News | 5 February 2024
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Wellington celebrates 30-year sister city anniversary with Sakai

This year marks the 30-year sister city relationship between Wellington and Sakai, Japan. Over this time, Wellingtonians have had the opportunity to dive into Japanese culture and bring elements back to the capital, such as the Japan Festival and Cherry Garden in Katherine Mansfield Park.

Mayoral visit to a school in Japan.
Mayor Whanau and delegation members with students from Daisen Elementary School in Sakai.

Here’s a look at the timeline of how our cities have come together over the years.

On 4 February 1994, Sakai Mayor Hideo Hataya and Wellington City Council Mayor Fran Wilde formally sign the sister-city agreement.

In 1995, the Wellington Sakai Association (WSA) is established. Made up of volunteers, WSA organises cultural events and supports and maintains the relationship between Wellington and Sakai. 

Wellington Sakai Youth Exchange Programme begins in 1995, with both cities hosting students every second year. Around 600 students have participated in the programme.

Wellington is invited to send a marathon runner to enter the Senshu International Marathon, fully funded by Sakai.

The Sakai Sister Cities Children’s Art Exhibition is started in 2001 as an art exchange between Wellington and Sakai. Artworks from young Wellington artists are sent to Sakai for the exhibition every year.

A beautiful pink cherry blossom tree.
Cherry blossoms in Katherine Mansfield Park.

The Sakai Cherry Garden opens in Katherine Mansfield Park. 28 cherry blossom trees are planted in the garden through a donation by the (Sakai-based) Sakai Wellington Association.

The first Japan Festival is held in 2009 and features a range of traditional and modern Japanese cultural activities and events and is enjoyed by thousands of Wellingtonians. The festival has grown to become a popular festival in Wellington’s events calendar. 

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown visits Sakai and presents donations from Wellingtonians for people affected by the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.

Sakai becomes an imaginary sister city of the Shire of the Hobbit movie in 2012. 

Mayor Wade-Brown accompanied by a business and education delegation visits Sakai to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the sister city relationship. 

The Wellington–Senshu Marathon Exchange MOU is signed, resulting in the first Sakai runner to participate in the Wellington Marathon in June, 2016.

46 students from Sakai Rugby School visit Wellington, with a programme that includes games and training with Wellington College, St Mark’s and Pōneke Rugby Club.

The first Wellington Children’s Art Exhibition is held in Wellington, providing an opportunity for Wellington’s youngest residents to participate in a sister city activity through art. 

Child drawing on a piece of paper.
Workshop at Capital E for children's sister city art exhibition in 2022.

Kurimoto Ltd, a 110-year-old Sakai-based manufacturer of seismic resilient water pipe infrastructure, choses the Wellington region as the location of their first international venture, with Hynds Pipe Systems Ltd.

A master class with a Sakai “Togishi” is held with local Wellington chefs, restauranteurs and hospitality staff.  Sakai knives are crafted using the same blacksmith techniques used previously for Japanese swords and are renowned for their amazing sharpness. These knives are used by an astonishing 90 percent of professional Japanese chefs. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and the border closures mean that for nearly three years engagement with Sakai is online. Wellington Mayor Andy Foster and Sakai Mayor Hideki Nagafuji hold several online meetings during this time.

HONEYWA makes her debut! WSA holds a yuru-chara design competition - a mascot character to promote a place or region, event, organisation or business.

The winning design represents a combination of Wellington's Beehive and the Haniwa clay sculptures, which were famous during the Kofun period. "Honey" is a nod to New Zealand's famous honey production, and "Wa" means harmony in Japanese; she is named with the hope that Wellington and Sakai continue to be harmonious sister cities for many years.

Mayor Tory Whanau leads a large delegation to Asia in September 2023, stopping off in Sakai for meetings and engagements, including a visit to Daisen Elementary School.

This year, the Japan Festival returns on 14 September at the Michael Fowler Centre. Wellington will also host Mayor of Sakai Hideki Nagafuji on his first official visit to Wellington later this year.