Boston, Kyoto celebrate 50-year bond

’59 partnership was city’s first

By James F. Smith
Globe Staff / August 27, 2009

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For Boston, it’s the mother of all sister-city relationships. This week, Boston and Kyoto are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Boston’s first formal partnership with a foreign city.

A week-long flurry of public events included yesterday’s Japan Night at Fenway Park, honoring the four Japanese players on the Red Sox roster, among them Hideki Okajima, a native of Kyoto. Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa of Kyoto threw out the first ball. With him were a dozen boys from the Boston area who have just completed a baseball-focused exchange tour of Japan, a year after 12 young Japanese ballplayers visited Boston in a similar exchange.

But most of the anniversary events are designed to celebrate the rich cultural and academic traditions that distinguish both cities and the many ties they have established since Kyoto became Boston’s first sister city in 1959.

Kadokawa joined Boston officials last night in a reception at the Children’s Museum, to celebrate the establishment there in 1979 of the Kyoto House, a replica of a traditional Japanese dwelling given by the people of Kyoto on the 20th anniversary of the sister-city relationship.

And Peter Grilli, president of the Japan Society of Boston, spoke yesterday of how the bond between the cities remains vital and growing, honoring the past but also focusing on contemporary concerns, such as a symposium yesterday by urban planners on preserving historic sites.

“Boston and Kyoto are both ancient cities with fantastic histories that we cherish,’’ said Grilli, a specialist on Japanese film and culture. “But we’re also not weighted down by history. Boston and Kyoto both look forward and have significant high-tech sectors. But we’re also both involved in preserving their monuments.’’

Boston’s Japan Society is the oldest in the United States and celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2004.

With 2,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, Kyoto is a UNESCO world heritage site. It also is home to 37 universities, paralleling Boston’s role as a national center of education excellence. Kyoto’s university association signed an agreement this week with the Fenway-area group of six Boston colleges to increase exchanges.

Kadokawa, elected in 2008, was previously the head of the city’s education department and also is president of the League of Historical Cities, a global group that works to build ties among cities with strong historical roots.

The cities formally became sister cities three years after the Eisenhower Administration created the program to encourage global partnerships and exchanges between US cities and like-minded cities abroad.

Boston now has eight formal sister-city relationships. The others, in the order they were established, are Strasbourg, France; Barcelona, Spain; Hangzhou, China; Padua, Italy; Melbourne, Australia; Taipei, Taiwan; and Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana.

There are several other substantial but unofficial partnerships with cities, including Haifa in Israel.

The sister-city ties are supported primarily by the expatriate communities here, and Boston’s substantial Japanese Community is organized through the very active Japan Society, based at the Showa Boston Institute in Jamaica Plain.

Kyoto has been discerning in its choice of sister cities. Its website lists nine such cities, including Paris, Prague, Florence, and Guadalajara, Mexico.