The idea of international “sister cities” began in 1947 as a way to promote friendship and cross-cultural understanding after World War II. There was also an economic component to the concept to encourage trade and tourism. In the 1980s the Japanese government created the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations to encourage the development of sister cities.
By that time Kobe was a veteran hand at forging these civic familial relationships. In 1957 Kobe made its first such bond with Seattle, Washington in the United States. The matchmaker was an American named Clifton B. Foster who proposed the idea to the Kobe Public Relations Office. The Kobe mayor contacted the Seattle mayor and an official ceremony was held in Kobe on October 21, 1957 to welcome a delegation from Seattle and launch the partnership.
It was the first official sister city for Seattle, which now has 21 sister cities, as well. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the relationship and contingents of Seattle officials will be much in evidence around Kobe this summer. And vice versa in the United States.
What Do Sister Cities Do?
Over the decades the two cities have organized many cultural exchanges and events co-ordinated by the Seattle-Kobe Sister City Association. Gifts from the people of Kobe have created the Kobe Terrace Park in Seattle’s International District with Japanese pine and cherry trees shading a stone lantern. In 1975 the Kobe Municipal Arboretum opened a “Seattle Forest” section with 40 species of trees common to the American Northwest.
Other gifts from Seattle to Kobe include totem poles outside Kobe City Hall, the Oji Zoo, and the Municipal Arboretum; gas lamps at City Hall and in Meriken Park; the Rock of Peace on Port Island; and a bronze statue of an otter named “Prince Williams” in the Suma Aqualife Park. When you see porcupines and bobcats at the zoo, they are creatures from the Kobe-Seattle alliance. Similarly, the ancient sturgeon fish and otters at the Aqualife Park are courtesy of Seattle. The rhododendrons that bloom each summer in the Kobe Municipal Arboretum are specimens donated by Seattle.
The sister city relationship between Kobe and Seattle has spilled over into the institutions of the two port cities. The Port of Kobe and the Port of Seattle have enjoyed a formal relationship for 50 years. The Seattle YMCA and Kobe YMCA have engaged in a partnership even longer. The Seattle Yacht Club and Suma Yacht Club have had maritime exchanges since 1981.
One of the highlights of this six-decade alliance is the Jazz Exchange Program. Every year the winner of the Kobe Jazz Vocalist Queen Contest travels to Seattle to entertain at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley. The competition is staged in Kobe’s Shinkaichi neighborhood, the birthplace of Japanese jazz. In the fall two Seattle musicians, one adult and one student cross the Pacific to show off their chops at the Shikaichi Music Street Jazz Vocalist Queen Contest.
Today Kobe now has sister cities on four other continents: Marseille, France, Riga, Latvia, and Barcelona, Spain in Europe; Brisbane in Australia; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in South America; and Incheon, South Korea in Asia.
Photo by Rattlhed at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons