Sister Cities: Portsmouth NH and Nichinan, Japan
New Hampshire has two Sister City relationships with Japan: Portsmouth and Nichinan; and Hanover and Nihonmatsu. Both are directly connected because of Treaty history. Baron Komura, the lead Japanese diplomat at the peace conference in Portsmouth, was born in Nichinan. Kan’ichi Asakawa, a young history scholar at Dartmouth College, whowrote the first history of the causes of the Russo-Japanese War and came to Portsmouth to observe the peace conference, was from Nihonmatsu.
In 1985, on the 80th anniversary of the Treaty, the Mayor of Nichinan reached out to Portsmouth Mayor Mary Keenan to suggest a formal Sister City bond to strengthen the friendship begun in 1905. In 1986 a delegation of 21 Portsmouth citizens – including Eileen Foley who would become the city’s Ambassador to Nichinan -- traveled to Japan to ratify the formal agreement with the Mayor of Nichinan.
The City of Nichinan funded the planting of the original cherry trees around South Mill Pond in Portsmouth. Students from Nichinan have helped plant and dedicate new trees, descended from the Washington originals, as have students from Nihonmatsu. In 2013, Portsmouth High School Students and students visiting from Nichinan participated in a ceremonial cherry tree planting at Portsmouth High School. In 2014 trees were planted at the Portsmouth Middle School.
In April 2016, a delegation of 11 Portsmouth High School students and 8 adults traveled to Nichinan to celebrate the 30th anniversary of that Sister City agreement, hosted by Mayor Kyohei Sakita who visited Portsmouth in September 2015 to celebrate the Treaty 110th anniversary. The students reciprocated the dozen-plus Sister School visits exchanged with the Nichinan Gakuen Junior-Senior High School since 1997. Each August, a group of students from Nihonmatsu make their annual visit to host families in Hanover.
Nichinan Students Dedicate Cherry Tree Historic Marker
In October 2018, 12 visiting students, 3 teachers and Principal Fujimoto from Nichinan Gakeun Jr-Sr High School, Sister School to Portsmouth High School and Portsmouth Assistant Mayor Cliff Lazenby dedicated a new City Historical Marker detailing the history of the South Mill Pond cherry trees, a gift from Nichinan, Portsmouth’s Sister City.
The historic marker is located on the Junkins Avenue causeway – halfway between City Hall and downtown, overlooking City Hall and the banks of South Mill Pond where the cherry trees grow.
Commemorating the Cherry Trees and Citizen Diplomacy, 2014
In 2014, JASNH and 3S Artspace hosted a Pecha Kucha night at Strawbery Banke on May 8. This performance form, that originated with a circle of young architects in Tokyo, gives each participant the chance to show 20 slides, with 20 seconds narration for each slide. The theme for the cherry tree Pecha Kucha is “Suddenly, Bloom! Out of adversity, great change, growth, and beauty can arise.” The free event takes place in the Strawbery Banke Visitors Center, 14 Hancock Street in downtown Portsmouth NH, starting at 7 pm. Food and drink available for sale through The White Apron Café at Strawbery Banke.
“The cherry trees are famous as the symbol of friendship from Japan, a gesture of people-to-people diplomacy,” said Charles B. Doleac, president of the Japan-America Society of New Hampshire. “The Japan America Society of NH showcases Portsmouth’s own cherry trees – that are directly associated with the Treaty and the iconic Washington trees to keep the spirit of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty and its many branches of citizen diplomacy alive. Each year, the Portsmouth Cherry Tree event celebrates our historic friendship with Japan with a different variation on the Cherry Blossom Festival theme.’”
Portsmouth Middle School plants Living Memorial Cherry Trees around South Mill Pond
Portsmouth Middle School's Student Council members (from left to right: Noah Diep, Nate Edwards, Aidan Faulstich, Jonah Snyder, Lucas Ludd, Annie Hurd, Zach Ludd, Brian O’Malley, Eva Carchidi, Iris Cotrupi, Mary-Bella Pelt, Lily Zwick, Maxine Fabrega and Julia MacNair. Missing from photo who helped with planting: Annah Shaheen) and Student Council Advisor Lyndsey Bouzakine planted more cherry trees on the banks of the South Mill Pond where cherry trees given to Portsmouth by Sister City Nichinan have bloomed since 1985.
The new trees are cherry trees descended from the iconic Washington DC cherry trees -- give to the US in 1912 by Japan in thanks for the Portsmouth Peace Treaty, signed at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, that ended the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. The Japan-America Society of NH arranged for Portsmouth to be one of the 36 cities to receive trees on the 100th anniversary of the original gift. JASNH is working with the NH Division of Forests and Lands Urban Forestry Center to plant them in Portsmouth at key Treaty sites and elsewhere as a Portsmouth Peace Treaty Living Memorial.