Remarks by Consul General Yoichiro Yamada at Washington State Sister Cities Conference (October 6, 2018)
Good morning. I thank the organizer of this Conference for giving me a chance to talk about sister city relations between Japan and Washington State. In this state, 36 cities have a sister city in Japan. Washington State and Hyogo prefecture also have a sister-state relationship. The total number of such pairings, 37, is more than the state’s sister pairings with any other country in the world. This fact is evidence of the deep relationship between Japan and Washington State. We are proud of it.
The relationship between Kobe and Seattle was the first of these relations, and last year they celebrated 60 years. After Kobe and Seattle, sister city pairings between Japan and Washington State have proliferated. But this was not because Japan and Washington State liked each other from those early days. On the contrary, the increase in relations was the result of conscientious efforts on the part of Japanese and American municipal leaders to promote mutual understanding and restore normal human ties.
In those days, there was still a lot of bitterness among the Japanese and the Americans toward each other. On the American side, the memory of Pearl Harbor and the loss of tens of thousands of service persons during the war with Japan remained strong. On the Japanese side were the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and hundreds of thousands of deaths inflicted by American bombings on major cities. In Washington State, there used to be a considerable presence of Japanese and Japanese Americans before the war. But the ties that existed between Japan and Washington State through these immigrants and their American-born descendants were cut off by the wholesale incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry in the western coastal states beginning in 1942, as you can see in the panels above the entrance to the Pike Place Market .
The role of sister cities between Japan and the United States must be viewed with this historical context. The first sister city linkage between Japan and the U.S. was born in 1955 between Saint Paul of Minnesota and Nagasaki on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. The choice of the signing day and the identity of the cities were highly indicative of the role this linkage was expected to play. The mayors were clearly determined to send a message of peace to their citizens and more widely, to the Japanese and American peoples.
In September of the following year, President Dwight Eisenhower convened a conference on Citizen Diplomacy. He placed optimism on the belief that all people want peace, and that if we understand each other better, peace will prevail. The president therefore called for people-to-people relations between ordinary citizens, calling them volunteer citizen diplomats.
Just after the war, many people would have thought that a close friendship between Japan and the United States would never come. For our countries to restore mutual respect and understanding, time was needed to heal the wounds. Time was needed for people to begin to take an interest in and open their hearts a little bit to each other. The spread of sister city relations and the growing exchange of visits by everyday citizens helped to rediscover humanity and friendliness in each other. Over the years, people-to-people exchanges helped to put the bitter past behind us and move forward. Thanks to sister relationships at municipal levels and numerous other frameworks for citizen exchange, Japan and the U.S. now have a well-developed web of trust and friendship.
As President Eisenhower said, citizen diplomacy helps to maintain mutual goodwill and peace, at times even despite their governments. The friendship and trust nurtured through grassroots exchanges has the power to override political waves. International relations are sometimes affected by particular policies of the government of the day, but the strong human ties built by direct contact over the years ensure that trust and objective observation act as an anchor, providing stable relations. The circle of friends widens from the host family to the greater community, which will work against populist and/or derogatory rumors.
There is another important purpose in promoting citizen exchange, particularly youth exchange. In my opinion, exposing the youth to different cultures is the best investment for the future of society. The youth will compare their own society to the place of their exchange, notice the differences and learn. When you read the reports they write, you notice that the youth usually learn from the positive things they see in the place they visit. That experience inspires them, and makes them an agent for change in their own community. The Japanese and the Americans face very similar problems in their societies, such as health, the environment and public order, but have different approaches in tackling them, which is excellent for healthy comparison.
As President Eisenhower said, there are various ways to promote citizen diplomacy. For Japan one such program is called JET. It is a program to send young people from English-speaking countries mainly as English-language teachers to Japanese schools. These young Americans are ambassadors to the places they live. Many of these American participants say that the experience has changed their life, and continue to maintain close ties with the Japanese municipality where they lived.
Japan has another long-lasting program to promote citizens exchange at the grassroots level. It is called “Grassroots Summit”. About 150 Japanese citizens of all ages from all over Japan come to the host US city and spend 3 nights and four days with their respective host family. The following year, a similar number of Americans go to Japan to stay with host families. Washington State hosted the Summit this year, and it took place two weeks ago. This program was initiated in 1991, at the height of the Japan-U.S. trade war. Yes, another war, though it did not involve physical violence. The initiators of this program thought at that time that the two countries needed more citizen diplomacy which would have nothing to do with the vagaries of politics and economics. The sheer number of personal ties created through these exchanges is another solid pillar for strong Japan-U.S. friendship.
To conclude, allow me to mention a set of words that came to my mind recently. In 1776, Adam Smith first published the book “The Wealth of Nations”. He argued that market exchange automatically channels self-interest toward socially desirable ends through a mechanism which he referred to as “the god’s invisible hand”. Now I would like to invite your attention to a notion of the “wealth of relations”. Like Adam Smith, with a little stretch, it can be said that exchange of people automatically channels an individual’s curiosity toward socially desirable ends. And here the god’s invisible hand is the desire for peace and friendship. The multiple layers of relationships enrich and augment bilateral relations.
I believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020 will be another channel to encourage people-to-people exchange and increase the “Wealth of Relations”. We now live in an age where technology is rapidly changing the nature of human interaction. Emails, Facebook and Instagram are all good. But there is nothing like the excitement and joy of talking to a friend face-to-face. Thank you for your attention.