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Local Government International Exchange

Sister City Information

Sister city relationships FAQ

Q1: What is a "sister (friendship) city"? Why are they important?
Q2: What's the difference between a "sister city" and a "friendship city"?
Q3: How do I find a Japanese sister city?
Q4: Are there any Japanese local governments that are looking for sister (friendship) city counterparts?
Q5: What is the process for forming a sister (friendship) city relationship?
Q6: What constitutes a "written agreement"?
Q7: What kind of sister (friendship) city exchange activities are being done?
Q8: What are fixed-term sister (friendship) city relationships?
Q9: What sort of support does CLAIR offer?
Q10: I would like to know about local authorities outside Japan and their sister (friendship) city exchange activities
Q11: What types of exchanges are there apart from sister city relationships?

Q1. What is a "sister (friendship) city"? Why are they important?

There is no legal definition for "sister (friendship) city". At CLAIR, any relationship that satisfies the three conditions below is treated as a "sister (friendship) city relationship" for our intents and purposes:
(1) An agreement signed by the local governments' leaders (mayors, etc.) exists
(2) The exchange activities are not limited to only one field of exchange
(3) The Japanese local government's legislative assembly has approved some sort of budget for sister-city exchange activities

Thus, regardless of what the local governments call their relationship (i.e. "sister city", "friendship city", "partnership city", etc.), any relationship that satisfies the abovementioned three conditions is considered to be a "sister (friendship) city" by CLAIR as long as the parties involved in the relationship are both local governments engaging in exchange activities.
The first sister city relationship in Japan was established in December of 1955 between Nagasaki City and St. Paul, Minnesota in the United States. The number of relationships has increased steadily over the years, reaching 1,000 in December of 1993, and currently exceeds 1,700.

Sister city exchange is one of the quintessential ways that local governments can engage in international exchange. With many opportunities for the local people to participate, these relationships serve as a core component in international exchange policies. We anticipate that sister city exchange between local governments will help foster mutual understanding and improve relations between countries, promote and vitalise different regions, and contribute to the peace and prosperity of our international community. Through sister city exchange at the local level, each counterpart can better understand the needs of the other partner. By fine-tuning their exchange activities based on those needs, sister city exchange can develop beyond mere ceremonial friendly relations and become a chance for personal, cultural, technological and economic exchange that can potentially lead to mutual cooperation.

Q2. What's the difference between a "sister city" and a "friendship city"?

As covered in Question 1 of this FAQ, there is no official definition for "sister city". Similarly, the term "friendship city" also has no set definition. In Japan, "sister city" is the more common term, but that is most likely due to the term originally being coined in the United States and directly translated to Japanese. Other countries use different terms to describe these relationships.

For instance, the U.K. ("twin city"), France ("ville jumelée"), and Italy ("citta gemellare") all use the word "twin" in their countries' respective languages. In Germany, the word "Partnerstadt" is used. Austria ("Schwesterstadt"), Spain ("ciudad hermana"), and Portugal ("cidade irma") all use the word "sister" in their names. In Russia, the word "орода-Побратнмы" uses the word "brother" instead.
In China, using the term "sister" in the name for these relationships carries the implication that one city is "older" than the other, so instead of creating a potential problem with an implied hierarchical relationship, the term "friendship city" is the preferred term.
In South Korea, any relationship that has received approval from the national government was deemed a "sister city relationship". However, since 2004 approval from the national government has been dropped as a necessary condition, so there is no material difference between "sister city" and "friendship city". Recently, other countries besides China have also come to call these relationships "friendship cities" or "friendly exchange cities". There are many local governments who treat "friendship city" as a precursor to "sister city" or use "friendship city" to describe a local government with which they would like to conduct exchange activities but not as "sister cities".

Q3. How do I find a Japanese sister city?

There are many different ways to find a sister city in Japan. Depending on whether you have a potential partner in mind, or whether you have done any previous exchanges with the city, the process can differ. You may approach the city directly, or ask CLAIR to be the intermediary during the initiation process. For further information, please contact the International Exchange Division at CLAIR.

If you would like to post your local government's profile on the latter page, you can send us the information we need using the following documents:

Q4. Are there any Japanese local governments that are looking for sister (friendship) city counterparts?

CLAIR has a page with listings of the Japanese local governments that are currently looking for a foreign local government with which to form a sister (friendship) city relationship.

Finding a Sister City

Q5. What is the process for forming a sister (friendship) city relationship?

There isn't a set procedure for becoming sister cities, so the amount of time it takes to finalise this relationship varies from case to case. For instance, factors like whether or not there is someone acting as a liaison to facilitate the process, or if there has been some past exchange between the Japanese local government and the foreign local government can impact the amount of time it takes. For local governments starting from the search for a partner, the typical flow of events is listed below.

(1)  List up potential local governments/narrow down list of candidates (gather information)
(2)  Ask candidate local governments how they feel about forming a sister city relationship
(3)  Research about the local government by visiting them (exchange activities sometimes also accompany these visits)
(4)  Confirm candidate local government's intent to become sister cities
(5)  Mutually discuss exchange activities policy
(6)  Deliberate over and finalise sister city agreement
(7)  Hold a ceremony to officially sign the sister city agreement
(8)  Begin exchange activities as sister cities

Refer to this link from our Japanese website for more information (Japanese only)

Q6. What constitutes a "written agreement"?

Please refer to sample agreements below to see what constitutes a "written agreement":

Q7. What kind of sister (friendship) city exchange activities are being done?

There are currently over 1,700 sister city relationships between more than 800 Japanese local governments and various local governments around the world. These sister cities engage in exchange activities that cover a wide range of fields, so it is difficult to say definitively what type of activities each local government is undertaking.

According to statistics collected by CLAIR, approximately sixty percent of local governments in Japan that conduct sister city exchange activities engage in some type of educational or administrative exchange with their sister city counterparts. Educational exchange activities are greatly comprised of homestays, sending or taking in exchange students, and exchanging art projects. Administrative exchange activities consist of holding formal ceremonies to commemorate special milestones and sending/receiving a delegation to visit and/or tour their sister city counterpart.
Although, recently more local governments have established economic and tourism-based exchanges, planted trees, and provided medical equipment and daily essentials to their sister cities as different types of international cooperation. Examining the breakdown of sister city count by country, the United States is the country with the most sister city relationships with Japan, comprising around thirty percent of all of Japan's sister city relationships. Followed by China at around twenty percent of all Japanese sister city relationships, these two countries account for approximately half of all sister city relationships between Japan and another country.

Q8. What are fixed-term sister (friendship) city relationships?

In a fixed-term sister (friendship) city relationship, both local governments proceed to exchange after having set a time restriction to their sister (friendship) city relationship. Local governments tend to use this method in order to exchange with a local government that share their same goals at that time.

Some examples of fixed-term sister (friendship) city relationships are the five-year relationship between Kochi City and Surabaya City (Indonesia), established in April 1997, or the three-year relationship between Osaka Prefecture and the city of Dubai (United Arab Emirates), which started in October 2002.
Moreover, in the case of Kochi City and Surabaya City, the relationship was extended by five more years; in Osaka Prefecture and the city of Dubai's case, they both signed an agreement to renew their fixed-term agreement for three more years, and their relationship is still ongoing.

Q9. What sort of support does CLAIR offer?

CLAIR collects and provides information regarding sister city exchanges, supports and serves as an intermediary for local governments looking for a sister (friendship) city relationship and offers advice about exchanges between sister cities.
CLAIR's overseas offices, present in seven countries, receive requests for sister city partnerships from the local governments within their jurisdictions.
The CLAIR website also has listings introducing both Japanese and foreign local governments looking for sister city relationships. In addition, CLAIR Forum magazine profiles foreign local governments for local governments in Japan.

Q10. I would like to know about local authorities outside Japan and their sister (friendship) city
exchange activities

CLAIR's overseas offices have information on their website about the local authorities within their jurisdiction as well as links to partner organisations. Please use the following websites as reference:

Office name Website address Available languages
New York office Japanese, English
Links to Sister Cities International amongst others
London office Japanese, English
Paris office Japanese, French
Singapore office Japanese, English
Seoul office Japanese, Korean
Links to websites of Korean local governments:
Sydney office Japanese, English
Links to websites of local governments in the Oceania region
Beijing office Japanese, Chinese
Links to the Chinese central government and local governments

Q11.What types of exchanges are there apart from sister city relationships?

Aside from sister city relationships, local authorities carry out international collaboration efforts and international exchanges across many different fields as a part of policies for internationalisation promotion.

Lately, there have been more examples of economic exchange agreements being concluded in order to promote economic, industrial and scientific exchanges between regions.
For instance, three cities in Japan (Shimonoseki, Kitakyushu and Fukuoka), four cities in China as well as three cities in Korea have come together to establish the Organization for the East Asia Economic Development with the aim of promoting economic exchanges.
Another example is the prefecture of Ehime (Japan) and the city of Dalian (China), that formed the Ehime-Dalian Economic Friendship Association and are carrying out exchanges with a focus on economics while involving both the private and public sector.

This way, local governments can create initiatives which bring out the distinctive characteristics of their region while working towards mutual development.

For Enquiries
International Exchange Division
Tel : +81-3-5213-1723
Fax : +81-3-5213-1742
Email :
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