Members of the Foster City Council along with Consul General Toru Maeda (far right) wave goodbye to Inagi City officials over a video call.

Foster City and Inagi City in Japan became sister cities following a signing ceremony between the two mayors Monday, solidifying them as partners promoting cultural, educational and economic exchange moving forward.

“I am optimistic about how this relationship will enable us to forge connections, explore education, economic and cultural opportunities and share ideas to better understand each other,” Foster City Mayor Sanjay Gehani said.

The Zoom ceremony took place 6 p.m. Monday in Foster City and 10 a.m. Tuesday in Inagi City, with local dignitaries and the public in attendance at Foster City Hall. Gehani and Inagi City Mayor Katsuhiro Takahashi spoke about cooperation and a future working together as they signed formal agreements for a relationship as a sister city.

“The bond that unites Inagi City, Japan, and Foster City, California, is one that brings me joy and confidence in our partnership moving forward,” Gehani said.

Inagi City is in the southwest prefecture of Tokyo, Japan, with a population of 92,000 people. Both cities are celebrating 50 years as a city. Each highlighted similarities in emphasizing parks, open green spaces and sports and education programs in youth development.

The Foster City Council started the process in October and approved the forming of the Foster City Sister City Association, which will be the lead contact group for the relationship with Inagi City. It will manage and coordinate associated delegation visits, exchanges and events in the future.

Steve Okamoto, a former Foster City councilmember and part of FCSCA, has worked on a sister city partnership since he was on the council in 2011. He has visited cities from China, Taiwan and Japan that ultimately didn’t fit with Foster City. After talking with the Japanese Consulate in San Francisco, a representative suggested Inagi City as a good option due to its interest in the environment, sports and similar histories.

“We felt immediately that there was a match. There was just some sort of connection that we had,” Okamoto said.

Both cities have Rotary Clubs that have begun a relationship and dialogue with plans to meet eventually. Okamoto said the Foster City Rotary Club and FCSCA would work with schools in Inagi City on a potential student exchange with the San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District. Okamoto spoke with Superintendent Diego Ochoa about possible exchanges next spring. Okamoto also wants to do a Little League baseball team exchange, in which Foster City would send a team to play games and tour Inagi City, with a team from Japan visiting Foster City the following year.

“There probably won’t be any economic exchanges because that’s not really what I envisioned. I really was envisioning youth exchanges so that kids could learn about other countries and cultures,” he said.

Okamoto thanked the City Council and city staff for its work, including City Manager Peter Pirnejad and Principal Management Analyst Jennifer Phan. Okamoto envisions the Foster City sister city relationship modeled on San Mateo and Toyonaka, Japan, a sister city relationship established in 1963. The partnership has resulted in kids from both countries learning about different cultures while visiting, which is still ongoing. Okamoto views it as a template for Foster City moving forward.

“I know many of the young adults who had gone to Japan and had stayed with a family for a week or so, and even today, after 20 or 30 years, they are still pen pals. They still visit with each other,” Okamoto said.

He hopes to have lots of residents involved to create a connection that will last between generations.

“I want the ability for our people in Foster City to travel to Japan, go to Inagi City and have some friendly people welcome them and show them around and vice versa,” Okamoto said.

Toru Maeda, consul general of Japan in San Francisco, was encouraged and impressed that both mayors and cities were eager to develop a relationship after a long preparation. He hopes it will be a special and unique relationship that builds cooperation between the two. The sister city relationship is the 109th in California between Japan and the United States.

“I am amazed that both cities have a lot in common. I hope they can emphasize this for future generations’ interactions for the mutual benefit to open up their views and explore,” Maeda said.

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