In November 1968, the State of Michigan and Shiga Prefecture in Japan became sister provinces.
A few months after that, in February 1969, Ann Arbor Michigan invited Hikone Japan to be a “Sister City.” At the time, Ann Arbor already had sister city relationships with Tuebingen, Germany and Belize City in Belize. Ann Arbor has the University of Michigan, and Tuebingen and Hikone both have universities.
In fact, the first article about Hikone in the Ann Arbor News from February 9, 1969, starts out:
“Watch out for the monkeys,” signs warn drivers near Hikone, Ann Arbor’s new sister city in Japan. Michiganians traveling in their sister state, Shiga Prefecture, may be reminded of the “watch out for deer” signs back home.
In July of 1969 a group of students from the Musical Youth International Band and Choir went to Shiga Prefecture, and a principal of a junior high school in Hikonedecided that it would be a good idea to send two English teachers to Ann Arbor. Those two teachers were the first visitors from Hikone to spend more than two or three days in Ann Arbor. Four years later, there was a goodwill exchange with 21 visitors from Japan.
Eventually, a public housing site in Ann Arbor was named Hikone as a nod to the sister-city relationship.
Now, every year, eighth and ninth grade students from Ann Arbor visit Japan in the fall, and a similar group of Japanese students comes to visit Ann Arbor.
I asked two of the students who went to Japan last year, Hannah and Jane, why they wanted to go to Japan. They both agreed that they love to travel and wanted to challenge themselves. I asked them what surprised them the most about Japan, and Jane said, “I expected the schools to be extremely quiet and orderly, but they were really a lot like American schools.”
The Ann Arbor-Hikone relationship has changed over time, but its focus on exchanging ideas between students and teachers from the middle school years has continued.