Mikako Barlow and Holly Seely, board members for the Seattle-Kobe Sister City Association, hosted a training session on April 12 to help students properly and appropriately dress people in yukatas, a cotton Japanese kimono often worn in the summertime, with a sash called an obi around them. Every year, the SCA has a booth at the annual Seattle Cherry Blossom Festival, where they invite everybody to try on the Japanese leisurewear. The students who appeared at the training session will also appear at the booth to allow anybody who wants to the chance to wear the yukata and obi.
Seely talked about the SCA and the relationship between Seattle and Kobe, stating that Kobe was the first of Seattle’s sister cities. In fact, next year marks the 60th anniversary of Seattle and Kobe becoming sister cities in 1957, one year after President Eisenhower founded the SCA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit at the height of the Cold War. The Sister Cities Association was created with the mission “to promote peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation.” Seattle was an early adopter and now has 21 sisters, among them Tashkent, Uzbekistan, the first of several Soviet cities who joined the Association.
When Kobe suffered through the Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995, Seattle sent people to help. Kobe and Seattle regularly exchange ideas through cultural, educational and governmental events and Barlow said that the Seattle-Kobe relationship is one of the most active of Seattle’s sister cities. Sports have also played a role in exchanges, especially regarding the Seattle Sounders and the Mariners. Ichiro Suzuki, who played for the Mariners from 2001 to 2012, was brought over from the Kobe Orix Blue Wave, the local baseball team.
The primary thing that the SCA does is cultivate an interest in their mutual cultures. According to Seely, “we want our sister cities to be interested in one another, to learn about each other’s communities and generally we’re trying to foster an interest in Japanese culture.” Barlow explained that Seattle will send an adult jazz singer and a high school jazz singer to Japan to perform at the 17th annual Shinkaichi Jazz Vocal Queen Contest in May.
All six of the students who arrived and participated in the training session were Japanese foreign exchange students and had arrived at the college two weeks prior. Seely stated that the reason the Japanese students showed up is because they shared a common goal with the SCA in that they wanted to get people interested in Japanese culture. She said that the students that were at the training session “are already exchange students so they already want an international diversified exchange and I think they wanted to share that passion with other people.”
Those wishing to get involved as a volunteer with the Seattle Cherry Blossom Festival can contact firstname.lastname@example.org as well as the “Seattle-Kobe Sister City Association” Facebook page, where Seely says they constantly give information about Kobe and upcoming events in case people wish to volunteer. On the SCA website, www.seattlekobe.org, people can sign up for a mailing list to receive updates on the events. The Cherry Blossom Festival will be held from April 22 to 24 at the Armory building in the Seattle Center.