Four panels representing the four sister cities are placed at Bellevue Crossroads Spray Park. Courtesy Photo

Four panels representing the four sister cities are placed at Bellevue Crossroads Spray Park. Courtesy Photo

Bellevue celebrates 50th sister city anniversary with Yao, Japan

The Bellevue Sister Cities Association will welcome a delegation from Yao, Japan this November.

For half a century, the city of Bellevue has built and maintained a sister city relationship with Yao, Japan. Now on the 50th anniversary, the Bellevue Sister Cities Association is planning to welcome a delegation from Yao this fall.

Since the inception of the Bellevue Sister Cities Association (BSCA), the city has built connections with four cities from around the world. In addition to Yao, Bellevue also works with Hualien in Taiwan, Kladno in the Czech Republic, and Liepaja in Latvia.

Dan Glatz, board member on the BSCA, explained that the nonprofit organization works with the city of Bellevue to maintain and operate the sister cities program. For Bellevue, he said, the relationship with Yao began in the 1960s. In 1963, representatives from each city met at an international chamber of commerce convention, and in 1969, the BSCA was established and Yao became the official sister city of Bellevue.

The Yao Japanese Garden at Kelsey Creek Park was built in 1971 as to honor the newly founded relationship. In 1992, the garden was moved to the Bellevue Botanical Garden.

Beginning in 1977, Bellevue began an annual student exchange program, allowing four Bellevue students to travel to Japan during the summer and welcoming a Japanese student to Washington state. This program has been the foundation of much of the sister city activity over the years.

Glatz said students have been able to keep in touch with their host families for decades, and longtime bonds have formed across the world due to their exchange program. In 2019, former Bellevue student Heather Houston Church returned to Kladno to meet up with Jana Lorencová, a good friend she made during her exchange in 1997.

“That’s exactly why we do it, to create those cultural exchanges, friendships, and open mindedness to other cultures,” Glatz said. “Jana and Heather are typical of the stories of people who have met, stayed in touch and were lucky enough to see each other again.”

The other marquee activity of the BSCA are the delegation exchanges, in which an elected official and citizens travel to a sister city to meet with other city representatives every two or three years. With 2019 being the 50th anniversary of the city’s relationship with Yao, a 10-person delegation from Japan will be visiting this November.

Planning has already begun with BSCA board members meeting to create an itinerary of events for the delegation to experience. The BSCA plans to take the delegation to Bellevue High School, as it is the only high school in the school district with a Japanese program. They also plan on visiting Atago USA, a Japanese company operating out of Bellevue.

The delegation will also participate in a tree planting event to commemorate the 50th anniversary.

Glatz himself has spent much of his life outside the United States. He and his family moved to Bellevue two years ago after spending the previous 15 years in Japan when he was on active military duty. Learning about other cultures and understanding people from all over the world is an experience he hopes to continue spreading through the BSCA.

This year, three students will take part in the exchange by traveling to both Yao and Kladno.

For more information on the BSCA and how residents can get involved in the group, visit

In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

Heather Houston Church (left) and Jana Lorencová meet again in 2019 after first becoming friends during Church’s 1997 exchange to Kladno in the Czech Republic. Courtesy Photo

Heather Houston Church (left) and Jana Lorencová meet again in 2019 after first becoming friends during Church’s 1997 exchange to Kladno in the Czech Republic. Courtesy Photo

More in News

Washington scrambles to boost supply of life-saving protective items for healthcare workers

State officials say they had to be “creative” to obtain protective equipment in global demand.

Gov. Jay Inslee discusses the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s response during a press conference on Thursday, March 26. Screenshot
Inslee: Stay-at-home orders must continue to completely eliminate COVID-19

Slight decrease in rate of new coronavirus cases, but residents must continue to hunker down.

At St. Elizabeth Hospital in Enumclaw, a patient is taken from an ambulance through a small door marked “decontamination” on March 23. It was unclear whether the patient was suspected of being infected with COVID-19. (Photo by Ray Miller-Still/Sound Publishing)
King County releases breakdown data of COVID-19 cases, deaths

Washington’s virus-related death toll surpasses 129 as of Wednesday, March 25.

Former Kent pro soccer team owner to face Kirkland rape charge

Dion Earl extradited from Arizona while doing time for sexual assault

Entrance to the Tukwila Library branch of the King County Library System on March 17. KCLS announced March 13 that it would be closed until April at earliest in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Mitchell Atencio/staff photo
KCLS pivots to digital during coronavirus pandemic

KCLS is dedicating more time and content to digital services while unable to open its physical locations.


Police Captain assaulted after attempting to arrest hit-and-run suspect.

BPD arrests man on Washington’s Most Wanted

Daniel Alvarez has a history of eluding law enforcement.

King County suspends work release program

Effort taken to reduce jail population for safety of everyone during COVID-19 pandemic

Most Read