The Invercargill-Kumagaya sister city relationship was sparked in 1988 by businessmen keen to form trading links with the city, which has a population of more than 200,000 and which is about 60km from central Tokyo.
There are similarities with Invercargill: it is an agricultural town, with open spaces, mountains in the background and friendly, conservative, rugby-loving people. The businessmen found that for a sister city relationship to be established they needed the endorsement of the Council and in 1991 the then Mayor, the late Eve Poole, visited Kumagaya. The sister city agreement was signed in 1993.
In 2003, 10 years after the official signing, the Mayors of Invercargill and Kumagaya made reciprocal visits to each other’s cities to re-sign the sister city agreement. During the year-long celebrations groups of students, teachers, citizens and Councillors from both cities made exchange visits.
Kumagaya has taken its place on the iconic signpost at Stirling Point in the port town of Bluff. Japanese visitors can be forgiven for feeling a little homesick when they check the signpost – and find they are 9632km from home!
Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt with Kumagaya students Kaori Yoshimura (centre) and Miharu Yamaguchi at a mayoral reception in the Council Chamber on 4 August 2015 for 40 students from two Kumagaya high schools.
The visiting students were also made welcome by Councillors, the President of the Kumagaya Friendship Association, youth councillors, staff and representives from host schools James Hargest College and Southland Girls’ High School.
Kumagaya Friendship Association
Invercargill’s Kumagaya Friendship Association was formed in February 2004. The organisation includes representatives of businesses, community organisations and members of the public with an interest in Kumagaya. The association, currently chaired by Invercargill shipping agent Tom Sawyer, produces a regular newsletter (Nyuusu).
Kumagaya influence on Invercargill
The Kumagaya influence on Invercargill can be seen at several places about the city: Queens Park has a Japanese Garden which includes a cherry tree donated by the Kumagaya International Friendship Society. The Gala Street Reserve has the Kumagaya City symbol depicted in box hedging and white quartz gravel.
The Kumagaya City symbol has also been incorporated into the decor of the Council’s Civic Administration Building in Esk Street. Two “Pacific Rim” sculptures were created by local artist Phil Newbury to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the cities’ relationship. One stands outside the Civic Adminstration Building; treet; the other is at City Hall in Kumagaya. And gifts from the City of Kumagaya to the City of Invercargill are on display outside the Council Chamber in the Civic Administration Building.