Seattle and Kobe Celebrate 65 Years as Sister Cities

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Seattle and Kobe Celebrate 65 Years as Sister Cities

Port of Seattle Staff at Disaster Museum
From Left: Port of Seattle staff: International Business Protocol Liaison Karin Zaugg Black, Commissioner Toshiko Hasegawa, Commission Chief of Staff Aaron Pritchard, Commissioner Fred Felleman, Executive Director Steve Metruck
Photo by Alabastro Photography

In November of 2022, a 77-member Seattle delegation visited Kobe, a port city in Western Japan, to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the sister city relationship. The delegation consisted of Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Greater Seattle Partners’ International Leadership Mission, the Port of Seattle, public officials, and local business representatives.

Kobe is Seattle’s oldest sister city, and both cities have been active in cultural and educational exchanges and business and trade development since establishing the relationship in 1957.

We interviewed Karin Zaugg Black, the Seattle-Kobe Sister City Association’s 65th-anniversary chair, about the delegation and the future of the sister city relationship.

Seattle and Kobe Celebrate 65 Years as Sister Cities

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell at the welcome reception by City of Kobe

– Do you know how many delegations like this have visited Kobe from Seattle so far?

This year is our 65th sister city anniversary. I know the tradition of sending mayoral delegations back and forth has been happening since the start, marking every five years, so I imagine this year would mark the 13th of such mayoral delegations traveling back and forth in each direction. Delegations travel on every "0" and "5" anniversary year, with Kobe sending a delegation to Seattle and Seattle sending a delegation to Kobe.

In addition, there are extra delegations for other occasions, commemorating some of our larger pairings, such as the Seattle Yacht Club and Suma Yacht Club regattas, which have been happening for over 40 years, every three years, or the Seattle YMCA and Kobe YMCA exchanges, which have been happening for 56 years this year, and our sister port relationship, which is celebrating 55 years this year – so I think it’s safe to say that at least over 25 delegations have visited Kobe from Seattle over the course of our 65 years of sister city relationship, and vice versa.


Kobe Disaster Museum
Photo by Alabastro Photography

– How many times have you (Karin) visited Kobe with delegations?

I worked for the Kobe Mayor’s Office on the JET program from 1993-1996, returned home to Seattle and started volunteering for the SKSCA in 1997 and was on the planning committee for the 40th sister city anniversary/ 35th sister port anniversary in 1997, so this is my sixth time to be involved as an organizer for sister city anniversary year activities and exchanges. City of Seattle’s Stacey Jehlik was on the JET program 1996-1997, so she worked on the 40th anniversary, too, from the Kobe Mayor’s office – so that’s six anniversaries we have done together!

I am a past chair of the Seattle-Kobe Sister City Association (SKSCA) and a longtime board member since 1997. I was chair of the Anniversary Planning Committee this year.

In the last six years working for the Port of Seattle as the International Business Protocol Liaison, I have also traveled to Kobe several times for port conferences and meetings as part of our sister port relationship. I have also participated in Governor Inslee delegations to celebrate the Washington State-Hyogo Prefecture sister-state relationship, so I would say I have traveled to Kobe on official sister city/sister port/sister state trips at least ten times.


Disaster relief items displayed at Kobe Disaster Museum
Photo by Alabastro Photography

– The itinerary in Kobe for this visit covered multiple visits with local companies and educational institutions to learn about Kobe through technology, city development, transportation, science, education, and cultural fields. Did the past delegation have a similar format?

Seattle and Kobe are the first sister city for both of our cities. President Eisenhower’s sister city edict was issued in 1956, and we paired up in 1957, so we were early adopters of the idea that creating grassroots exchanges between peoples of two cities could be beneficial and create peaceful and friendly relations after World War II. So celebrating 65 years of continued relations is a milestone worth celebrating.

Coming out of a global pandemic, we were very blessed with the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Greater Seattle Partners wanting to bring their International Leadership Mission to Japan and to Kobe to help celebrate the anniversary and our longstanding, solid economic trading relationship with Japan. We had a total of 77 people in Kobe from around our Seattle region.

This delegation definitely followed the pillars of our sister city relationship in terms of theme areas of partnership: exchanges between government, education, business, and culture.


Michael Catsi at Surgical Robot Center
Photo by Alabastro Photography

– What was (were) the biggest goal(s) of the most recent delegation?

It’s a testament to our long sister city and sister port relationships that we continue to engage with these partners that we have a long history with, and yet we are always discussing different topics based on the needs of each city in the present moment, and creating new exchanges and activities to strengthen our bond further and involve more people. The idea with any anniversary delegation is 1) to learn new innovative ideas from each other to implement back at home as we face shared challenges, 2) develop new ideas for exchanges or partnerships, and 3) build relationships not only with our Kobe partners but strengthen ties among our regional leaders as well.

This year, our delegation to Kobe, and a visit by Kobe Mayor Hisamoto a few weeks earlier to Seattle, focused on the themes of environmental issues and reducing carbon emissions by discussing topics like alternative fuel sources such as hydrogen – our sister ports of Seattle and Kobe are sharing information and learning from each other as we tackle shared challenges at our two ports. Trade and economic development, high-speed rail, emergency preparedness, and community policing were other themes of the delegation to Japan. Mayor Hisamoto was also looking at technology solutions and examining our Library system and Airport to glean new ideas to take back to Kobe. Delegations also focused on the University of Washington and its partnerships with Kobe University.

For many years the sister city association has strived to connect Seattle and Kobe residents with each other’s city through activities or passions that they already have, like baseball or jazz, but add that international element to it. This year, as we brainstormed with the Kobe City organizers, we created the idea of small business exchanges and the idea of pairing businesses that create cookies, coffee, and beer. It’s been wonderful to have our small business partners get to know each other and have fun introducing tasty products in each other’s cities. People enjoy cookies, coffee, and beer and learn about Japanese culture and our sister city of Kobe along the way!

We focused on small business exchanges and product promotion through a Kobe Food Fair at Uwajimaya, highlighting Kobe’s sake and other products and small business exchanges around coffee, beer, and cookies. Coffee partners are Vivace Espresso and Hagihara Coffee; beer partners are Lucky Envelope Brewing and Rokko Beer; sweets partners are Hello Robin Cookies and Mont Plus.

We look forward to having more discussions in the coming weeks about follow-up from our two visits.


Kobe University
Photo by Alabastro Photography


Jacqueline Tabor at Sone Jazz Club
Photo by Alabastro Photography

– The casual reception at Kobe Regatta and Athletic Club reminded many of us that the people are the foundation of the sister city relationship. Any comments on that? How do you think the delegation this year helps strengthen the ties between Seattle and Kobe more?

Definitely, the foundation of the sister-city relationship is the people! That’s the original vision of President Eisenhower in 1956. People have life-changing experiences when they travel and experience a new culture, enabling them to reflect and learn about their own culture and themselves. And they often channel that experience into volunteering to make new connections – that’s definitely true of all of the SKSCA board members and their experiences with Kobe and other cities around Japan.

For our anniversary delegations, it’s always been about making connections with the people, whether government employees, business people, folks in education, or artists of all types – people do business with people they know and foster collaborations in all of these different areas. And certainly, it’s also about the delegation members interacting with other people on the delegation as well – new connections and friendships among the Seattle delegation people, for example, will also develop and create new things.

I’ve already been seeing Seattle delegation members excited to go hear our Seattle jazz vocalist Jacqueline Tabor perform locally once they "“discovered" her in Kobe, or members going to buy Hello Robin cookies now that they tried her cookies in Kobe, or someone heading to Uwajimaya to buy Umeboshi that they tried in Kobe for the first time and really liked it. So those connections weave into a fabric that strengthens our sister city connection.

And people experience things they haven’t done before when they travel – like karaoke. We were able to take many delegation members out for karaoke, which was wonderful for our delegation to experience such a typical Japanese cultural activity; even the Mayor sang "Purple Rain." I think the follow-up for that is to create an event at Rockbox Karaoke on Capitol Hill where folks can experience the Japanese fun of singing and seeing a different side of people, learning about what types of music people like, etc.

I definitely feel that having Kobe Mayor Hisamoto and Kobe City Assembly Chair Yasui experience the creativity and fun of Halloween and trick or treating on Capitol Hill when they visited Seattle, and having Seattle Mayor Harrell experience the warmth and fun of singing karaoke in Kobe, were the two cultural exchange highlights of our anniversary engagements this year. Those two events alone have fostered many happy memories and warmth for the people of our respective sister cities. That is definitely what we were hoping for when we planned those events!

– Can you share any comments and feedback you heard from the participants from Seattle and Kobe so far?

All the responses from delegation members, both from the International Study Mission delegation of Seattle Metro Chamber and Greater Seattle Partners and the sister city delegation members, have been tremendously positive. It was a huge undertaking to take 77 people to Kobe and Japan as we are coming out of a pandemic, and it was also supremely worth it to signal to our longtime trade and cultural partner of Japan that we chose Japan as our first trade mission after the pandemic to renew our strong ties. And being able to have the broader regional leaders from Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties, as well as Washington state, experience Kobe and learn directly about the strength of our sister city and sister port relationship will have a huge impact on broader awareness moving forward. Definitely, we will be following up on various ideas and exchanges in the coming months.


The launch event for Sister City Beer that Lucky Envelope Brewing in Seattle developed together with Kobe’s Rokko Beer.
Photo by Brian Chu

– The delegation was received warmly at every stop. Are there any talks about “new” joint projects or events in the near future?

I’m sure some new joint projects or events will start to get formed in the coming weeks and months; initially, I can certainly highlight the following:

that the Port of Seattle and Port of Kobe will be continuing our talks about carbon emissions reduction and ways to do that; the University of Washington and Kobe University will be continuing to discuss new opportunities to share research and make connections; and the SKSCA and City government partners will already start talking about the next anniversary in five years – some projects that we have undertaken over the years definitely have a five-year planning window, such as the Chihuly art exhibition that we held at the Kobe City Museum, or the “Japan Envisions the West” exhibition that we held at the Seattle Art Museum. So stay tuned!

In terms of our small business exchanges:

Lucky Envelope Brewing and Rokko Beer owners spent a week in each other’s cities, learning and brewing beer together – the tasty result is a new sister city beer launched on January 6th! Robin Wehl Martin of Hello Robin traveled to Kobe and introduced her yummy cookies to Kobe people at four events. We hope to do a reciprocal visit with Chef Hayashi of Mont Plus of Kobe. And our coffee exchange partners, Vivace Espresso and Hagihara Coffee, had a virtual event on December 9th last year.

The Seattle-Kobe Sister City Association is always looking for volunteers to get involved in their projects and exchanges – follow Seattle-Kobe Sister City Association on Facebook and Instagram to learn about upcoming events. And you can sign up for their newsletter by visiting the SKSCA website at and clicking "Mailing List."

– Thank you.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

A Message from Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell

Mayor Harrell trying tea ceremony with Kobe-Seattle Sister City Association volunteer Yu Ugawa at the Kobe-Seattle Sister City Association party in Kobe.
Photo©Seattle-Kobe Sister City Association

"A favorite memory from our trip was reuniting with Mayor Hisamoto, Kobe city employees, sister city advocates, and community members. I previously hosted Kobe’s sister city delegation at my home in Seattle years ago, and it was a joy to see some of those members again. This meeting allowed us to highlight both our diversity and our commonality. Through a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, we broke bread with the grassroots Kobe community, learning more about their culture and experiences. We also discussed ideas for effective public safety — a unifying element across countries, cultures, and communities — generating ideas and potential solutions. Despite our very different backgrounds, we united around our shared values and priorities for our communities, creating connections that will last long beyond this trip."

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