Global Outreach by Japanese Cities

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Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of blog posts on Jim Brooks’ trip to Japan with the The Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) Fellowship.

The Japanese local government perspective on global outreach is a simple one. They believe that the key to economic prosperity is a greater focus on promotion of an international network with and among cities.

The Japanese outward focus began during the post-World War II period. In 1955, the cities of Nagasaki and St. Paul, Minnesota established the first US-Japan sister city. There are now over 1,600 sister city affiliations all over Japan.

What began as alliances of friendship and community have expanded to include other humanitarian purposes as well as economic and commercial relationships. The network of relationships has expanded to such an extent that in 1988, the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) was established by and for municipalities. CLAIR coordinates globalization efforts for municipalities through its seven country offices worldwide. The work of CLAIR supports international exchanges among local leaders, promotes improved foreign language education in Japan, and supports the building of a true multicultural society.

CLAIR is funded by local governments and its technical staff is drawn from the ranks of top professionals in cities all over Japan. These staff members accept a tour of duty in one of the overseas offices helping to ensure that the network of global contacts rests with city hall staff as well as with national government diplomats.

What is most remarkable is that during the period since the year 2000, when local government was experiencing a decrease in the number of employees and reductions in their salaries, the number of global affiliations by Japanese cities continued to increase; particularly ties to the higher growth economies of the Republic of Korea and China.

In recent years, the Japanese have established a focus on acquiring and sharing specialized expertise and conducting training between and among local authorities. In the economic field, local governments also are supporting efforts to triple the present number of foreign tourists to 18 million by 2016. They also are supporting export sales of local specialty products outside Japan.