Following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, many sister cities in the U.S. sprung to action to provide support for their affected partner communities. According to Sister Cities International, an extensive network of 188 partnerships exists between the two countries, with many celebrating their 40th or 50th anniversaries. Sister cities form long-term relationships facilitated by people-to-people exchanges. These personal connections compel the sister cities network to lead outreach activities after tragedies and natural disasters.

Riverside delegates and members of the Orange Club pose with a banner created by students of the University of California Riverside to show support for Tohoku University (Photo courtesy of the City of Riverside)

Riverside in California and Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture have been sister cities since 1957 in what is one of the oldest continuous sister city relationships in the United States. Over the past five decades, the two cities have conducted a number of museum, citizen, youth, and governmental exchanges. In 2007, on the 50th anniversary of the relationship, Sendai gave Riverside the gift of a Japanese Garden at White Park in Downtown Riverside. There is an impressive Japanese stone lantern there with a marker that reads, “May our ties of friendship continue forever.” Riverside’s 50th anniversary gift to Sendai was a giant orange sculpture that commemorates the citrus heritage of Riverside as well as the historic ties between the two cities.

Riverside Mayor Ronald O. Loveridge and International Relations Manager Lalit Acharya tour the tsunami ravaged area of Sendai prior to presenting a check for $500,000 to Mayor Okuyama (Photo courtesy of the City of Riverside)

After the disaster hit on March 11, the Riverside City Hall and its International Relations Council immediately organized a robust relief effort for Sendai. The Californian city raised over $500,000 through the Sendai Relief Fund and the Mayor of Riverside visited Sendai to deliver the funds in person to the Mayor of Sendai to be used for disaster relief activities. The City of Riverside Fire Department also collected donations through a Charity Event called “Fill the boot for Sendai” in which fire fighters stood at various locations around Riverside and collected donations for Sendai.

Firefighter Raymond Orozco collects donations for Sendai on behalf of the Riverside City Firefighters Association/Riverside City Fire Department at the Riverside Air Show (Photo courtesy of the City of Riverside)

Fort Bragg in California and Otsuchi in Iwate Prefecture marked the 10th anniversary of their sister city relationship in 2011. The program was launched by a man in Otsuchi who lost his father at sea in a fishing accident when he was a young boy. He would sit on the bluffs overlooking the ocean and search for any sign of his father. When he became older, he began to wonder what it was like on the other side of the ocean. He drew a line across the Pacific and found Fort Bragg at the exact same latitude. In 2001, he made contact and invited the mayor of Fort Bragg to visit Otsuchi. Subsequent exchanges took place after that and in 2005 the two cities officially became sister cities.

The devastation and destruction in their beloved sister city of Otsuchi left the people of Fort Bragg in shock. Out of a population of 15,000, at least 1,500 people, including the town’s mayor, perished in the disaster. Members of the Fort Bragg Otsuchi Cultural Exchange Association mobilized to create an Otsuchi Relief Fund. The entire community rallied to raise funds to help the families in Otsuchi who had lost their homes, businesses, and families. Although Fort Bragg’s population is only 7,000, the city has been able to raise over $250,000 for Otsuchi.

Governor Jack Markell welcomed representatives from Japan and approximately 200 Delawareans to a luncheon reception that helped raise close to $50,000 for the Delaware Fund for Miyagi, Japan (Photo courtesy of the State of Delaware)

In Texas, Fort Worth Sister Cities International set up the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund and collected nearly $20,000 in donations that were sent to their sister city of Nagaoka in Niigata. Nagaoka was not damaged by the earthquake or tsunami, but the city provided 14,000 disaster victims with shelter and other necessities. Forth Worth Sister Cities also sent a group of Youth Ambassadors to participate in volunteer service projects with victims of the earthquake and presented officials there with a video documenting the city-wide fundraising efforts.

Display at the luncheon reception informing attendees of the situation in Japan (Photo courtesy of the State of Delaware)

The City of Euclid’s sister city Naraha-Machi in Fukushima is another town that was hit hard by the disaster. A farming town of approximately 8,000 residents, it had to be completely evacuated due to the nuclear crisis. In an effort to help the citizens of Naraha either re-establish their lives in their area, or to relocate to another prefecture in Japan, Councilman Greg Van Ho of Euclid established a benefit fund to raise money through corporate and private donations that would go directly to the citizens of Naraha.

Beyond sister cities, the State of Delaware has had a formal sister-state relationship with Miyagi Prefecture since 1997. In the days following the disaster, the State of Delaware set up a fund at the Delaware Community Foundation to help with the relief and rebuilding effort in Miyagi, raising over $100,000. Delaware donations to Miyagi have focused on helping children who lost one or both parents in the disaster, paying for immediate needs after the earthquake, and helping to pay for infrastructure projects in the prefecture.

Delaware Secretary of State Jeffrey W. Bullock places white flowers at a disaster site in Sendai, Miyagi (Photo courtesy of the State of Delaware)

Delaware schools and students hosted individual fundraisers, coin drives, bake sales, and other fundraising efforts, adding up to thousands of dollars to help their neighbors in Japan. The Delaware Secretary of State visited Miyagi in October 2011 and placed white flowers at one of the many disaster areas in Sendai as a sign of respect. A delegation from Miyagi visited Delaware in January 2012 to thank state residents for their support following the disaster.

Following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, people from all over the U.S. reached out to help their sister cities in whatever way they could, from raising thousands of dollars in relief funds to sending thousands of letters and drawings to show their support for the Japanese people. Through educational and cultural exchange programs, sister cities in the U.S. and Japan have formed a powerful network of people that support each together through difficult times. These people-to-people connections are the building blocks that ensure that the relationship between the U.S. and Japan is solid enough to withstand any calamity and growing stronger every day.