In June 2015, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy visited Kyotango City in Kyoto Prefecture. Kyotango is located on the Sea of Japan and is known for the singing sands of its Kotohiki Beach.
The singing sands produce sound when people walk on them. The sand contains a lot of quartz that has been polished by the wind and the pure water of the sea. It “sings” when pressure is applied to it. The sand must be pristine, however, for it to sing.
America also has singing sand. As a child, Ambassador Kennedy used to visit Singing Beach, a beach with singing sand in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts. She was reminded of that beach when she visited Kyotango and walked on Kotohiki Beach. This inspired her to suggest that the two cities set up an exchange program since they have this special sand in common.
In December 2015, Kyotango’s Shimazu Elementary School received gifts from Manchester Memorial Elementary School, which is located in Manchester-by-the-Sea. The students of Shimazu Elementary were delighted by the unique gifts. In addition to stationery supplies, there were drawings created by the Manchester Memorial students and photographs of the American students. According to Shimazu Elementary School Principal Tatsuya Yoshioka, the Japanese students were captivated by the American students’ drawings and photographs. The children could understand the pictures just by looking at them and they didn’t need to speak English to appreciate them. Through these drawings and photographs, they felt close to the American children on the other side of the ocean. In return, the children of Shimazu Elementary sent short letters and kaleidoscopes made using shells from Kotohiki Beach to Manchester Memorial.
This is how the relationship between Kyotango and Manchester started. Kyotango City aims to develop internationally-minded citizens, and one of its ordinances includes the goal of promoting international exchange. The relationship with Manchester fulfills this objective. To deepen understanding of each other’s city administration and education systems, Kyotango sent a delegation to Manchester in July 2016. During their visit, the delegation met with a wide range of people, including education officials, administrators, environmental preservationists, and history museum officials.
The delegates were delighted by the warm welcome they received from the people of Manchester and their tremendous enthusiasm about exchange with Kyotango. A sign had been put up in the entrance hall of Manchester Memorial that said “Welcome” in Japanese. The presents from Shimazu Elementary had also been put on display with a sign that said “Our Sister School.” This showed the visitors how much Manchester Memorial values its exchange with Shimazu.
The sand of Singing Beach was very similar in color to that of Kotohiki Beach, and the rocks around the two beaches were also strikingly similar. By meeting the people of Manchester in person and touring various facilities, the Kyotango delegates were able to interact directly with the people and culture of the city and they departed feeling that developing the exchange program would be beneficial.
The Kyotango officials in charge of the exchange program are hoping to maintain and expand collaboration with Manchester Memorial through a sister school tie-up, and would like the Japanese and American students to interact frequently by using Skype and other technologies. The officials want local government staff from the two cities to take the relationship to the next level by considering forming sister city ties, drawing on their common natural asset of singing sands, and their shared concern about environmental preservation. Shimazu Elementary Principal Yoshioka also wants his school to enjoy long-term exchange with Manchester Memorial as a sister school and hopes his students will grow up to be Japanese citizens who are comfortable interacting with people of other cultures.
While she was walking on Kotohiki Beach, Ambassador Kennedy recognized that the sand made the same sound as the Singing Beach of her childhood. “It was a powerful reminder that we have so much more in common than divides us,” she said. “The ocean doesn’t separate the people who live on its shores – it connects and inspires us as it has done throughout history.” Ambassador Kennedy hopes that the exchange between these two cities united by singing sands will flourish far into the future.