In 1980, Governor Sakai of the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan (sister State to Washington State), wrote Governor Dixie Lee Ray requesting a Washington Sister City for Yashiro, Japan. Wayne Gentry was protocol officer at the time and he suggested that Olympia might be a good possibility.
The Citizens Committee, led by mayor Lyle Watson and Chairman Tom Brown, working many months and representing many areas of endeavor and backgrounds, received word on October 18, 1980 that their invitation to Yashiro, Japan, to affiliate had been approved by the Yashiro Town Council. Their diligent efforts resulted in the formal signing of the Sister City Friendship Agreement between the City of Olympia, Washington and the Town of Yashiro, Japan on April 22, 1981.
The first official delegation of 12 from Yashiro (now Kato) visited Olympia in 1981, led by Mayor Ishiko and his wife. This was the start of annual visits, with Japan visiting Olympia in odd years and Olympia going to Japan in even years. Olympia visits to Japan usually include additional sightseeing in other parts of the orient.
In 1987, the exchange program was expanded to include high school students. Each year, a group of 15-20 students spend about two weeks in the sister city, staying in homes, visiting schools and local sites. These high school students pay their own way, as do the adult chaperones who accompany them.
Membership in OKSCA and participation in our activities is open to anyone living in the Thurston County area. Over the years, more than 400 adults and 200 students have visited Japan as representatives of our association – experiencing a different culture and making lasting friendships.
Kato (historically Yashiro) was chosen because it is an important city of our Sister State, Hyogo Prefecture, and its population, industry, and educational features are not far removed from our own. The climate year-round can best be described as mild.
The primary objective of Kato’s development concept is to create a better, more comfortable city, one with a culturally rich and healthy atmosphere. The achieve this objective an improvement plan based on partnership of industry, academics, and community has been instituted.
Our original sister city, Yashiro, traced its development as a town from outside the gates of the Saho shrine constructed in 722. Kato city was founded on March 20, 2006 from the merger of the former towns of Yashiro, Takino, and Tojo. Thus, Yashiro became one of the “districts” in the new city of Kato. All of the 3 former cities kept their original sister city affiliations (Olympia, WA; Chelan, WA; and, Hollister, CA) through 2009. In June 2009, OKSCA received a letter from Kato stating that they could no longer continue maintaining three sister city relationships. Because of our outstanding relationship with the people of Kato, the city of Olympia was honored to be selected as the only sister city to Kato.
In honor of the long-standing relationship between the two cities, the main street in former Yashiro is named Olympia Avenue. Likewise, when the City of Olympia dedicated the new Fourth Avenue Bridge on May 16, 2004, the city council officially named it the Olympia-Yashiro Friendship Bridge. The Yashiro Japanese Garden, created in honor of the friendship, is located adjacent to Olympia City Hall. On display in the Garden are granite lanterns and a granite pagoda that were gifts to Olympia from the people of Yashiro.
Several other generous gifts from Kato are on display in the lobby of Olympia City Hall, and a portable shrine is on display at a local school. Other gifts from Kato include a life-size model of the fall harvest festival dancer and the colorful Japanese lanterns lighted during the Olympia Bon Odori Festival each summer. Kato has also constructed an “American Garden” and opened an Olympia restaurant, where the waitresses wear Olympia Farmers Market t-shirts.