On October 28, 1971, Fairfield, California and Nirasaki, Japan officially became sister cities. The purpose of the trans-Pacific relationship between the two municipalities was to promote meaningful social, educational, cultural and economic exchanges.
Today, 50 years later, he continues to do just that.
In 1971, the Mayor of Nirasaki, Kaname Yokouchi, was greeted at Solano County Seat by the Mayor of Fairfield, Loyal Hanson. One of the first things Hanson wanted to show his Japanese counterpart was the then new Civic Center complex, which had just celebrated its inauguration five months earlier.
Mayor Yokouchi was named the honorary aircraft commander of a C-5 Galaxy at Travis Air Force Base and posed in front of a portrait of the base’s namesake, the late Brig. General Robert F. Travis.
Nirasaki is located about 90 miles from Tokyo and its roots can be traced back thousands of years, according to archaeological finds there. The modern city, however, was formed on October 10, 1954, when 10 neighboring towns and villages merged into the city of Nirasaki. It is best known for being the home of Mount Fuji.
When the relationship between the sister cities began, Fairfield and Nirasaki had roughly the same population, around 30,000 to 40,000 people. Fifty years later, the population of Nirasaki has remained roughly the same size while that of Fairfield has tripled.
Like the statue of Chief Solano of Fairfield in front of the Old County Library, Nirasaki also has a famous statue. He is a prominent military and political figure, Takeda Shingen, and is located outside of Nirasaki Town Hall. Fairfield received a miniature version of the statue as a gift of friendship. It is displayed in the first floor lobby of Fairfield Town Hall.
Other local evidence of the sister city’s relationship includes a cherry tree behind the civic center complex with a commemorative plaque. In 2016, the bridge spanning the Civic Center Pond was renamed the Fairfield-Nirasaki Friendship Bridge.
From 1987, the two cities hosted a student exchange program where young people from Japan visit the United States and vice versa. Arletta Cortwright is the longtime chair of the Fairfield-Nirasaki Sister City program, a non-profit organization run only by volunteers.
Cortwright collected the memories of the participants:
Stéphanie Beardsley, chaperone: I loved seeing Mount Fuji – it seemed like everywhere I looked it was there. In a restaurant an artist had made all the placemats and they were given to me as a gift! Hand painted placemats – imagine!
And how can you forget the Fuji-Q Highland amusement park? The reverse fall on the roller coaster was fabulous. Being shot down from a shed at 160 mph – surprised that I still have skin left. However, the worst part was when I was about to take a tour I had been here at Discovery Kingdom at least 10 times and was asked, “How old are you?” “I proudly announced” I am 67 years old! ” Then came the bomb: “Sorry, no ride for you. You’re too old! ”The age limit was 60. I went to a bench, cried a bit, and then did the math to prepare myself for having to lie again and say I don’t. was only 59 years old!
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park really struck me. Until I got there, I didn’t realize that the bomb had not landed, but had exploded at an altitude above the ground. Human shadow carved in stone exhibition [thought to be the residue of a person who was sitting at the entrance of a bank when the atomic bomb was dropped] still haunts me.
Kelley Cortright, student: When I was in senior year at Armijo High School during the 2004-05 winter break, my family welcomed a high school student from Nirasaki named Hikaru. I was very interested in Japanese culture, especially manga (comics) and anime (animation) and I was trying to learn Japanese without much success.
Hikaru saw how much I wanted to learn her language and in her limited free time at night she created a handmade Japanese phrasebook for me. Using the pages from the notebooks she brought for her homework, she handwrote about five pages of sentences in Japanese and English, then bound them with glue and decorated the outside with origami paper she brought from Japan.
I was absolutely blown away when she introduced it to me!
Her phrasebook was quickly included in my Japanese studies and I was delighted when, during the following year’s summer student exchange, I was able to stay with her and her family in Nirasaki. for three weeks. Even now I am in communication with his family and I will never forget their kindness (I also always have his phrasebook!). These valuable person-to-person relationships are made possible by the Twin Cities programs – one of the many reasons why such relationships are so important.
Dave Avery, chaperone: When we went to Japan, it was as if the whole country had been put on notice to care and teach travelers to Northern California. Our entire tour was a learning experience based on a lifetime’s plans. Math? Conversions of yen. Tongue? Every day all day. Why have we heard more foreign languages in Hiroshima than Japanese? Because we were going through a social science class with the world called “Never Again”. We hope. At 21 days, our class was “rejected”. Leaving our host families was the hardest part. Home is certainly where the heart is and a part of our hearts is now firmly in Nirasaki.
Arletta Cortright: I was told that we would need a lot of gifts to exchange with the people we would meet in Japan, because giving is an important part of the culture. In addition to our two suitcases for the three week stay, I had a suitcase full of goodies: See’s candy, city of Fairfield swag, Jelly Bellys, etc. When we arrived in Nirasaki, our host families were all there to take the members of the group home with them.
Our first embarrassment of the trip was when we saw the Akiyama’s car – a VW bug. They couldn’t even put one of our suitcases in it. Kenji had to ask a city worker to bring our luggage to their home in his truck.
Most of the time, however, it was the best experience we could imagine. I was a ceramic student in high school and college, and have always admired Japanese ceramics. The Akiyama took us to a ceramics museum in the mountains where we saw exquisite artifacts hundreds of years old. We were taken to the pottery workshop of a friend of theirs who showed us around and then had me sit at a potter’s wheel with a piece of clay to make my own bowls!
I hadn’t been in front of a wheel in years, but it came back. About a month after we got home, we received a package containing the iced and baked end results of my driving efforts.
Each day of our trip provided another example of the kindness, generosity and thoughtfulness of the people we met. We have stayed with the Akiyamas several times since then and they have also been our guests in Fairfield. “Changing lives” may be a hackneyed phrase, but it was absolutely true for us when we visited our sister city.
Reach out to Fairfield humorous columnist, accidental local historian and author of The History Press book “Growing Up In Fairfield, California” Tony Wade at [email protected].