Olympia’s Sister City in Japan

The Olympia-Kato Sister City Association was incorporated as a non-profit in 1981 after a sister city relationship had been agreed upon by the Olympia and Kato (historically Yashiro) town councils. Membership in OKSCA and participation in our activities is open to anyone living in the Thurston County area. 

What Is the Sister Cities Program?

The Sister cities Program allows the citizens of a community to participate in international relations. It is an educational and cultural program with a partner city of your choice. Commerce, language, art, ideas, music, academic, youth programs, and dozens of other activities are only limited by one’s own imagination. It is an opportunity to understand another culture and another people though firsthand experience. Through the Sister Cities Program, we can gain respect and understanding of all the peoples of the world and perhaps, even understand ourselves a little better.

History of the Olympia-Kato (Formerly Yashiro) Sister City Relationship

In 1980, Governor Sakai of the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan (The Sister State to Washington State), wrote Governor Dixie Lee Ray requesting a Washington Sister City for Yashiro, Japan.  Protocol Officer Wayne Gentry suggested that Olympia might be a good possibility. Yashiro was thought to be a good match for Olympia because it is an important city of our Sister State, Hyogo Prefecture, and its population, industry, and educational features are not far removed from our own.

A Citizens Committee, representing many areas of endeavor and backgrounds was formed and led by Olympia Mayor Lyle Watson and Chairman Tom Brown. After many months of work, the committee received word on October 18, 1980 that the Yashiro Town Council had approved Olympia’s invitation to affiliate as Sister Cities. The formal signing of the Sister City Friendship Agreement between the City of Olympia, Washington and the Town of Yashiro, Japan took place on April 22, 1981.

Exchange Visits with Citizen Delegations 

In 1981, the first official delegation of 12 from Yashiro, Japan visited Olympia led by Mayor Ishiko and his wife. This was the start of annual visits, with Japan visiting Olympia in odd years and Olympia going to Japan in even years.

In 1987, the exchange program was expanded to include high school students.  Each year, a group of 15-20 students spend about two weeks in the sister city, staying in homes, visiting schools and local sites.  These high school students pay their own way, as do the adult chaperones who accompany them.

Over the years, over 400 adults and 200 students from Thurston County have visited Japan as representatives of our community to experience and learn about a different culture and make lasting friendships.

Our Sister City Grows and Changes:
The Town of Yashiro Merges with Two Nearby Towns to form the City of Kato

Our original sister city, Yashiro, traced its development as a town from outside the gates of the Saho shrine constructed in 722.  Kato City was founded onMarch 20, 2006 from the merger of the former towns of Yashiro, Takino, and Tojo.  Thus, Yashiro became one of the “districts” in the new city of Kato.

Each of the 3 towns kept their original, separate sister city affiliations (with Olympia, WA; Chelan, WA; and, Hollister, CA) through 2009.  In June of 2009, OKSCA received a letter from Kato stating that they could no longer continue maintaining three sister city relationships. Because of our outstanding relationship with the people of Kato, the City of Olympia was honored to be selected as the only sister city to Kato.

Gifts from Our Sister City in Japan

The Yashiro Japanese Garden, created in honor of the friendship, is located adjacent to the old Olympia City Hall on Plum Street.  On display in the Garden are granite lanterns and a granite pagoda that were gifts to Olympia from the people of Yashiro.

Several generous gifts are on display in the lobby of the Olympia City Hall and at other Olympia locations. A portable shrine is on display at a local school. Two giant carp windsocks hang in the lobby of the Olympia Center. Other gifts from Kato include a life-size model of the fall harvest festival dancer and the colorful Japanese lanterns lighted during the Olympia Bon Odori Festival each summer.

When the City of Olympia dedicated the newly rebuilt Fourth Avenue Bridge on May 16, 2004, the city council officially named it the Olympia-Yashiro Friendship Bridge.

Olympia’s Presence in Japan

In honor of the long-standing relationship between the two cities, the main street in former Yashiro is named Olympia Avenue.
Kato has constructed an “American Garden” and even opened an Olympia Restaurant, where the waitresses wear Olympia Farmers Market t-shirts!