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Celebrating a Special Bond

Photo by Roman Johnston

Sapporo and Portland: Sisters for 60 Years


The 18-foot pagoda lantern at Portland Japanese Garden stands tall beyond the Wisteria Arbor. Presented to the City of Portland by the City of Sapporo, the five stories of the pagoda symbolize earth, water, fire, wind, and sky. The stone arrangement or “stone map of Hokkaido” in the moss at the base of the pagoda is designed to suggest the shape of the island, with the reddish stone indicating Sap-poro, the capital city and Portland’s sister city. The Sapporo lantern is just one of the many ways Portland Japanese Garden pays homage to the City’s valuable cultural connection to Sapporo.

Despite being separated by more than 4,000 miles, the cities of Sapporo and Portland share a sister-hood that turns 60 this year.

Our sister-city relationship with Sapporo is one of the oldest in the United States.  It was established in 1959, just three years after President Dwight Eisenhower introduced the U.S. Sister City Program, which was designed to create an international atmo-sphere of understanding and respect among cities sharing similarities like population, art, and industry.

Both are northern cities surrounded by wild and rugged terrain that lie at about the same latitude. Sapporo, like Portland, is a relatively young city, less than 200 years old, developed by pioneers, explorers, loggers, and fishermen much like the founders of Portland. Both cities have grown and now have populations of more than 2 million people.

The commonalities between these cultures, like those between Portland and Sapporo, remind us that the Pacific Ocean acts not as a barrier but a bridge between our two countries. Portland Japanese Garden celebrates this strong relationship with a goal to continue fostering and promoting cross-cultural understanding between the United States and Japan.


Portland Japanese Garden Joins City Celebrations


The Garden joins the city-wide celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Portland – Sapporo Sister City Relationship this year through the annual focus on the Northern Region of Hokkaido and Sapporo, including Hokkaido-themed art exhibitions and cultural programs until the end of the year.



On June 6, the Mayor of Sapporo Katsuhiro Akimoto visits Portland for a host of Rose Festival celebratory activities. Among them will be an anniversary celebration and rededication of the Sapporo Friendship Bell, which is part of a sound installation by composer Robert Coburn called “Bell and Wind Environment.” Dedicated in 1990 and presented to Portland by the people of Sapporo, the outdoor bronze bell (by an unknown Japanese artist) will be relocated from a brick and granite pagoda outside the Oregon Convention Center to the corner of MLK and Lloyd Boulevard in Portland.


On Saturday, June 8, Sapporo’s Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto will visit Portland Japanese Garden to help kick-off our Art in the Garden exhibition Forest of Dreams: Ainu and Native American Wood Carvings (see pages 14 – 15) before he takes part in the Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade.

AUGUST 15 – 18  

In August, the City of Sapporo and Portland Japanese Garden present a Sapporo Food Event designed to showcase the quintessential Sapporo street food culture by focusing on Sapporo-born miso ramen along with one of Japan’s major beer brands, Sapporo Beer. The street food fest will take place at the Garden in mid-August in conjunction with the popular O-Bon Festival.  


In August and early September, the Garden’s annual Behind the Shoji pop-up shop will present beautiful Sapporo treasures for purchase inside the Garden Pavilion.