The Tono Education and Culture Foundation Vice Chairman Ryuko Suganuma reads the Japanese portion of the Yoshino Cherry Tree plaque. (Photo: Staff)

Local officials greeted political leaders from Chattanooga’s Sister City Tono, Japan, this week with a series of events meant to honor the partnership.

After lunch at City Hall and a celebration at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center on Thursday, Japanese officials, including Tono Mayor Toshiki Honda, attended the Peace Tree Dedication in Coolidge Park Friday afternoon with Mayor Andy Berke.

“I am so happy to be able to dedicate this cherry tree here,” Honda said. “I am hoping that our friendship with this sister city is going to [become] deeper and deeper and stronger and stronger. Hopefully, we’re going to get some beautiful cherry blossoms right here in Chattanooga.”

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Each event incorporated several activities that shared each city’s culture.

In addition to the tree ceremony, attendees learned Tono folklore that inspired a few movies and books and ate from an American food buffet. Friday night an event, the Tono Music Shindig, was scheduled at The Edney Innovation Center.

The Chattanooga Sister Cities Association, which works as an official channel among international communities, helped host many of the week’s activities.

Mayor Andy Berke stands with Tono Mayor Toshiki Honda and the leader of the Tono City Council as the tree is dedicated. (Photo: Staff)

The Chattanooga and Tono mayors both said they hope this trip will lead to a continuously strengthened relationship.

Berke said that Honda is also hoping that the partnership between the sister cities will lead to future business endeavors between the two communities.

The partnership began about 27 years ago when the cities established a foreign exchange program.

The cities kept up the relationship and eventually became friendship cities about a year ago.

In September 2017, the two mayors signed the paperwork making Chattanooga and Tono official Sister Cities.

“Tono reminds me a lot of Chattanooga,” Berke said during the cherry tree dedication ceremony. “It’s got beautiful mountains and green hills and the most amazingly friendly people you will ever meet in your life.”

Chattanooga has eight sister cities. Click here for more information.

Alina Hunter-Grah is a contributing writer. She currently attends UTC, where she was previously the news editor of the student newspaper, The University Echo. Alina also worked at CNN during the summer of 2017 and is the former Chattanooga correspondent for 2nd & Church, a literary magazine based out of Nashville. You can reach Alina at [email protected] or on Twitter @alinahuntergrah.

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