By Mike Baker
The Associated Press
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — After 50 years, the relationship between Washington and Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture is stronger than ever.
From Aug. 18–20, a delegation of 250 people from Japan visited Washington to celebrate 50 years of the sister-state relationship. Since 1957, 12 cities in Washington have also started sister-city relationships with cities in Hyogo.
Leaders from Washington state and the Hyogo Prefecture renewed their ties with a joint agreement Aug. 19 in Olympia.
Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido is among the members of the delegation visiting the state, in addition to multiple business, political, and cultural officials.
Schuyler Hoss, director of international relations for Gov. Jay Inslee, said the relationship has had cultural, educational and business benefits for both sides. In part, he said it helped give Washington political leaders and businesses a more international focus over the years.
“This relationship really did create an awareness and opened people’s eyes about the opportunities beyond our borders,” Hoss said.
Costco and Starbucks are among the Washington-based companies with large presences in Kobe, the largest city in the Hyogo Prefecture, said Hoss. Kobe is famous for its namesake beef.
The delegation’s visit schedule was dotted with events on subject matter ranging from the arts to business. On Aug. 17, Hyogo-based Awaji Ningyo Joruri Japanese Puppet Theatre performed at the ACT Theatre to celebrate the relationship.
On Aug. 20, Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido awarded Costco a plaque at an event hosted at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center. Costco first expanded to Japan in 1999 with a location in Hisayama. Today, the company operates 17 warehouses in Japan, with two in Hyogo prefecture. Costco employs over 7,000 people through its Japan operations alone, paying the same level of wages as it does in the United States.
Hoss said there is a lot of interest in expanding educational exchanges between the two states. The universities in Washington and Hyogo have longstanding relationships, and Hoss said officials are interested in also pursuing exchanges in the K-12 system.
In early August, 30 Japanese doctors visited Seattle to learn advanced surgery techniques. The Hyogo College of Medicine was one of three universities to send doctors to the program.
Hoss said there is also ongoing interest in expanding the use of Seattle and Kobe ports as distribution points for imports and exports, as well as improved air service between the two regions and expanded tourism ties. Along with ceremonial activities in Olympia on Monday, the Hyogo delegation will meet with counterparts in the Seattle area.
Former Washington Gov. Al Rosellini first began the sister-state relationship during a visit to Japan in 1963.
Hyogo is prefecture of more than 5 million people. (end)
Additional reporting by the Northwest Asian Weekly.