Minneapolitans were not the only ones celebrating the City of Lakes during the recent Aquatennial; residents of Ibaraki, Japan were also in town to honor Minneapolis - and add to Downtown's amenities.
A delegation of more than 70 Japanese visitors - including Ibaraki Mayor Senichi Nomura and seven members of Ibaraki's Municipal Assembly (City Council) - joined Mayor R.T. Rybak, City Councilmembers, Park Board Commissioners and others on July 17 at Nicollet Island to celebrate 25 years of sibling-city relations with Minneapolis.
"That high a level of government, and that many, coming to honor the city - it's remarkable," said Lois Sonstegard, president of the Minneapolis/Ibaraki Sister City Organization.
Ibaraki is a city of 35,000 people in Ibaraki Prefecture (similar to a state) on Japan's east coast.
Ibaraki has given the Bell of Two Friends sculpture which stands on Nicollet Island, and announced another gift: a Japanese tea house to be constructed nearby.
Sonstegard said the exchange has been more than symbolic. Members of Ibaraki's biotech industry toured Minneapolis' "biotech corridor," including Hennepin County Medical Center, and representatives of both biotech communities talked about partnering in research, Sonstegard said.
Minneapolis representatives will travel to Japan in November for a similar visit. Mayor R.T. Rybak and Councilmembers Paul Ostrow and Barbara Johnson have been invited, but it is uncertain if city officials will make the trip, which is right after Minneapolis city elections. Johnson has visited Ibaraki before, and former Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton traveled there twice.
Sonstegard acknowledged that a cash-strapped city budget is a barrier, but our Japanese counterparts "have exactly the same issues," she said.
"It gets back to some of the things we as Americans are criticized for - we don't think past ourselves," Sonstegard said. "The world is becoming smaller, our problems all over the world are requiring us to reach out and form partnerships. For us to be leaders in the world, they've got to be two-way relationships."