Office of Trade & International Relations
Kumamoto Prefecture and Montana
In 1979, Mike Mansfield, U.S. Ambassador to Japan, began discussions with Governor Sawada of Kumamoto Prefecture about the possibility of establishing a sister state/prefecture affiliation between Kumamoto and Montana.
Ambassador Mansfield outlined his conversation with Governor Sawada in a letter to Montana Governor Judge in October of 1979. Later that year, Governors Judge and Sawada had a chance meeting in Shanghai, China and discussed the Ambassador's suggestions.
In September of 1980 Governor Sawada proposed and received approval for the relationship from the Prefectural Assembly. During the 1980 Montana elections Governor Judge was succeeded by Ted Schwinden. At the urging of Ambassador Mansfield, Governor Schwinden expressed his interest in formally establishing a sister state arrangement to Governor Sawada.
On July 22, 1982, sister affiliations between Montana and Kumamoto governments, universities, and television stations, were formalized in a signing ceremony in the Montana State Capitol. The sister affiliations established a forum for the creative exchange of information, ideas, and people in the fields of education, government, culture, and social relations. In 1983 the Montana Senate and House of Representatives passed a joint resolution endorsing Montana's sister relationship with the Prefecture of Kumamoto.
Currently, annual exchange programs exist at the university and high school levels for teachers and students. Both governments have been active with exchange visits by state and local elected officials and staff. Since 1984 the Kumamoto government has assigned a staff person to work in Montana and in June 1992 established Kumamoto Plaza, a cultural center in downtown Helena. In October 1990 Montana opened a state trade office in the Kumamoto Prefectural Office Building.
The vitality of the sister state has been an ongoing people-to-people exchange. Cultural understanding and close friendships have been fostered by a diverse number of exchanges which have included music, sports, disabled persons, business, performing & visual arts, and traditional festivals.