50 Years of History and Friendship: A Trip to Shizuoka

Fumiko and Masahiro Sone. A retired TV executive, Masahiro Sone was a child when Shizuoka was bombed by the U.S. in 1945. [Photo by Michael Kelly/The World Herald]

Blog by Mary D. Kane, President and CEO, Sister Cities International. Click here to view original post on Medium.

This November I was extremely privileged to travel to Shizuoka, Japan along with an official delegation from their sister city Omaha, Nebraska. This partnership has a long, complicated, and exciting history, like many sister city partnerships.

It all started in 1965 when a group of people in Omaha, Nebraska decided that they should form a sister city relationship with a city in Japan — Shizouka. What makes this partnership interesting and impactful is that just 20 years prior, a fighter plane named The City of Omaha dropped bombs on this same Japanese city. However, the importance of moving past old atrocities and towards a closer and mutually beneficial relationship has paved the way for these two countries to create a relationship which has now endured for over 50 years.

Fumiko and Masahiro Sone. A retired TV executive, Masahiro Sone was a child when Shizuoka was bombed by the U.S. in 1945. [Photo by Michael Kelly/The World Herald]

Shizuoka is the most expansive city in all of Japan and is located on the Pacific coast of the country just over an hour south of Tokyo. Since the relationship with Omaha was formed over a half of a century ago, more than 2,000 students have traveled between these two cities.

This past summer, Omaha welcomed over 100 citizens from Shizuoka to celebrate their 50th Anniversary. To reciprocate, 68 Omahans went to visit their “family” in Shizuoka this fall. I was privileged to be invited to join the family reunion. After 50 years of student, cultural, and business exchanges, that is exactly what this relationship is — a family.

Highlights of my trip included when the delegation and I went to the Nihondaira Zoo, where we held a ceremony to dedicate a new six-foot, 900-pound Tanuki statue that was sculpted by Japanese-born artist, Jun Kaneko, who is a current resident of Omaha. The delegation also took a tour of this zoo and we checked on the buffalo that was donated by Omaha.

High school studentsAfter visiting the zoo, we went to a high school that traditionally sends at least six Japanese students a year to live and go to school in Omaha. As we walked in, these usually-reserved Japanese students came running up to hug their former American host families — or — as they are more commonly referred to, their moms and dads. We were mesmerized by how quiet the high school classes were even though each class had one teacher and 40 plus students. We also enjoyed learning more about Japanese student traditions like how to appropriately clean our trays during lunch and save the scraps, as nothing is wasted in a Japanese school. Another major difference was learning how there is toilet paper, but no paper towels. Students are expected to bring their own washcloths to dry their hands and clean up after themselves.

Omaha delegation on stage in traditional Japanese dress with traditional instruments.One of the more exciting moments during my trip was watching the University of Nebraska Omaha jazz ensemble perform at the annual Daidogei festival. The University created and performed original compositions that paid homage to the host families of Shizuoka and its famous world heritage site, Mt. Fuji. At the festival, we were treated to a celebratory banquet with lots of kanpai and, overall, some of the best sushi and sashimi I have ever eaten. It all came to a perfect close with some traditional fun and karaoke.

During my visit, I kept asking myself, “Was it just 70 years ago that we were at war with each other — to the point that it took nuclear bombs to stop the carnage?” It was so incredible to see how far we have come and how the power of building these global relationships serves to transcend boundaries and bring the world closer together to overcome hardships and look towards a future of peace and prosperity.

After leaving Shizuoka, I will always remember Eizo Inamouri, a 75-year-old man, standing beside the train waving at us with tears streaming down his face hoping that this would not be the last time he saw his family from Omaha.

This moment made me realize again the important role our sister city network plays not only in creating bonds between countries and cities, but in creating everlasting memories and bold relationships with their people.