This past August, an event took place in Oshu that hasn’t happened in 5 years: a sister city youth exchange program with Reutte and Breitenwang, our sister cities in Austria.

I had the thrilling opportunity to help guide the 6 Austrian young people (ranging in age from 13 to 22) around Oshu, and then, a week later, accompany 5 Japanese young people from Oshu to Austria. I’m pleased to report that both groups helped to forge the relationship between our cities even stronger, and represented their respective hometowns well.

As this article is titled Part 1, first I’ll talk about what it was like to welcome in the Austrian participants as one of the program leaders, where we went, and their impressions; in Part 2, I’ll talk about our travels in Austria.

But before that, a bit of background: the catalyst for our sister city relationship took place in 1989, when a company headquartered in Reutte and Breitenwang established a manufacturing location in Oshu (at the time, Esashi). 2 years later, in 1991, Oshu and Reutte/Breitenwang became sister cities, and in 1995, the first youth exchange program took place. Due to the pandemic, the last program was held in 2018, but after this hiatus, we were able to restart the program this year, in 2023.

I’ll now describe the events of the Austrian young people’s arrival in Japan. My manager and I greeted the participants – who were jet-lagged but excited – at the airport, and brought them up to Oshu via the bullet train. As we passed through the ticket gate at Mizusawa-Esashi Station, we were met with smiles and cheers from the host families and program organizers. As it’s an exchange program, as much as was possible, both groups of participants would take turns living with each other’s families: thus, everyone would get the experience of being the expert on their hometown, and being the newcomer who has to rely on others. It’s an arrangement which promotes empathy and self-confidence for everyone, I think.

The visit might’ve been short, but every day was packed with things to do – as I can’t cover everything, I’ll discuss the main events.

On August 2nd – their first full day – after meeting with the mayor of Oshu, we paid a visit to the company that was the impetus for this program in the first place.
         (Group picture outside of the factory.)

 The next day, we visited Esashi-Fujiwara Heritage Park, as it’s an iconic spot in Oshu. Even though it was a swelteringly hot day, everyone appreciated the beauty of the park and the history it represented.
                                                                        (Trying on replicas of Heian-era armor and helmets.)

We then headed to a countryside farmhouse, where they would spend one night. They had noodles off a bamboo slide (known as nagashi-somen), wore yukata, and set off small hand fireworks.
                                     (Walking in yukata at the farmhouse.)

On the 4th, we went to the coastal city of Rikuzentakata, which is in the process of recovery from the earthquake and tsunami disaster of 2011.There, the participants saw the ruined buildings left up as memorials, as well as the newly-built roadside station. And of course, they got to swim in the Pacific Ocean.
(Group photo in front of a tsunami-damaged apartment building in Rikuzentakata.)


Throughout all of these adventures, the participants took a strong interest, snapped photos (where allowed), asked questions, and fully enjoyed their limited time. Their curiosity and enthusiasm let them get a deeper understanding of a place like Japan, which is so different from anywhere they’d been before.


In between our activities, we would sometimes stop at everyday places like a hundred-yen shop or a convenience store. Those of us who live in Japan take these places for granted, but when I would accompany them to a visit to one of these ultra-convenient shops for the first time, it was a reminder of how remarkable they really are.


It’s wonderful that Oshu can provide this opportunity to young people, and I strongly believe that experiences like this contribute to international cooperation. For the participants, “Japan” is no longer an abstract, faraway country: it’s where they had unforgettable experiences, made lifelong friends, and tangibly learned what life is like here. Both sides developed strong bonds with each other.
About a week later, we were on the plane to Vienna, where our roles would be reversed. Keep an eye out for Part 2!














 奥州市が姉妹都市交流事業を行い、若者が参加し様々なことを経験することは素晴らしいことであり、国際協力に貢献することだと私は思います。 忘れられない経験を通して生涯の友人を作り、日本の暮らしについて学んだことで、彼らにとって「日本」は遠い国ではなくなりました。両者は強い絆で結ばれたのです。