Diamond Jubilee with Sister City Takamatsu
This year is the Diamond Jubilee of the St. Petersburg-Takamatsu, Japan, Sister City Partnership. Sixty years ago, some in St. Petersburg were not all that enthused about becoming a Sister City with any Japanese city. 1961 was only sixteen years after the end of World War II. Many still had bitter memories of Japan from the war. On the other hand, Takamatsu had bitter memories as well, especially dating from July 4, 1945, when about 80% of Takamatsu was destroyed by US bombing.
The Sister Cities Program was founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956. Eisenhower envisioned a network of sister cities that would be a “champion for peace and prosperity by fostering bonds between people from different communities around the world.” He believed that “people from different cultures could understand, appreciate, and celebrate their differences while building partnerships that would lessen the chance of new conflicts.” St. Petersburg’s Sister City Partnership with Takamatsu is one of the first Sister City Programs in the United States.
The two cities were matched because they had a lot in common. Both were incorporated as municipalities less than 100 years before, although Takamatsu traces its history as a city back to the 12th Century. Both faced the water, had a similar climate, and were tourist cities. The populations and city square miles were about the same. Also coincidentally, Takamatsu means “tall pine” in Japanese, and the numerous pine trees in Pinellas County contributed to the name ‘Pinellas,’ and in St. Petersburg itself, the southernmost part of the city is called Pinellas Point. The name derives from the Spanish, ‘Punta de Pinal,’ or ‘Point of Pines.’
A Student Exchange Program has been part of the Sister City relationship since 1984. Each year, two or three high school juniors are selected as goodwill ambassadors to Takamatsu. Students spend up to three weeks in Takamatsu. In exchange, Takamatsu sends students to St. Petersburg. (The program has been suspended since 2020 due to the pandemic.) From the beginning, educational and cultural activities were emphasized. At various times, school children in St. Pete and Takamatsu exchanged artworks, handcrafts, and poem books. During the 40th Anniversary, the St. Petersburg Museum of History displayed a special exhibit on the Sister Cities Program.
In 1962, a generous donor in St. Petersburg funded a four-year scholarship to be used by Takamatsu teachers at Eckerd College (then Florida Presbyterian College). Takamatsu City employee interns spent several months at Eckerd College, and then with the City, rotating through various departments learning about our City government.
Over the years, St. Petersburg has sent delegations to Takamatsu, including mayors and city council representatives, while Takamatsu has sent like delegations to St. Pete. The first St. Petersburg mayor to make the trip was Herman Goldner in 1967. Mayor Goldner visited again in 1972. Mayor Randy Wedding visited Takamatsu in 1974. Mayor Nobuo Waki made his first visit to St. Petersburg in 1978. He returned again 13 years later in 1991 to commemorate the 30th Anniversary. Mayor Corrine Freeman visited Takamatsu in 1984.
Mayor Robert L. Ulrich visited Takamatsu in 1990 to celebrate their Centennial and Sister City Fair. He previously lived in Japan while serving in the US Air Force as a helicopter pilot and so knew the country well. Ulrich is a biking aficionado so he recruited 15 local cyclists to come with him (at their own expense). After participating in the ceremonies at Takamatsu, Ulrich and his bicycle friends took a bike trip through the picturesque Shikoku Region of Japan. He recalls, “The Fuji Bicycle Company agreed to sponsor our trip of 250 miles around Shikoku complete with brand-new bicycles, appropriate cycle-ware including helmets, a sag-wagon, and the US- educated son of the local Fuji bicycle dealer as our guide, route-setter, and reservation-maker. Each night, we found ourselves in a quaint Japanese inn, and we fellowshipped and dined on Japanese cuisine and warm hospitality to the delight of our entire entourage. A sidelight of our venture was Takamatsu Mayor Waki’s fear that we should not undertake such a perilous journey on narrow Japanese roads. But we prevailed. The local media caught wind of our adventure and we departed Takamatsu in a blaze of paparazzi-loaded cars and helicopters photographing the crazy Americans off on a lark.”
Mayor Bill Foster participated in the 40th Anniversary as chair of the City Council. For that occasion, he arranged for 15 boys from the ‘St. Pete Rays of Fossil Park’ baseball team to go to Takamatsu. They were matched against the ‘Takamatsu Dragons.’ The ‘Friendship Games’ ended in a tie. He remembers the city rolling out the red carpet for the St. Petersburg delegation, noting that “there was no want or need that was unmet.” The city was decorated with banners commemorating the occasion. Art drawn by students at Anabuki College depicting St. Petersburg was displayed throughout Takamatsu’s largest shopping mall. He again traveled to Takamatsu as mayor for the 50th Anniversary in 2011.
In 2008, Mayor Rick Baker traveled to Takamatsu. Baker notes, “During our delegation visit to Takamatsu, we first travelled to Hiroshima to meet with city leaders and visit Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Within the park, among other memorials is a large statue of Sadako Sasaki holding a golden crane. Sadako was a young girl who died from radiation poison in the aftermath of the atom bomb. Before she died, she had folded over 1,000 origami paper cranes under a Japanese legend that says to do so enables the folder to be granted a wish. There are large Plexiglas displays at the memorial where people can place origami cranes made in memory and honor of Sadako. Before leaving for Japan, children from schools throughout St. Petersburg learned of Sadako’s story and made over two hundred origami cranes to present. At the memorial, our children Jacob (11) and Julann (12) – Sadako’s age when she died – presented the cranes on behalf of the children of St. Petersburg to the memorial after meeting with the vice mayor of Hiroshima. It was a moving moment for everyone who witnessed it.” Sadako’s simple wish was that she would live through her disease so she could fulfill her dream of being on a running team.
This year’s Diamond Anniversary is being organized by the St. Petersburg International Folk Festival (SPIFF) in cooperation with the City. One event has already taken place. Recently Mayor Rick Kriseman and Takamatsu Mayor Hideto Onishi exchanged greetings in a Webex meeting. Creative Clay in St. Petersburg and Heart Art Link of Takamatsu have begun an art exchange program. James B. Sanderlin IB Elementary World School will have virtual exchanges with Higashiueta Elementary School. Thurgood Marshall Middle School will have virtual exchanges with Fuzoku Junior High School. Beginning in October, Sunken Gardens will feature the 60th Anniversary Sister City logo on their koi food packets. In addition, there will be a new exhibit at the History Museum and an observance will be held at the City Council on October 14th.
One of the artworks at the new St. Petersburg Pier is the Red Pelican, which incorporates the geometric footprint of the new Pier, as well as the logo of the City. The accompanying plaque notes that the artist Nathan Mabry “found inspiration in origami, the art of folding paper, a nod to Takamatsu, Japan, St. Pete’s long-time sister city.” This tribute calls to mind Mayor Baker’s visit to Hiroshima, and to Sadako Sasaki, and the 1,000 origami cranes she made to realize her simple wish. Most appropriately, in recognition of the Diamond Jubilee of our Sister City Program, a second plaque will be added to the Red Pelican recounting the 60-year history of the St. Petersburg-Takamatsu Sister City Partnership.