Wakayama, Japan

In May 1961, Bakersfield invited the city of Wakayama, Japan, to become its first sister city.

In the midst of the Cold War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower challenged the American people to make a “constructive effort that leads directly toward what we all want: a true and lasting peace.” The way the president believed this could be achieved was through a new program called People-to-People.

Established on Sept. 11, 1956, the program was intended as an outlet for creating understanding between people of different nations through cultural, educational and humanitarian exchanges. The president envisioned professors, students, executives, doctors and ordinary travelers reaching out to others around the world.

During an address about the program, Eisenhower stated that in order to truly achieve peace we need to address the problems of, “How do we dispel ignorance? How do we present our own case? How do we strengthen friendships? How do we learn of others?”

Part of the answer came out of Eisenhower’s People-to-People program through the establishment of official relationships between American cities and international cities, known as sister cities.

In May 1961, Bakersfield invited the city of Wakayama, Japan, to become its first sister city and in June, the mayor of Wakayama, Zenichi Takagaki, accepted Mayor Winer’s invitation. The passage of Resolution 81-61 on Aug. 21, 1961, by the Bakersfield City Council cemented the two as sister cities – a relationship that has endured for almost six decades.

Coordinated by the Women’s Division of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, under the direction of division President Adeline Frasch and then by the Bakersfield Sister City Project Corporation, plans were made for ambassadors from both countries to visit each other. The only requirement to be an ambassador was to be from either city.

Dorothy Kraschel of Bakersfield had the honor of being the first People-to-People ambassador to visit Wakayama on behalf of Bakersfield. In October 1961, she delivered letters of introduction from Mayor Winer and the officials of the People-to-People program.

One of the greatest cultural exchanges occurred in June 1964. Jim Day of The Bakersfield Californian reported that ambassadors from Wakayama presented the people of Bakersfield with some very valuable and historic gifts including armor worn by one of the Samurai of Yorinobu, Tokugawa at the Battle of the Sekigahara in 1600; a Ramma wood carving by Wakayama sculptor Akira Saika; a scroll painted by Harutomi Tokugawa, 10th daimyo of Wakayama in 1789; a traditional doll made by Kotaro Tanaka; and a painting by Watase Ryoun. In return, gifts pertaining to the history of Bakersfield were gathered to send to the people of Wakayama.

Through the years, the exchanges between the two cities have been plentiful. Sister city ambassadors have included every Bakersfield and Wakayama mayor since 1964, teachers, students, athletes, artists and other everyday citizens.

What started as an answer to a call put out by Eisenhower resulted in lasting relationships as Bakersfield’s international family continued to grow. Four more sister cities were eventually added to the pack, including Partisan District of Minsk, Belarus (1995); Cixi, China (1996); Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico (2005); Bucheon, Republic of Korea (2006); and Amritsar, India (2011). 

(1) comment

Susan Stone

Thank you to Julie Plata for an excellent, well-researched article on the beginnings of Bakersfield Sister City Project Corporation. The Board of Directors and general membership are devoted to furthering the cause of peace through what President Eisenhower called "citizen diplomacy." Many lasting friendships have been formed through the Sister City exchanges with Wakayama, Japan; Minsk, Belarus; Cixi, China; Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico; Bucheon, South Korea; and Amritsar, India. Our focus has always been on youth, education, and cultural exchanges. This year's exchanges include the Bakersfield Youth Symphony's trip to Wakayama in April. In May, Councilman Ken Weir will lead a group of business leaders to Bucheon to attend the Boksagol Festival and participate in an "economic briefing session." In June, Mayor Karen Goh will lead a delegation of civic leaders and Fruitvale Junior High students on a visit to St. Jean de Luz, France--soon to become Bakersfield's newest Sister City. And in August, 10 Bakersfield Youth Ambassadors are invited to participate in the 19th Annual Bucheon International Homestay Program, For more info on all of these programs and more visit the Bakersfield Sister City website: https://bakersfieldsistercity.org/

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