Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, at left holding the document, witnessed the signing of an MOU by Kagoshima Gov. Satoshi Mitazono to reinvigorate the state's oldest relationship in Japan. On hand are state officials, members of the Kagoshima delegation and Japanese Consul General Takashi Shinozuka (far right)

Georgia’s relationship with Japan may stretch back to 1853, when a state official joined the first U.S. trade delegation to the country, but it took another century for ties to truly blossom into a formalized partnership. 

That dimension began in 1966 when then-Gov. Carl Sanders signed a sister-state relationship with Kagoshima prefecture, the southernmost of the 47 state-like entities on Japan’s four main islands. 

This week, the state honored that early connection, as Kagoshima Gov. Satoshi Mitazono visited Atlanta to reaffirm those ties with a memorandum of understanding he signed along with Gov. Brian Kemp. With Mr. Kemp out of town Friday, Mr. Mitazono’s signing was witnessed by Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and other state legislators and officials. 

The MOU aimed to bring a well-established relationship into a new century. 

“To extol each other for this Sister State Relationship of more than half a century and to head together into a brighter future, the State of Georgia and Kagoshima Prefecture do hereby confirm their commitment to foster goodwill through continued exchanges,” reads part of the English section of the bilingual document. 

By the numbers at least, Kagoshima and Georgia are well suited. Both are heavily agricultural states. Situated on the island of Kyushu with 1.6 million people, Kagoshima has half the population density as Japan as a whole and ranks in the top five in Japanese production of chickens (a protected local species), pork and beef cattle (a black wagyu variety called Kuroushi), where it ranks No. 1. Situated on a picturesque bay, Kagoshima is also a major tourism hub. 

Gov. Satoshi Mitazono

Mr. Mitazono is new to politics. The former political journalist defeated an incumbent in 2016, vowing to shut down one of Japan’s last operational nuclear plants for safety inspections and the evaluation of evacuation plans. He faced a major test of his government’s ability to deal with weather events last month, when torrential rains force the evacuation of Kagoshima city’s 590,000 residents. 

It’s unclear how deeply intertwined the economies of Georgia and Kagoshima are — most investment statistics are state-to-nation rather than state-to-state — but the most important contribution of their ties may be opening the floodgates for a wave of other relationships. There are now 11 sister relationships between Georgian and Japanese cities, and more than 600 Japanese facilities in the state now employ up to 35,000 Georgians. 

That influence has led to the creation of a Japan Caucus in the Georgia General Assembly. The bipartisan group is headed up by State Rep. Calvin Smyre, a Democrat from Columbus, who was on hand for the signing ceremony with Gov. Mitazono. 

See the executed MOU below: 

MoU 08022019 Kagoshima Prefecture

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...