This year, Olympia’s Oshogatsu celebration was more than just a way to welcome the Japanese New Year. It was a way to honor a 35-year relationship between two communities on opposite sides of the Pacific.
The event, held Saturday at The Olympia Center, was hosted by the Olympia-Kato Sister City Association. It featured origami and bonsai demonstrations, drum performances, dance and mochi pounding.
Association president Allen Miller said that in addition to being a lot of fun, Oshogatsu — the Japanese New Year celebration — is a great way to promote cross-cultural understanding.
“I think that if we connect with each other across the oceans, we’re less likely to fight each other,” Miller said. “We’re more likely to reach peaceful understandings.”
Former President Dwight Eisenhower created Sister Cities International in 1956. Since then, Miller pointed out, there haven’t been any world wars.
“Maybe sister cities have something to do with that,” Miller said.
Olympia initially began a Sister City relationship with Yashiro, Japan in 1981. In 2006, three Japanese towns — Yashiro, Takino and Tojo — merged to form the larger city of Kato, population 40,000.
Olympia features the Yashiro Japanese Garden adjacent to the Lee Creighton Justice Center, and the Fourth Avenue Bridge was christened the Olympia-Yashiro Friendship Bridge when it was rebuilt in 2004.
A wedding kimono, given to Olympia by Kato a few years ago, will soon be displayed at Olympia City Hall.
In Kato, there is an Olympia Avenue, an American Garden and an Olympia restaurant.
Masahiro Omura, Japan’s Consul General in Seattle, spoke at the event and said that 2015 was a big year for the relationship between Japan and Washington state.
For example, Gov. Jay Inslee and a group of Washingtonians — including Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby — visited Japan last spring.
“We’re hoping to generate further interest in Japan, and in Japanese people,” Omura said.