Sister City mayor impressed with Sequim

Dignitaries from Shiso, Japan, stroll over the moon bridge of the Shiso City Sister City Friendship Garden, Saturday, Oct. 2. Koji Shibahara is a member of the Shiso Board of Education, Mie Yamaguchi is a middle school teacher, and Katsu Toji is mayor of Shiso, Sequim’s sister city. Sequim Gazette photo by Mark Couhig

Sequim Gazette

For the first time seven years Sequim is enjoying a visit from the mayor of Shiso, Japan, Sequim’s sister city.


Since 1995 Shiso students and their chaperones have visited Sequim as part of a week-long cultural exchange between the sister cities. This year Mayor Katsu Toji accompanied the students, spending his time in Sequim with a full schedule of tours and dinners with his hosts, including Sequim Mayor Ken Hays and Pete Tjemsland, Sister City Association chairman.


Through translator and Sequim artist Roko Toyama, Katsu described his impressions of Sequim, noting his city and Sequim enjoy a similar “beauty of nature” and a history of logging. He also remarked on the kindness of the people of both cities.


One major difference: Shiso, like most Japanese cities, is much more densely populated than Sequim.

Katsu was impressed by Sequim’s water reclamation and reuse projects, and dazzled by The Lodge at Sherwood Village.


Included among the tours was a visit to the Shiso City Sister City Friendship Garden. The construction of the garden, which blends Japanese and North American flora, was funded in part by the Yamasaki International Friendship Association, the Tatsun Rotary Club and Yamasaki City. Their gifts include the huge carved lantern that serves as the park’s centerpiece.


Yamasaki is one of four Japanese cities that merged in 2005 to form the city of Shiso. Tatsun is another city within the Hyōgo Prefecture of Japan, where Shiso is found.


‘Spectacularly successful’

As the volunteer education coordinator for the Shiso-Sequim sister cities program, Karen Junell makes the arrangements for the exchange students. She called this year’s program “spectacularly successful,” crediting the outstanding support she received from those at city hall and further afield.


She said the city council, Mayor Hays and those in his office handled most of the activities for Mayor Toji. However, she noted, “No city money was used to entertain the visitors.”


She also is grateful for the helping hand extended by the Hyōgo Business and Cultural Center in Seattle. Hyōgo Prefecture is the Japanese “sister state” to Washington. The Seattle organization helps promote business and trade between the two and also helps coordinate activities of the various sister cities within the two “states.” She was lent a considerable hand by Takanori Ginn Kitaoka, director of the center.


“I called on Ginn and said, ‘I need you to transport these people.’ He took care of it. He even took the mayor to meet with the Japanese Counsel General in Seattle,” Junell said.



Japanese traditions

As part of an annual cultural exchange that began in 1995, the visiting Japanese students are housed with Sequim families. In turn, 14 Sequim students will be visiting Shiso at the end of October, staying with the families of the students they hosted in Sequim.


Junell is greatly enthused about the annual student exchanges, saying she didn’t realize Japanese students would be so open with their emotions. She acknowledged “they have great manners,” but when their visit is over, and it’s time for them to go home, “that’s when the waterworks start,” she said. “It’s always over too soon.”


Reach Mark Couhig at


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