PORTLAND – A delegation of dignitaries from Shinagawa, Japan, will arrive in Portland today for a five-day celebration of a sister city relationship that began more than 25 years ago.

Although Portland has three other sister cities — Cap Haitien, Haiti; Mytilene, Greece; and Archangel, Russia — Shinagawa was Portland’s first.

The connection stands out because it’s difficult to maintain a sister city partnership over a quarter-century, said David Brenerman, who as Portland mayor in 1984 signed the agreement with Shinagawa as part of a program with Sister Cities International in Washington, D.C.

“When I signed the agreement, I didn’t think we would be in this situation so many years later,” he said. “I’m happy to be still involved and helping out.”

Every year since, the two cities have exchanged delegations to explore each other’s culture, and economic, education and health care systems.

Shinagawa, population 340,000, is a ward of Tokyo.

In 1988, Portland sent a Little League team to play its counterparts in Shinagawa.

The event evolved into an exchange of athletic teams every four years. The next scheduled sports exchange will happen in Shinagawa in 2012.

Besides athletic teams, the cities have exchanged student groups and musical groups.

The sister city concept is an outgrowth of the international effort that began after World War II to promote world peace through citizen diplomacy.

Today, there are nearly 2,000 partnerships in the United States. Fewer than 335 are as long-standing as the Portland-Shinagawa partnership.

“This program is in an elite class of city-to-city programs,” said Frances Reimers, communications and program manager for Sister Cities International.

Brenerman said the relationship has been sustained by the commitment of city officials, such as former Mayor Esther Clennot, and the Friends of Shinagawa and the Japan America Society of Maine.

The groups raise money to pay for trips.

The city of Portland’s contributions are nominal, said Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. “There’s a large group of community folks who keep this thing going,” he said.

The two cities planned to celebrate the 25th anniversary last year, but the celebration was postponed until this year because of concerns about the H1N1 virus.

The Japanese delegation, which includes Shinagawa Mayor Takeshi Hamano, is due at the Portland International Jetport at 5:20 p.m. today.

At 10 a.m. Monday, a Japanese drumming group from Maine will greet the delegation at the steps of City Hall. Mavodones will greet the delegation and exchange gifts with Shinagawa’s mayor.

That afternoon, the delegation will ride a Casco Bay Lines ferry to Peaks Island.

Other events will include a meeting with Gov. John Baldacci at the Blaine House. The final event, on Wednesday, will be a Sayonara Party at the Holiday Inn by the Bay.

During a visit to Shinagawa in 1985, Brenerman and others in the Portland delegation were greeted by people cheering and waving flags when they walked the streets or visited offices and museums.

“It was like being the head of state visiting a foreign country,” Brenerman said.

“It was an unbelievable experience to be treated so well and receive such a gracious reception from the Shinagawa folks.”

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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