What’s in a sister?
Just why is it important for our area to have a relationship with a city most of us have never heard of that most of us will likely never go to?
At first glance, one might be tempted do a bit of eye-rolling when considering the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s sister-city relationship with Akita, Japan. However, our relationship with this city across the Pacific Ocean is important for many reasons.
Akita is the capital city of the Akita Prefecture in the Tohoku region of Japan and has about 330,000 residents. Oil refining, woodworking, metalworking and silk textile production are the city’s main industries.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough is a unique area, but its economy and population make-up doesn’t differ greatly from the rest of Alaska. When we try to measure up to other areas around us we see much of the same. Sometimes that doesn’t make for the best rubric on which to improve.
When we consider Akita, many things are different. Our economies, cultures and traditions differ greatly. But in the folds of differences we can find understanding, respect and then, perhaps, progress in a way we might not have considered before.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough, and the rest of the state for that matter, would do well to take lessons from Akita’s rich cultural history, which was recently on display for many of our local officials. Our area and state is a melting pot, of sorts, but we do have an established history of traditions set by our local Alaska Natives. As the area continues to expand, we should seek to keep those traditions alive and celebrate them just as Akita does, along side our more modern multicultural practices.
If Akita is also looking to take something away from us, perhaps we’d suggest gleaning from our continued efforts to balance a vibrant ecosystem with a healthy development-based economy. Sure we’ve had our shortcomings in that regard, but for the most part we’d consider our progress positive and beneficial for the future.
The relationship has also grown in other positive areas during the years. Consider local dentist Dan Pitts’ work to host Akita’s exchange students and his several trips to the city. Wouldn’t it be great if Pitts’ attitude could rub off on others, leading to more opportunities for national exchange?
As Pitts said, the relationship started as an educational exchange but grew into a cultural exchange. Now the two cities are trying to establish a business exchange, and that’s even more exciting.
These days our economy — including those industries like fish, tourism and oil — are being marketed to larger and larger audiences as the line between the nation’s economy and the global economy blurs. Perhaps there is an opportunity for our two cities to benefit economically from our ties — as any business owner will tell you, establishing good relationships is key.
Our sisterhood also should also serve in another capacity — one that forces us to put aside our squabbles about fish and politics and focus on putting our best foot forward from time to time. That attitude was on display this weekend at the Soldotna Progress Days parade when Akita representatives marched right along with locals.
In short: When you stop and consider all the aspects of our relationship with Akita, it makes it all that more special. We can learn more about the world and more about ourselves in the process and that’s a pretty unique opportunity.