By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
LONG BEACH — Six decades of warm relations between two port cities were celebrated last month with the rededication of the Yokkaichi Friendship Garden in Long Beach on Aug. 12.
Long Beach Mayor Rex Richardson and Mayor Tomohiro Mori of Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, led the celebration with the signing of a joint agreement marking the occasion and the unveiling of a monument plaque created by local sculptor Trace Fukuhara.
Others in attendance for the ceremony included Ryoma Higuchi, speaker of the Yokkaichi Assembly, Councilmember Kristina Duggan and Mike Vaughn, president of the Long Beach-Yokkaichi Sister City Association.
The relationship dates back to 1963 with an agreement between Long Beach Mayor Edwin Wade and Yokkaichi Mayor Sukenori Hirata. The first meeting of the Long Beach-Yokkaichi Sister City Committee was held in Recreation Park on May 14 with Wade chairing the committee.
“The sister cities program is really about building a relationship and deepening your cultural competency and it’s all rooted in respect. It’s the mayor-to-mayor relationship that allows us to better understand different cultures,” said Richardson in an interview with LBTV.
At a welcome reception, Mori, clad in a blue yukata, expressed his gratitude for the decades of friendship. He noted the programs initiated between the two cities, including a high school exchange program (Trio), an environmental summit and a physician exchange between Yokkaichi Municipal Hospital and Long Beach Memorial Medical Center.
“We have a deep, deep bond between our two cities. We have the Trio program, which takes place every two years, the YEF (Yokkaichi English Fellows) program, and also the physician exchange program and also the environmental summit program,” said Mori.
“Sixty years is long long time and Yokkaichi and Long Beach share this long history together. So I am resolved to continue this wonderful relationship that was built by our predecessors and moving towards the future together. Yokkaichi citizens and their children all love the city of Long Beach and I hope that the feeling is the same for Long Beach citizens as well.”
Officials in attendance included Long Beach Vice Mayor Cindy Allen, Sharon L. Weissman, president of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners, and Bonnie Lowenthal, vice president of the commission and former assemblymember. Consul General Kenko Sone attended with his wife, Mami.
Sone said, “I sincerely congratulate the cities on this 60th milestone. I’m very grateful for the mayors, city councilmembers and the citizens of both cities for their steadfast commitment to the Long Beach-Yokkaichi sister-city relationship. The support of local citizens at the grassroots level has also been a essential aspect of this sister-city relationship.”
An example of these ties came when Matt Jones, an educator with Akatsuki Junior-Senior High School, was introduced. Jones first went to Yokkaichi on a two-year fellowship in 1989 and ended up becoming a tenured lecturer and raising his family there.
When Assembly Speaker Higuchi stood up to speak, he pointed to Jones and said in English, “My teacher is here.”
For more information on the sister-city relationship, visit http://longbeach-yokkaichi.org.