California-Japan Sister City Network

Consul General of Japan, Tomochika Uyama and wife, official residence

There are 105 officially recognized Sister City relationships between cities in California USA and Japanese cities in the country of Japan. Among them, the San Jose-Okayama Sister City relationship is one of the oldest. The California-Japan Sister City Network (CJSCN) was formed in 2018 to help all of the sister cities with Japan in networking, sharing ideas and resources and to spread the awareness of the great benefits of citizen-to-citizen diplomacy. We thank Consul General Uyama, his wife and Consulate staff for allowing us to experience his hospitality and for the opportunity to connect with other sister city organizations who also love their relationships with their sister cities in Japan.

2019 Okayama student Homestay in San Jose

The week went by too quickly!

We managed to get to know one another, the great homestay families, students and chaperones from Okayama City, the SJOSC Board, San Jose City Council as individuals and as a ‘team’. The students attended events at the Silicon Valley Capital Club courtesy Catherine M Tompkison, a San Jose Giants game with great hospitality from the team and General Manager, Mark Wilson. We went to Monterey Bay Aquarium, The TECH Interactive (thank you to Bank of America), had an interactive docent tour of the San Jose Museum of Art, ate lunch at San Pedro Square, Poor House Bistro, Banana Crepe and Jtown Pizza. They had a tour (in Japanese) of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, experienced “Legally Blonde” (Children’s Musical Theater of San Jose) and their host families took them to many places and did many things individually too!

We had tour of Diridon Station given by Rod Diridon himself, were led along the Guadalupe River on our way to SAP center from San Jose Walks and Talks, visited the SHARKS store, had a tour of San Jose City Hall and visited our councilmembers who made us all welcome!

All this began at the Welcome event in the Okayama Room at Kelley Park. The had a tour of the Japanese Friendship Garden which was modeled after the great landscape garden, Korakuen in Okayama and partially paid for with a gift from the City of Okayama was back in the beginnings of the Sister City relationship (1957). The students performed for us and then met their homestay families over a buffet lasagna buffet dinner topped off with seasonal fresh fruit and a cake from Peter’s Bakery in San Jose.

Summer 2020 will be a chance for eight students from San Jose to go to Okayama on the Homestay exchange program. Applications and details will be available by communicating with <>

Eight Okayama students came to San Jose (July 30-August 5, 2019) and we

…had such a good time learning about each other and enjoying the company!

Here’s a list of what we did:

Day 1- Welcome at Kelley Park, Okayama Room with City Councilmembers Raul Peralez, Johnny Khamis, Lan Diep & Pam Foley (also a host family!). The students met their host families – just the beginning of the adventure! Students had a tour of the Japanese Friendship Garden with Girl Scout, Aderyn Clark. When back at the Okayama Room, they performed “We Will Rock You” and “Twist and Shout” – the latter with acoustic guitar!

DAY 2- Rod Diridon himself gave the group a tour of Diridon Station, citing past and future plans. “San Jose Walks & Talks” both former JET program teachers. We walked along Guadalupe Park enjoying the explanations of the art installations, then it was off to see SAP Center but really, we only got to experience the Sharks Store as SAP was closed to the public. We were hungry, so our next stop was Poor House Bistro where we relaxed for an hour or so before heading off to San Jose City Hall for a tour. Notes 1) San Jose was the first capitol of the State of California! The Circle of Palms was on our list to visit on Friday. 2) from the 18th Floor of City Hall you can see all of San Jose! 3) We were welcomed by City Councilmemers, Sylvia Arenas, Pam Foley, and Johnny Khamis in their offices. Ending the day with a baseball game was just the ticket. And so we did! Students were hosted by the San Jose Giants and ran around the bases with Gigante after two students had the pleasure of throwing a ‘first pitch’ before the game began! Two other students competed in the air guitar contest and everyone had hot dogs and baseball souvenirs courtesy of GM Mark Wilson! It was a great night!

DAY 3- Monterey Bay Aquarium. We all met and loaded ourselves onto a bus to Monterey for the day. The California coastline is famous and we wanted to take them to our world famous aquarium. Osaka Japan has a huge aquarium, large enough to hold a whale shark swimmingly on display, and they also had a dedicated exhibit on the Monterey kelp forest and of course, the lovable sea otters! Good food at the aquarium cafeteria, souvenirs from Cannery Row and the eco-friendly aquarium store plus all the popular sea creatures (jellies, sharks, sardines, groupers, and otters being favorties) – we hopped back on the bus to San Jose where host families picked up the students.

DAY 4- Friday was Downtown San Jose day – starting with the TECH Immersive. No one wanted to leave, the exhibits were amazing and fun. We walked to lunch hitting San Pedro Square where everyone scattered to find what they wanted to eat, browse the Farmers Market and meet in time to walk to…next destination…The San Jose Museum of Art and Circle of Palms. On the way, we stopped in to see St. Joseph’s Basilica. Photos, no flash, had become the norm, so everyone was busily taking pictures of the beautiful interior. At the San Jose Museum of Art, our docents engaged everyone interactively in the current exhibits. Students sat on the floor, having become a little more at ease in using their English skills, answered questions and asked some too. The gift shop was on the list and well appreciated. Having changed clothes after our visit to the museum, we headed to the Capital Club where a friend of SJOSC had offered to help by largely sponsoring an ‘adult event’ for host families, councilmembers and specially invited guests and the students with great views from the club and a taco buffet dinner. Here, SJOSC was presented with a surprise Commendation by Councilmember D9 & Host Family Pam Foley from the City of San Jose! Ahh – but that was not the end of the evening. We walked the short distance to the Montgomery Theater to see “Legally Blonde” by the Children’s Musical Theater of San Jose. It was a great way to end our ‘downtown’ day!

DAY 5- FREE DAY! Host families did everything from host BBQ’s at their homes, to taking students to Great America and an Oakland A’s game! Our Okayama staff chaperones had a visit to Santana Row and Willow Glen and a BBQ later at a wonderful home.

DAY 6- JAPANTOWN SJ Day- First was a tour in Japanese of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj) on 5th Street. Then over to the corner to have a hiphop basics class taught by an energetic and wonderful teacher from The Get Down Dance Studios! Worn out? Not yet! The students went along Jackson St to get a snack before visiting the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin on 5th Street. After taking ample time to talk and get to know a little about the history of such a Japanese place in America, we went around the block to our farewell Jtown Pizza party on 6th Street hosted by SJSU!

DAY 7- All good things must end? Really? We did have to say ‘good-bye’ or ‘sayonara’ and ‘be well’ to our new friends! Sad, but we know everyone will stay in touch with each other! With so many memories to keep us warm, we look forward to the next time we get to see everyone! Maybe in 2020??? We’ll see! KAMPAI!

Most host families and homestay students stay friends for life. It is just that good!



Meet “Koyokun” – our little mascot❣️
He’s a coyote from San Jose wearing a Happi with elements from both San Jose and Okayama emblazoned on the front!
He’d like to welcome one and all to our City to learn about the 60 years of wonderful history between the two cities.
Only the third sister city formed in the USA, physical evidence of the strength of the relationship can be seen on the path next to the San Jose Center for Performing Arts in Downtown San Jose and at Kelley Park’s Japanese Friendship Garden.

Koyokun merchandise, 1) a little button/pin $1.50 and 2) $1.50 Koyokun sticker are available through PayPal
Please write in ‘sticker’ or ‘button’ when you order. And let us know how many you want in the same note!
Don’t forget to send us your address so that we can send your merchandise to you!~Thank you!

p.s. – We will have acrylic ‘charms’ next which you can dangle from you bags, phones or anywhere you choose!

Friends of the Japanese Friendship Garden (JFG)

Did you know that the Japanese Friendship Garden (JFG) in Kelley Park is a very special place because it is directly related to our 60 year history with Okayama City, Japan? The City of Okayama is home to one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, Korakuen. Korakuen is part of the grounds of Okayama Castle as a place for the ruling family (lord and family during the feudal era) and to receive and entertain important guests. It was built in 1687, bombed during WWII and flooded in 1934. But because of accurate records kept by the garden’s creators & designers , it has always been able to be restored to its original state.

Our Japanese Friendship Garden in Kelley Park is modeled after this great landscape garden although we do not have a crane aviary or an archery range (Japanese archery is different from western archery…and worth a look into, but that’s a separate subject!)
We do have koi – the original koi were given to us by Okayama – actually flown to San Jose!  Currently, the gardens, tea house and ponds are in the process of restoration. They suffered during the 2017 flooding, with some koi being stranded on walking paths and in bushes. However, the koi that were being incubated in filtered tanks survived, and they are now in filters in the garden until the ponds can be restored and inspected for safety.

A new group of “Friends of the JFG” is in the works!
Please email: <> if you are interested in becoming a volunteer or being added to the list! This is a Girl Scout Gold Award project which is just getting started. Look for more information here soon!

SJ Students to Okayama & Okayama to SJ!

This summer, between flooding and Typhoons in Okayama, 5 intrepid high school students selected from over 35 applicants went to experience their first homestay and student exchange in Okayama City, Okayama Prefecture, Japan. With them went their equally intrepid (or perhaps even more intrepid)

Okayama City hosted over 50 students total from their sister city relationships around the world. Our students came back with a new appreciation of the similarities and differences between our two cities and cultures! Each created very special relationships with their host families & vowed to always be friends & family.

-What was different?
It was CLEAN! EVERYWHERE! No litter, no trash, no homelessness. Everyone is polite and welcoming.  And it was very green! In San Jose, our hills are brown. In Okayama, everything is green and fresh.
When a family says someone is ‘good’ at something…they mean REALLY GOOD! One student went to their homestay family’s little daughter’s piano recital and couldn’t accept the family’s compliment to her (saying she could sing) after that!
Kids seem to do what is expected of them after being told once. It’s in the culture.

-What was the same?
They do have ketchup and mayonnaise!
Parents worry about their children, just like they do here.
People like anime! (Yes! It did come from Japan!)
They were worried if they would be liked, just as “we” SJ students wondered whether they would be liked.

Kelley Park-Japanese Friendship Garden

KelleyParkReunion-1-061818We had a small reunion! Some of the delegation members from April 2018 were able to drop by Kelley Park and with the help of several of San Jose’s City Councilmembers, their staff, Vice Consul Ryo Aono (who had help from Kevin O’Donnell from the Consulate of Japan SF) and San Jose-Okayama Sister Cities volunteers (Denise Esparza, City of San Jose Parks Recreation and Neighborhood Services, Elanor Sakamoto, translator), sponsors (Catherine M. Tompkison), SJOSC  Board members, Elizabeth Chien-Hale, Tina Urata, Dr. Mototaka Senda, Kathy Sakamoto – We also had students who will be participating in the Homestay in Okayama 2018 (July) program this year!

We must acknowledge our wonderful Sister City International Special Ambassador, Mr. Shin Koyamada and his wonderful wife, Nia Lyte! They always add so much to any event! Shin is a martial artist, having studied and competed in many martial arts disciplines. He is also an actor, gaining fame as “Nobutada” the son of the samurai played by Ken Watanabe. Shin is also a Special Ambassador for karate for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and a Board member to Sister Cities International.

We have great support from San Jose City Councilmembers, D10-Johnny Khamis, D3-Raul Peralez & his wife, Victoria & Chief of Staff Christina Ramos, D4-Lan Diep and staffer Thulien Dang,  D8-Sylvia Arenas (represented by Lauren Urhausen, D2-Sergio Jimenez represented by Vanessa Sandoval and last but not least, D7-Tam Nguyen & staff Louansee Moua.

The Kelley Park Japanese Friendship Garden was modeled after the great Korakuen Garden, one of the three great gardens of Japan which is on the grounds of Okayama Castle. The Castle is known as the “Castle of the dark bird” or “Crow Castle” because of the dark background of the walls of the building.

The garden in San Jose, CA was damaged severely during the flooding in February of 2017 and is still being restored. The descendants of the original koi flown to San Jose, CA as gifts to San Jose from Okayama City, Japan, still inhabit the filtered pools in the Kelley Park Japanese Friendship Garden. A new filtration system is needed to allow the fish back in the larger pond areas. Since this costs in the $100K range, a lot of fundraising is needed. All funds to Parks & Recreation must go through the Parks Foundation.

San Jose going to Okayama!

A delegation will be traveling to Okayama come April 2018!

Although our list of delegates is yet to be revealed to the public, it is varied, interesting and impressive. We hope you’ll want to learn more about student exchanges, cultural exchanges and the history of the sister city relationship.

We’ll have lots more to post after the trip, but for now – if you’d like to be involved. just email:

Ask for the latest brochure! We can send a pdf if you like!