was able to raise over $180,000 for its Japanese sister city. Former Mayor Lindy Peters explained that this impressive sum came in from small donations from Fort Bragg citizens. They put out donation canisters throughout the town, and within a week they had raised $50,000 in small amounts, much of it in quarters and dollars. He says that rather than giving it to an international relief organization, the town plans to deliver it to Otsuchi directly as “a gift from Fort Bragg.”
A video recording of the “60 Minutes” segment can be found here along with additional footage not included in the television broadcast. An article featuring a full text transcript for the segment can be found here.