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President Dwight Eisenhower, who believed that connecting people at the community level could help forge strong international relationships and build trust, resulting in a more peaceful world, created Sister Cities in 1956. Through Sister Cities millions of Americans learn about the peoples of other countries, their customs and similarities as well as differences. As citizen diplomats we breach historic barriers of geography, history, customs, language and race and become part of the community of nations.
San Diego’s sister-city affiliation with Yokohama began in 1955 following a trip to Yokohama by the then Mayor Charles Dail and then Port Director John Bate to attend the Japan – American Pacific Area Conference of Mayors. As a result of their acquaintance with the late Mayor Hiranuma of Yokohama, a splendid stone Snow Viewing Lantern was given to the people of San Diego and dedicated and placed in the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park in 1956. On March 11, 1958 under Mayor Dail the City of San Diego approved an ordinance creating the San Diego Yokohama Friendship Commission governed by a board appointed by the City Council. That year at Yokohama’s invitation a delegation of leading San Diego Citizens headed by Deputy Mayor Rossniarp in the absence of Mayor Dail who was unable to attend were honored guests at the Port of Yokohama’s Centennial Celebration. As a feature of the celebration Yokohama conducted formal Affiliation Ceremonies on May 9th commemorating the sister-city status and creating the twin Yokohama-San Diego Friendship Committee like San Diego’s at that time an official city agency. The ordinance creating San Diego’s Friendship Commission, however, was repealed in 1967 and replaced by the present San Diego-Yokohama Sister City Society, a non-profit Cultural and Educational organization which is run by a board of directors elected by public membership. Although the Mayor and Council are honorary members of the Society and are represented ex officio on the board of the Society by a member appointed by the Mayor, the Society is not an official city agency and depends on its membership to fund its activities.
In the years of our relationship with Yokohama there have been many, noteworthy exchanges of gifts and visits to and from the two cities. In July 1958 Yokohama presented San Diego with a 2-1/2 ton Friendship Bell cast and inscribed with signatures of the Mayors. The U. S. Navy handled the difficult task of carrying it from Yokohama to San Diego. The next year in February 1959, the friendship between the two cities was further cemented by a gift from San Diego. A replica of a Camino del Real Mission Bell was taken to Yokohama once again with the help of the U. S. Navy on the Destroyer USS Kyes. By 1960 a special Japanese style structure was elected at the west end of Shelter Island from which the Yokohama Friendship Bell could be hung and rung on auspicious occasions. Next San Diego presented Yokohama with a replica of Donal Hord’s famous large stone statue entitled “Guardian of the Waters” which stands on what used to be City tidelands overlooking the bay of San Diego. Yokohama’s copy his been placed in a similar location as the central figure in Yamashita Park along its beautiful waterfront facing an extremely active harbor. The Friendship Bell in San Diego was dedicated and tolled for the first time on December 10, 1960 just a week after the ceremony accepting and dedicating the “Guardian of the Waters” in Yokohama.
From the start of our sister-city relationship the gift exchanges have continued. Cherry blossom trees were presented to the Zoo and Wild Animal Park and the Zoo has received several donations of exotic animals to add to the world famous Zoo’s collection. In April 1983, in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of our affiliation with Yokohama, a group of members traveled to Yokohama to present the California Mission Bells to then Mayor Saigo and the citizens of Yokohama as a token of the friendship and esteem we have for our friends in Yokohama. These bells are a part of Yokohama’s proposed city of the 21st Century. Minato Mirai 21. In June 1983, the Yokohama-San Diego Friendship Committee arrived in San Diego and presented to our Mayor and members of our Society representing the people of San Diego a magnificent black marble sculpture in the form of an open book on which is inscribed the words of “The San Diego Song.” It is on display next to the present Japanese Friendship Garden Gate in Balboa Park.
It was at the initiation of the Society that the idea of a Japanese Garden in Balboa Park was developed many years ago and is slowly coming to fruition. The Society and its membership continues in the support of this important project with monetary donations and volunteer services. The first phase of the garden has been completed and the Society is looking forward to its full completion in the not too distant future. The name of the garden in Japanese is “Sankeien” which was taken from the name of Yokohama’s magnificent garden. An inscription of the three Japanese characters making up the name, the calligraphy of which was done by the late Mayor Saigo of Yokohama, has been carved on an imposing stone near the garden entrance.
The 35th Anniversary of the Society’s relationship with Yokohama was celebrated in 1992 with the help of a visit from a large delegation from Yokohama. At that time the Society presented a white dogwood tree to Yokohama which was subsequently planted in Negishi Forest Park on March 30, 1993.
From time to time it has been the special pleasure of the Society to host groups from Yokohama and else where in Japan who have come to exchange cultural and educational ideas and to visit various local agencies. The Society has sponsored high school and university student exchanges between our two cities. The students and their chaperons live with host families while attending classes for periods of three weeks to two months. The Society has arranged for art exchanges and displays involving the San Diego School District and the Yokohama School System as well as other organizations in both cities.
There has been an ongoing exchange of books between the two cities. San Diego’s have been placed on the shelves in a special section of the Yokohama Public Library. Many varied and interesting volumes both in English and Japanese have been received from Yokohama and were kept in the Society’s office. Because the people of San Diego did not have ready access to the books and the number on hand had reached nearly 500, the Society decided to transfer them to the San Diego City Library where they are now part of the collection. Each bears a book plate indicating the book was a gift from the people of Yokohama to the people of San Diego as a token of friendship and goodwill.
Even though technology has changed our lives in so many ways, the world is still made up of individual people and our future depends more and more on building better bridges between nations through the many cultural and educational exchanges the San Diego-Yokohama Sister City Society has supported throughout its 52 year history.
You can make a difference. Please join us in building a bridge of friendship between our two great cities.
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