SUNY New Paltz’s sister city, Niimi, Japan, sent students to learn in the Hudson Valley and exchange cultures.
A Japanese delegation recently visited New Paltz through a sister city partnership with Niimi City, Japan. This partnership was initially established in 1998.
These two locations, while contrasting in continents and bordering seas, were paired together due to their similarities in geography and population size. New Paltz has the Wallkill River and Minnewaska, while Niimi has the Takahashi River and Mt. Osa.
This bond was formed when former Mayor of New Paltz Tom Nyquist visited Niimi with his wife, Corinne, according to Sue Sherburne, secretary for the New Paltz International Exchange Association (NPIEA).
The first visit took place at what was then called Osa, a small town on its own. But in 2005, Japan wished to cut down its “levels of government and make things more streamlined,” according to Sherburne. This resulted in the formation of Niimi City, which consists of the towns Osa, Shingo, Tetta, Tesei and Niimi, according to the Village of New Paltz’s Sister City Committee.
On Sept. 11, 14 Japanese constituents (nine adults and five students, mainly from Niimi College) were greeted at a local bus station and brought to a welcome event held at the Fireside Room at the Reformed Church of New Paltz. There, host families and official figures, including Mayor Tim Rogers, Town Supervisor Neil Bettez and New Paltz High School (NPHS) Principal Mario Fernandez, welcomed the delegation to New Paltz.
Activities during their visit included a walking tour of downtown New Paltz, a trip to Minnewaska State Park Preserve and the Walkway Over the Hudson, a visit to the New Paltz Rotary Club and a boat ride on the Rip Van Winkle. A walking tour of the NPHS was also organized by Fernandez. They returned to Japan only four days later on Sept. 15.
“[The experience was] phenomenal. To watch the faces of young people… I think they were just amazed at the size of the complex and the opportunities that the kids had. There was a joke going on that they were going to move to New Paltz,” Fernandez said. “The contrast between cultures was just an interesting facet of our conversation.”
Sherburne has developed personal connections through this partnership, having visited Niimi in August 2000 and April 2007. She even sends cards to an older Japanese couple, whom she once stayed with, on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
“I think it is special that my dad was a radar man on a bomber plane in the South Pacific during WW2, and now I have good friends in Japan,” Sherburne said. “I always joke that I can hop on a plane and fly 6,000 miles and somebody will leave the light on for me.”
Niimi College nursing students were once able to engage in study hours through a similar program that used to exist at SUNY New Paltz, according to Executive Director of the Center for International Programs Beth Vargas, who also attended the welcome party. However, students from SUNY New Paltz have not been sent over to Niimi themselves.
Middle school students from both Niimi and New Paltz used to participate in this exchange program, but this has not happened in about 10 years, according to Sherburne.
Sherburne also admits that the connection between these sister cities was “much stronger” in the beginning, as there were more activities and fewer obstacles restricting travel, creating a better consistency for coming to and from the respective countries.
“In 2011, an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, and last year Niimi had dealt with a large amount of flooding, which prevented their travels to New York,” Sherburne said.
Discussions related to the feasibility in growing the program and establishing a greater number of exchanges are currently in the works, according to Sherburne, who would like for more people to become involved in the association and learn about the history of New Paltz’s sister city.
“Americans tend to be me-orientated and Japanese [people] tend to be we-orientated,” Sherburne said. “But at the end of the day, we still need to eat, we still need to sleep, we still need to feel loved. We’re still human. I think we have more in common than what we don’t have.”