The sister city relationship between Hot Springs and Hanamaki, Japan, officially began on January 15, 1993, after a group of Hanamaki residents combed the United States and found Hot Springs to be a perfect fit. Since then, many friendships, greater understanding, and a mutual respect have grown out of the steady cultural, educational and artistic exchanges between cities.
The people of Hanamaki, population 106,414, rely 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 also has the only airport in the region.
Each October, Hanamaki sends a student delegation to Hot Springs. The student delegation stays with host families and visit area schools during their visit.
Sister school relationships have been established between Sasama Daini Elementary School and Fountain Lake Elementary School, Hot Springs Middle School and Hanamaki Junior High and Jessieville Middle Schools and Ohasama Junior High Schools. Sister School relationships between Hanamaki Higashi High School and Lakeside High School, as well as Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and Arts and Hanamaki Kita High School, have led to annual student delegations visiting Hot Springs from their sister schools each year.
Each year the Hot Springs National Park Sister City Foundation accepts applications from Garland County students in grades 8 – 11 to be a part of a student delegation that travels to Hanamaki each summer. Some scholarships are available, with an annual Cherry Blossom Festival being held to raise funds for the scholarship fund.
In addition to student delegations traveling to Hanamaki for educational exchange, a small delegation of Garland County educators take part in an educational exchange each year. The program, sponsored by the Hot Springs National Park Sister City Foundation, invites teachers and administrators to apply for a scholarship to represent Hot Springs in traveling to our sister city. Teachers homestay, learn about the history and culture of Hanamaki, and visit area schools. The teachers are then able to bring back best practices to share in their classrooms and with other teachers and administrators in their home schools.
Hanamaki officials have shown a keen interest in Garvan Woodland Gardens from its inception. 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 pagoda sculpture to further grace the gardens.
Hanamaki Permanent Exhibit
In 2001, Hanamaki officials helped dedicate the Hanamaki Permanent Exhibit at the Hot Springs Civic & Convention Center. The museum-quality exhibit 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 grand opening ceremonies for the Hot Springs Convention Center in December 1998.
During the Sister City’s 20th Anniversary celebration held in October 2013, a 45-member delegation visited Hot Springs from Hanamaki. Members of the Hot Springs National Park Sister City Foundation raised funds to erect a silhouette statue of Kenji Miyazawa, a replica of a statue at the museum in Hanamaki dedicated to this famous poet’s life work. That statue can be found in front of the Hot Springs Convention Center.
In honor of the 25th Anniversary of the Sister City relationship, 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.
Sister City Mural
A mural which will ultimately feature artwork representing the four seasons of the year in Hanamaki was began 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 seen of one of Hanamaki’s most famous onsen, Osawa onsen. The spring mural is 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. For adults interested in visiting our sister city, a delegation typically travels to Hanamaki each fall to take part in the Hanamaki Matsuri Festival, a celebration that dates back over 430 years. There are also various opportunities to host and welcome visitors from Hanamaki each year.
For more information or to learn about volunteer opportunities for the program, call 501-545-6960.