Key to the City of Niigata, Japan

 Key to the City of Niigata, Japan

The Rosenberg Library Museum displayed the “Key to the City” of Niigata, Japan, our island’s sister city, as the July Treasure of the Month. The Mayor of Niigata, Kotaro Watanabe, presented the symbolic Key to the City to the Galveston Chamber of Commerce and the Niigata Galveston Committee as a token of friendship between the two communities. Our beloved island has six sister cities as designated by Sister City International. This gold skeleton key is ornamented with the letter “N” at its end as its teeth. The key was later donated to the Rosenberg Library.

The American sister cities program was initiated in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was originally administered as part of the National League of Cities but became a separate organization in 1967 when it became Sister Cities International (SCI). The program is a nonprofit citizen diplomacy network meant to create and strengthen partnerships between U.S. and international communities as well as promote cultural understanding. SCI leads the movement for local community development and volunteer action by motivating and empowering private citizens, municipal officials, and business leaders to conduct long-term programs of mutual and global benefit.

The City of Galveston first became a member of the program in 1965 when the Niigata-Galveston Committee was formed. Galveston has six sister cities designated by Sister Cities International: Armavir, Armenia; Trivandrum, India; Veracruz, Mexico; Stavanger, Norway; Niigata, Japan; and Tamsui, Taiwan. New Orleans is also considered an informal sister city of Galveston because of the two cities’ cultural and historical similarities.

Niigata, Japan, established in 1889 as a port of call for Japanese trade ships travelling the Sea of Japan, lies on the northwest coast of Honshu, the largest island of Japan. A windy and humid city with a population of 810,000, Niigata is still an important port for the shipment of rice and a bustling railroad hub, just as Galveston was an important cotton port and railroad hub for much of its history. The term Niigata literally translates to “new lagoon” and the city is often called the “City of Water” because several rivers, marshlands, canals, and the Japan Sea traverse its borders. Because Niigata, like Galveston, sits at a low elevation, flood control and land reclamation issues are important focuses of the city. In recent years, Niigata has been promoting itself as Japan’s “Designated City of Food and Flowers” to highlight the region’s agricultural resources and the city’s rich cultural history.

 Key to the City of Niigata, Japan

The ceremonial “Key to the City” is an ornamental key which is presented to esteemed visitors, residents, or other communities a city wishes to honor. Receiving a Key to the City is a privilege. The tradition originates from medieval times when cities were surrounded by walls with only a few gated entrances. The key symbolizes the freedom of the recipient to enter the city at will as a trusted friend of the community.

The City of Niigata has been very charitable to Galveston since the beginning of the sister city affiliation. Niigata City, along with the Niigata-Galveston Committee, raised $30,000 for Hurricane Ike disaster relief in the winter of 2008. Niigata also helped in Galveston tree reforestation activities along Rosenberg Boulevard in the spring of 2010. The Rosenberg Library Museum houses a large collection of gifts and artwork from Niigata school children as well as gifts given to visiting Galvestonians.

In 1995, a monument was erected to honor our 30-year friendship with Niigata, Japan. The dedication ceremony took place on Galveston Street in Galveston Square of Niigata City. Standing just left of the center of the square, the monument is a ring of black granite with tulips and oleanders etched in grey, the official flowers for both cities. The inscription on the base reads in both Japanese and English:

“In the state of Texas lies the old port town of Galveston. Just as Niigata was a port for shipping rice during the Edo period, Galveston was a port for cotton. The sister city affiliation began in 1965, and since then citizens from both cities have visited one another, deepening their friendship along the way. The sun sets on the Japan Sea while the morning dawns from the Gulf of Mexico. We are one world. On the occasion of our 30th sister city anniversary, we erect this Monument, give thanks to the efforts of those who came before us and hope for everlasting friendship.”

Past Treasures