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Olympics highlight what the Pacific Northwest shares with the communities of Japan

In Oregon and SW Washington there are over 27 sister-city relationships with Japan that are not just cultural, but important for business as well.
Credit: KGW News

PORTLAND, Ore. — As the world learns about the history and culture of Japan during the Olympic games, KGW News at Sunrise is exploring the vibrant Japanese American community here in the Northwest for a series called "Our Shared Journey."

It'll run every weekday during the Tokyo Olympics. The morning show is broadcasting live from the Portland Japanese Garden. 

RELATED: KGW News at Sunrise to broadcast from Portland Japanese Garden during Olympics

With roots in the Northwest that trace back to the late 1800's, many Japanese American families brought with them their culture, food, a great knowledge of farming and agriculture, and integrated themselves into the building of our communities, cities and region.

But to fully tell the story of what the Pacific Northwest and Japan share as a community, the history that has created great division should be included.

World War II saw the internment of thousands of Oregon and Washington citizens because of their Japanese heritage and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since then, the people of Oregon and the Northwest began making cultural connections with Japan to help rebuild the relationships between the two nations, and build a greater understanding to help heal the community of Japanese Americans who call the Northwest home. 

RELATED: Museum exhibit shines light on Portland's Japanese internment camps during World War II

Michael Bacon, the former director of the Portland Sapporo Sister City Association, which dates back to 1959, describes the importance of these cultural relationships. 

“Really, ultimately, our mission is about connecting the people of Sapporo, the people of Japan with the people of Portland," Bacon said. "To build those relationships and build a more sustainable and peaceful world.”

The Portland Sapporo relationship is one of the oldest in the nation and is one of the longest running in the world. Bacon says it really comes down to personal connections and shared experiences.

 “Because those are the things when you look back and say, oh, I know that person," he said. "We're connected. We drank a beer together. We drank sake together.”

There has been a long history of formal and informal connections between Japan and the Northwest. In just Oregon and Southwest Washington there are over 27 sister-city relationships.  

The connections are not just cultural, they are important for business.    

Japan is one of Oregon's best trading partners with billions of dollars of goods moving between the countries. That trade creates jobs here in the Northwest.  

Consul General Masaki Shiga, who represents the government of Japan here in Oregon, notes the importance of trade between the countries.     

“The relationship between Japan and Oregon has become more and more prosperous in the more than 100 years of history together," Consul General Shiga said. "Japan is an important market for Oregon’s agricultural product – particularly lumber and grain and many Japanese companies actively invest here in new endeavors.”

The most popular connections in Oregon and Washington are probably the food. In this culinary mecca, the influence of Japanese cuisine cannot be understated.

And, according to Consul General Shiga, Oregon is well known by the people of Japan. There are books and shows, he said, on Oregon culture. It is very popular and known.