Portland Mayor Michael Brennan plans to lead a delegation to Shinagawa, Japan, in April to mark the 30th anniversary of Portland’s first sister-city partnership.
Hundreds of students, teachers and community leaders have participated in the exchange program and cultural visits during the three decades. It is the oldest of Portland’s four sister-city relationships, and the only one in which Portland was approached by another community.
Brennan said he hopes the trip will provide lessons on education in Japan, which ranked seventh among 64 countries in the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment in math, reading and science. The United States ranked 36th.
“I’d love to learn more about their educational system,” Brennan said. “If there are any business trade opportunities, I would be more than happy to talk about those.”
All of the travel costs, including the mayor’s, are being paid for by the participants, not the taxpayers. Shinagawa is a suburb of Tokyo with about 350,000 residents.
Sister Cities International was founded by President Eisenhower in 1956. According to its website, its goal is “to promote peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation – one individual, one community at a time.” About 500 U.S. cities have about 1,900 connections to 140 countries, according to Sister Cities International.
That was certainly the spirit in which Portland’s relationship with Shinagawa was formed in 1984.
Eitaro Taga, who was Shinagawa’s mayor at the time, had lived through the atomic bombs of 1945 and vowed to make the world a more peaceful place. Taga looked to Portland as a sister city because Portland’s native son Edward Sylvester Morse is considered the father of Japanese archaeology and anthropology.
During a visit to Japan in 1877, Morse, a self-taught zoologist and archaeologist, observed Omori shell mounds while riding on a train. An excavation of the mounds turned up pottery, bones and tools, leading to the establishment of archaeology in Japan.
Morse’s life and discoveries are one of two themes in the Shinagawa Historical Museum.
Portland has sister-city relationships with four communities: Shinagawa; Archangel, Russia; Mytilene, Greece; and Cap-Haitien, Haiti.
Each relationship has a different focus, said Joseph Gray, Portland’s former city manager. The relationship with Shinagawa focuses on education and youth, while Archangel’s focuses on criminal justice, Cap-Haitien’s focuses on health and Mytilene’s focuses on culture, Gray said.
Brennan said he has invitations to visit Russia and Haiti but hasn’t decided whether he will go.
Until 2008, the city paid a stipend for someone to coordinate its sister-city activities. But the $7,500-a-year position was cut because of budget pressures, said Gray, who was city manager at the time. Since then, the coordination of events has fallen to the Friends of Shinagawa, a nonprofit group composed mostly of former mayors.
Over the last 30 years, more than 1,000 students and 80 teachers have participated in exchanges with Shinagawa, said Jeff Sandler, president of the Friends of Shinagawa.
Exchanges have been frequent, with annual student trips and periodic youth sporting events. Two antique post office boxes in Tommy’s Park in the Old Port are products of the relationship.
“This one is very special,” Sandler said. “Most sister city relationships flame out.”
Brennan’s son went to Japan in a youth sports exchange in the late 1990s. Gray’s son climbed Mount Fuji when he went as part of an exchange in the late 1980s.
Gray said sports exchanges seem to be dwindling, mostly because of the costs of travel and the struggling economy.
Sandler said the group has reserved 30 seats on the flight to Japan in April. Residents are invited to join the delegation during the visit April 19-27. Guests must pay their own way. Costs, including airfare, hotels, several meals and travel in Japan, are estimated at $3,500. Deposits are due Jan. 10.
Sandler said the trip will include an excursion to the more rural town of Koyoto. It’s there that the pastoral beauty of Japan can be seen and felt in the ornamental gardens and temples, said Sandler, who said he fell in love with his wife, Deborah, in a field of irises during their first trip to Japan, in 1984.
“If you’re a person who appreciates immense beauty, it’s your kind of place,” he said. “It speaks to even the most jaded of folks.”
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: