What is a sister city?
A sister city is a long-term partnership between two communities in two countries which is officially recognized after the highest elected or appointed official from both communities sign off on an agreement to become sister cities. The goal of a sister city program is to promote peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation – one individual, one community at a time.
A Perfect Match
Hot Springs and Hanamaki, Japan officially became sister cities on January 15, 1993. Hanamaki is a small town in northern Japan, and like Hot Springs, Hanamaki relies on tourism as a chief revenue source. Their bathhouses, called onsen, feature thermal waters from nearby hot springs. The city is surrounded by rolling hills and a low mountain range. Hanamaki is home to the late Miyazawa Kenji, Japan’s most illustrious poet, along with many other artists and poets, giving the city its rich artistic heritage.
Hanamaki in Hot Springs
While not everyone can visit Hanamaki, it is possible to experience the beauty and culture of Hanamaki in Hot Springs.
The Japanese influence is easily seen in the Garden of the Pine Wind, which the Japanese named and provided design input. They also helped name and dedicate the Sunrise Bridge, and presented a stone lantern which can be seen along the garden trails.
The Hanamaki Permanent Exhibit at the Hot Springs Convention Center is a museum-quality exhibit which features a core sampling of contemporary Japanese folk art, as well as an authentic Deer Dancer costume, a famous symbol of Hanamaki culture. The costume was presented as a gift from Hanamaki to Hot Springs during the grand opening ceremonies for the Hot Springs Convention Center in December 1998.
Located at the front of the Convention Center, you will find a silhouette sculpture of the Hanamaki native, Kenji Mizawa. Alongside the sculpture a plaque can be found with more information about Miyazawa and his poem “Strong in the Raid”. The statue was created as a replica of a statue in Hanamaki that is located at the museum dedicated to his life’s work.
The City of Hanamaki gifted the people of Hot Springs a special crystal light sculpture, part of a collection of crystals created to commemorate the 120th anniversary of Kenji Miyazawa’s birth. The crystal can be found in the main concourse of the Hot Springs Convention Center.
A mural which will ultimately feature artwork representing the four seasons of the year in Hanamaki was begun in 2018 by Pepe Gaka. Gaka is an Italian artist who lived in Japan for several years and has also spent a significant amount of time in Hot Springs with numerous murals that can be seen around the city. The first segment of the mural featured a winter scene of one of Hanamaki’s most famous onsen, Osawa onsen. The spring mural depicts one of Hanamaki’s many shrines surrounded by the beautiful sakura, cherry blossoms, in full bloom. Summer and fall additions are planned in the coming year. The mural is located at 833 Central Avenue.
Each year, the Hot Springs Sister City Program offers numerous opportunities for the residents of Hot Springs to take part in through programs presented in partnership with the Garland County Library and through local civic groups. The annual Cherry Blossom Festival held each spring celebrates the culture of Japan in an event featuring music, dance, food and arts. See the Arkansas Cherry Blossom Page for more information.
For more information or to learn about volunteer opportunities for the program, call 501-545-6960.
Hot Springs National Park Sister City Foundation Board of Directors
Corey Alderdice, Chair
Carla Mouton, Vice Chair
Lyndsey Dilks, Treasurer
Donna Casparian, Secretary
Mary Zunick, Executive Director