(The Center Square) – An international “sister state” relationship spanning six decades between Washington and the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan was celebrated last week by their respective governors, Jay Inslee and Motohiko Saito.
Speaking during a ceremonial reception Wednesday at the capital in Olympia, Inslee said both governments have shared mutual interests and connections for “60 wonderful years.”
Describing himself as “the old governor,” the 72-year-old Inslee said he spent time that afternoon becoming acquainted with “the young governor” – Saito was elected two years ago at age 43 – of the Hyogo Prefecture, one of 47 such government entities in Japan that are similar to U.S. states.
Hyogo has over 5.5 million residents in a geographic area of 3,200 square miles in southwestern Japan. It is a major economic center, tourist destination, and transportation hub and one of the world’s most productive regions measured by gross domestic product.
During their visit, Inslee and Saito addressed common issues that included climate change. Each spoke of wanting to reduce their region’s carbon footprint and reliance on fossil fuels by means of alternative energy production. Inslee noted Saito’s progressive support of an offshore floating solar farm to produce electricity and development of a hydrogen fuel hub for transportation.
The nation of Japan initially established a hydrogen strategy six years ago, and officials said both the Hyogo Prefecture and Washington state are vying to become national hydrogen hubs in their respective countries.
Inslee said he looked forward to the day when ships will travel between Japan and the Puget Sound using “clean hydrogen power” rather than “dirty fossil fuels.”
The two governors also referenced their respective states’ continuing emphasis on fisheries’ protection and enhancement.
And Saito spoke of efforts – he called it a “daunting task” – that will provide tuition-free college education beginning next year to all undergraduate and graduate students attending at the public Hyogo Prefectural University.
Locally, it was noted that Washington state offers student aid programs, and many students who don’t qualify for federal support remain still remain eligible for state aid. In 2022, Inslee signed a bill to establish a low-interest student loan program to make college more attainable.
Commenting on Saito’s progressive agenda, Inslee – known for his support of liberal policies – joked that he was “very pleased that (Saito) did not run against me” for re-election in 2020.
With their shared outlooks, Inslee said he believed the relationship between Washington state and Hyogo Prefecture “can help both our peoples,” adding, “I look forward to the next 60 years.”
Saito quipped he hoped to still be governor then.
In 2013, Inslee had just been elected to his first term when he hosted the 50th anniversary of the relationship with Hyogo Prefecture. At the time, he and then-Gov. Toshizo Ido planted a flowering dogwood tree next to the Temple of Justice in Olympia. Inslee later visited Ido in Japan in 2015. The tree, like the relationship, continues to grow, said Inslee.
Several other links between the two regions were cited: the Hyogo Business & Cultural Center operates in Seattle, connecting people and enterprises of Washington state to their contemporaries in Japan. And the Washington State Women’s Commission has worked with entrepreneurs from the city of Tamba in Hyogo Prefecture to grow their small businesses.
Japan’s representative in Washington state, Consul General Hisao Inagaki, has gained social media fame by posting videos of himself creating an origami crane every day since the soft-spoken diplomat arrived in Seattle on Aug. 21, 2020. During Wednesday’s gathering, Inagaki said he has thus far crafted 1,119 paper cranes which are accompanied by prayers for the health and peace of Washington residents.
Inagaki said it was important to continue building the relationship between Washington state and Hyogo Prefecture, and sister-city relationships enjoyed by Olympia, Spokane and other Washington communities with their Japanese counterparts.
Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby, who provided introductions, said such citizen diplomacy was initially promoted decades ago by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, fostering “people-to-people connections” as a way to “heal wounds” following World War II.
Other dignitaries attending Wednesday’s ceremony included Lt. Gov. Denny Heck and Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, whose mother is of Japanese descent.
The event can be viewed online at TVW.