Portland mayor leads trip to Japanese sister city

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PORTLAND — Trips to Shinagawa, Japan, are becoming a Brennan family tradition.

But to get there, Mayor Michael Brennan first had to get elected.

Following in the footsteps of his sons, who visited Portland’s sister city with youth and sports cultural exchanges, Brennan left Saturday for a week in the city, celebrating its 30-year sister-city relationship with Portland.

“This is not a trade mission, this is to renew a friendship and recognize the 30-year relationship,” Brennan said Friday. It is his first trip to Shinagawa after his election as mayor in 2011.

Shinagawa, a city of 350,000 inside the Borough of Tokyo, is not the only sister city of Portland, but it was the first. Brennan heads a delegation of 22, including former Mayors Anne Pringle and James Cohen, and former City Manager Joe Gray.

The trip was organized by the nonprofit Friends of Shinagawa, and came several  weeks after City Councilor Ed Suslovic led a group to Archangel in Russia, also a sister city. The Haitian city of Cap Haitien and the Greek city of Mytiliene are also sister cities to Portland.

Unlike the trip to Archangel, a city near the Arctic Circle, the Shinagawa trip does not come at a time of rising political tensions between nations. But the trip to Archangel reinforced bonds between the two cities, Suslovic said, and Brennan expects the same from the week in Japan.

He said he will pay particular interest to public education in the city, including a tour of schools. Brennan added he is also interested in public transportation and what could be applied to Portland.

“There are any number of aspects, educational and cultural,” he said.

While the basis for the trip may not be purely economic, Brennan said he would like to show his hosts how Portland is diversifying with both a strong buy-local movement of 450 businesses, and the global aspects of an expanding container-ship business and legal services.

“We are looking to build an economy not as subject to the ups and downs of national and state economy,” Brennan said.

Shinagawa, with an area of about nine square miles, is similar to Portland because of its waterfront. But its population is about 25 percent of the U.S. Census estimate of Maine’s 2013 population of 1.32 million and larger than the area spanning Lewiston and Auburn to Biddeford.

According to the city website, the link between the cities predates the 30-year sister-city relationship: Portland native Dr. Edward Sylvester Morse studied shell mounds and marine life there about 140 years ago. The city is now home to the Morse Museum, displaying archaeological artifacts found by Morse and his Japanese students.

Brennan said he hopes to convey the importance of global relationships.

“The legacy of different cultures conveys what is possible in the world,” the mayor said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.