Citizen Diplomats Nurturing Japanese-U.S. Understanding, Peace

By Anthony Kujawa
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – September 11 marks not only the fifth anniversary of the terror attacks on the United States, but also the 50th anniversary of a White House conference where President Dwight D. Eisenhower laid out a vision for a sister-city movement through which individuals could “help build the road to [world] peace” by engaging in people-to-people diplomacy.

On September 11, 1956 - the first day of the post-World War II people-to-people conference in Washington - Eisenhower said, "If we are going to take advantage of the assumption that all people want peace, then the problem is for people to get together and to leap governments … to work out not one method but thousands of methods by which people can gradually learn a little bit more of each other." (See related article.)

Today that vision has flourished into a global network linking 700 U.S. communities in educational and cultural exchange with more than 1,800 international partners in 127 nations, according to Sister Cities International, including some 435 such partnerships with Japan.

The United States has more sister-city partnerships with communities in Japan than with any other nation and officials in both countries often cite these strong citizen-level ties as a basis for strength of Japanese-U.S. relations since World War II.

"The development of the great friendship between the United States and Japan over the past 60 years is little short of miraculous.  And as strong as the bilateral relationship is at the government-to-government level, and between U.S. and Japanese business partners, I'd say it's even better at the level of ordinary citizens,” Mark J. Davidson, cultural affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, told the Washington File.  “All the opinion surveys we've seen say that Americans and Japanese truly respect and like each other.  There's no question that the main reason for this grass-roots goodwill is the great proliferation of people-to-people exchanges that link the two societies, led by sister-city relationships.”

One of those partnerships - the first between a city in the United States and city in Asia - is the sister-city affiliation between Saint Paul, Minnesota, and Nagasaki, Japan.  This relationship grew out of the cities' historic ties and a common desire for peace following World War II.  Chartered 51 years ago by Nagasaki Mayor Tsutomu Tagawa and Saint Paul Mayor Joseph E. Dillon, the “twinning” of the two cities has led to a wide array of exchanges.  (See related article.)


Today, volunteer-led sister-city groups in each city – the Saint Paul-Nagasaki Sister City Committee (SPNSCC) in Minnesota and the Nagasaki-Saint Paul Sister City Committee (NSPSCC) in Japan – are expanding their reach via partnerships with other organizations.

Over the years, cultural exchanges between Nagasaki and Saint Paul have flourished, as dedicated volunteers have facilitated exchange programs for community orchestras, square dancers, gardeners, Boy Scouts, tennis players, chess players, Rotary clubs and schools in both cities.

Asked why the sister-city relationship is important, Chris Rossow, president of SPNSCC said the Saint Paul–Nagasaki partnership “really started to heal wounds.”

“It was only 10 years after the war [World War II] ended.  Nagasaki had been bombed.  St. Paul had lost many people at Pearl Harbor and in the Pacific Front.  The fact that we signed our founding documents on December 7, 1955, was a statement that we [St. Paul and Nagasaki] wanted to step forward and heal the wounds of that war,” she said.

Takayuki Miyanishi, president of NSPSCC, said the strong sister-city ties “show the fact that we could learn from and overcome the sad history of World War II.”

Miyanishi, a biochemist at Nagasaki University and also a clarinet player in the Nagasaki Symphony Orchestra, which formed “sister orchestra” ties with the Saint Paul Civic Symphony in 1996, said the two orchestras will hold a joint concert in Nagasaki in October.

Another project that demonstrates the possibility of partnership through organizations with common interests involves weeklong tennis exchanges, held in summers 2000 and 2005 between youth from Nagasaki and Saint Paul.  More than 40 Japanese young people participated in the tennis exchanges, organized with the help of the United States Tennis Association Northern Section and Saint Paul Urban Tennis.

These tennis events were much more than a vacation; they were about making friends and exploring new cultures, says Ritsuko Fukuda, an organizer of the tennis exchange on the Nagasaki side. “Even if they could not communicate well with words, through common interest in sport, they were able to make friends,” Fukuda said.

Through playing tennis with the Saint Paul youth, staying with host families, attending a Minnesota Twins baseball game, camping in northern Minnesota and many other activities, the group experienced various aspects of life in the United States.  The culture the Nagasaki youth explored was not the blond-haired, blue-eyed, suburban lifestyle they might have envisioned before coming, but an urban and diverse mix, as some of them stayed with American families of African, Sri Lankan, Ethiopian and Pakistani descent.

Yoshihiro Tajima, 12, who participated in the 2005 exchange said that he learned the value of communication.  “Even if it’s our first meeting, through the smile on one’s face, we were quickly able to become friends,” he said.


The underlying premise - that the closer the people of the world become, the more remote the likelihood of war - remains the cornerstone of sister-city ties, the heads of the sister-city committees in Nagasaki and Saint Paul say.

“I've met many, many Japanese from all regions and walks of life who have told me that their own experience through sister cities of visiting the U.S. or hosting a group of visiting Americans has allowed them to make lifelong friendships with Americans. And I've met many Americans with similar stories of how their first encounter through a sister-cities program with Japan's gracious hospitality made them lifelong fans of things Japanese,” Davidson said. “The U.S.-Japan case is really a model for how sister cities can help heal the wounds of war and build genuine, heartfelt affection across cultural and linguistic differences."

Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota, who traveled to Nagasaki in November 2001 as mayor of Saint Paul, said that President Eisenhower’s September 11, 1956, statement applies “even more strongly now” than it did 50 years ago.

“Our Sister City programs … represent the long-term and crucial process by which we come to know the world and the world comes to know us,” Coleman said. Sister cities are about relationships and that “face to face contact … defeats obstacles and breaks down the stereotypes in an amazing way,” he added.