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 www.bellevuesistercities.org.