Ashiya, Japan

Bonds of Friendship Across the Pacific

Over fifty years after the international agreement was signed between the two distant cities, one in the United States, and one in far-off Japan, the international sister city agreement between Montebello and Ashiya, Japan, continues to be vital and strong.

Ashiya, Montebello's first sister cityThe Montebello-Ashiya Sister City Agreement is part of the "people-to-people program" that was initiated in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Given his experience during World War II, the president felt that no people wanted war, that it was governments that declared war. He believed that people could make a difference in avoiding war if the people of the world could get to know and understand each other, peace, not war would be sought. The road to peace was through the people, by their sharing ideas, sharing their cultures, and experiencing life in other countries. Through this contact, people of different countries would have a better understanding of one another. This was especially important during the time of the cold war as the United States and the Soviet Union were in contention throughout the world.

As implemented during the 1950s and 1960s, the people to people program had many components and included several committees, such as the sports committee, fine arts, hobbies, literature, medicine, labor. The "sister city associations" was part of the civics committee and these international linkages maybe one of the most important components of the people to people program. The Sister City association has helped to create an understanding and tolerance of cultural differences and an awareness of people's qualities and attributes. This mission is accomplished by a variety of activities such as corresponding between citizens, exchanging visits, exchanging gifts and holding celebrations in each other's honor.

The Montebello-Ashiya Sister City Association

May 1961 Ashiya, Japan Mo 1In 1959 the Montebello City Council authorized Mrs. Elaine Kirchner, city council member, to find a sister city in Japan. Mrs. Kirchner attended a conference of Mayors and members of Chambers of Commerce in Osaka, Japan. At the conference she made the announcement that Montebello City was interested in forming a sister city relationship with a Japanese city. Mr. Hiroyasu Okiyama, of the City of Ashiya, a municipality near Osaka and Kobe, contacted her. Then began a two-year process of correspondence between the two cities, which resulted in an agreement that was officially signed in Ashiya on May 24, 1961, at Seido Elementary School. Representing Montebello at the signing was council member Kirchner and Chamber of Commerce President Mr. George Driscoll and Mrs. Driscoll. The Ashiya hosts held a major celebration in honor of the agreement. Gifts were exchanged and the delegation from Montebello presented the Ashiya representatives with Montebello roses to be planted in a new park that would be called the Montebello rose garden.

Student exchanges as part of the sister city association began in 1964 and each summer for the last forty-nine years Montebello has sent two student ambassadors to visit Ashiya and represent the city. Ashiya has also sent two ambassadors each year with the exception of 1995 when no exchanges occurred due to the great "Hanshin," the Kobe earthquake that damaged much of the city of Ashiya. With the leadership of the mayor, Mrs. Haru Kitamura, and the resolve of the citizens, much of the city had been sufficiently restored to resume the exchanges in 1996. Over the long history of this program, nearly 200 Montebello and Ashiya youth have benefited from the student ambassador exchange experience.

The student ambassador exchange program has been the primary focus of the Sister city relationship. The Montebello-Ashiya Sister City Affiliation Association coordinates the Montebello Ambassadors program; the Ashiya Ambassador program is coordinated by the Ashiya Cosmopolitan Association (ACA). Apart from the student exchanges, the citizens of the two cities have shared other activities that have helped to strengthen the ties between the two cities and bonds of friendship. Activities have included exhibitions of art from the children of Ashiya, students from Greenwood Elementary established pen pals with students from Yamata Elementary, and Ashiya sent books on Japanese culture to Montebello as part of the American bicentennial celebration in 1976. As part of the gift exchange tradition, Montebello provided Ashiya with a bingo machine that was used to raise funds for sister city programs, including the purchase of park benches, playground equipment, a Japanese lantern, and the name plate at Montebello's Ashiya Park, near Garfield and Beverly. Another important expression of friendship for the City of Ashiya was the completion of Ashiya Garden at Montebello City Hall. The concept of the garden was first considered in 1994, but due to lack of funds the project was not completed until 2003. The official dedication took place October 20, 2003 and included a delegation from Ashiya.

Over the years many city officials including the mayor, deputy mayor, speaker of the city assembly, and citizens of the city of Ashiya have visited Montebello. The visits usually occur at five-year intervals and correspond with the anniversary of the sister city agreement. These visits have been hosted in Montebello by members of the sister city association and the city council, including dinners in honor of the Ashiya guests, and gift exchanges. A formal visit by an Ashiya Delegation occurred in April 2001, the 40th anniversary of the sister city agreement, and then in 2006. The last formal Ashiya Delegation visit to Montebello was in July 2011 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the sister city agreement. During the visit, Mayor Art Barajas and the city council unveiled a new Ashiya Way corridor behind city hall, and next to Montebello's Ashiya Garden.

Delegations from Montebello also visit Japan to commemorate the anniversary of the sister city agreement. A formal visit to Ashiya occurred November 2001 and Montebello delegates were welcomed into the homes of Ashiya residents and a series of activities were provided. The head of the delegation was Mrs. Gloria Haro, Vice President of the Montebello Ashiya Sister City association. A dinner hosted by the Ashiya Cosmopolitan Association (ACA) culminated the visit and included formal words of greeting from Mayor Kitamura to Montebello City Councilmember Mrs. Norma Lopez-Reid, representing the city, and 16 other delegates from Montebello.

2011 Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Montebello-Ashiya Sister City Agreement

As part of the 50th anniversary celebration, a delegation from Ashiya visited Montebello in July 2011. The 26 member delegation included ACA members and a number of elected Ashiya City officials, including the mayor, the chair of the city council, and city council members. To reciprocate, a Montebello Delegation travelled to Ashiya in November 2011 and included Mrs. Yae Aihara, Mrs. Gloria Haro, Mrs. Lydia Glasman, Mrs. Susan Okawa, Mr. Roy Ito, Mr. Oscar Borja, Mr. Michael Okamura, and Mr. Lloyd Kajikawa. As president of the Montebello Sister City Association, Dr. Carlos Haro led the delegation and represented the City of Montebello during the various ceremonies held in Ashiya. The delegation was in Ashiya from November 10th through November 17th, and participated in a series of events hosted by the City of Ashiya and the Ashiya Cosmopolitan Association.

The first formal event, November 11th, was a visit to Ashiya City Hall; the delegation had a grand entrance at the municipal building and there was a multitude of people to receive the Montebello representatives. Then there were formal greetings, including a private meeting with the Mayor, then a meeting with Chairman of the City Council, and finally a joint meeting in the Ashiya City Council Chambers.

On November 13th, the delegation participated in a formal dinner ceremony. Video greetings from Mayor Art Barajas and Mayor Pro Tem Frank Gomez were shown to an audience including Ashiya Mayor Ken Yamanaka and the City Council Chairperson, Mr. Toshihiko Hatanaka, a number of city council representatives, ACA members, and residents of the city. This was a major event in Ashiya with extensive newsprint and television coverage.

Prior to the indoor ceremonies, Mayor Yamanaka, Chairman Hatanaka, Mrs. Shizuko Hashitani, President of the ACA, Mrs. Yae Aihara and Dr. Haro unveiled a new street in Ashiya, Montebello Street, and a new Ashiya City monument commemorating the 50th anniversary of the sister city agreement.

As a result of the long history of the sister city affiliation, many ties have been formed through the student ambassador exchange program and the formal exchanges of city delegations. In addition, apart from the formal delegation exchanges, several unofficial visits have occurred over the years. Members of Montebello's Sister City Association, both young and old, have traveled to Japan, met residents of Ashiya, and established lasting friendships that have developed a wonderful reality of President Eisenhower's "people to people program." This bond of friendship across the Pacific has existed for over half a century between Montebello and Ashiya, and 2011 marked the 50th anniversary of the Montebello-Ashiya Sister City Association, a monumental date for the City of Montebello.