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San Carlos welcomes new sister city, seeks more
July 16, 2011, 01:09 AM By Michelle Durand, Daily Journal Staff
San Carlos has a new sister in the family -- a sister city to be exact.

And what could be more modern in international adoption than using the Internet to find the perfect match?

That's exactly what John Hoffmann, president of the San Carlos City Sister City Association, did to connect with Omura, Nagasaki, Japan.

The city had pulled out of Sister Cities International, an umbrella group that helps with international connections, because it wasn't providing the services desired for the dues, Hoffmann said.

Instead, he went to work researching cities of comparable size and asking consulates for suggestions. After rounding up about a dozen possibilities, the pool was winnowed down to the Japanese city whose five-term mayor, coincidentally, had an affinity for the Bay Area and was also seeking a sister city.

Omura has approximately 90,000 residents, a more manageable number than the larger cities considered, Hoffmann said.

The city was founded in 1942 and was largely destroyed by American bombing on Oct. 25, 1944. The construction of the Nagasaki airport helped its postwar recovery greatly.

Takashi Matsumoto, Omura's mayor, had spent a summer at Stanford University as a young man and said he preferred finding an American sister near the site of his fond memories.

Representatives from both cities officially opened arms last Tuesday, signing paperwork cementing the relationship and visiting San Carlos spots.

A highlight, surprisingly, was the library's back room.

"It might sound boring as hell but we have this German-made system that checks in books electronically. They had never seen this before and said they were going to get their own," Hoffmann said.

The Omura mayor and four others invited their San Carlos counterparts and any interested residents to their city next August as part of its 70th anniversary.

And with the ink barely dry on paperwork with Omura, Hoffman is already looking for another sibling in New England. This time he's turning to one of the original ways to meet people online -- Craigslist.

Think of it as "California city with small-town feel seeks same"

Hoffman wants a city where San Carlos residents can easily visit, with either an inexpensive flight or a drive as part of longer vacation.

One possibility has already fallen through, but Hoffman remains hopeful.

Although Omura is the city's newest global sibling, the Japanese locale is not its first.

In December, the city connected with Metepec, Mexico. Hoffmann and a Spanish-speaking resident headed south to sign paperwork and San Carlos hosted a senator and prominent businessman from Metepec.

Okatoks, Alberta, Canada, south of Calgary and the Canadian Rockies is another sister city.

The city established relationships with two others but Hoffmann said they have, for lack of a more elegant phrase, dropped dead.

A sister-city agreement with San Carlos, Nicaragua was more of a "giving relationship," Hoffmann said.

The cities might share a name but very little else in terms of infrastructure and technology. The Peninsula's San Carlos helped its jungle counterpart connect to the Internet, satellites and even basic printers. Most commerce is by ferry and the roads are so troubled travelers spend hours or days to go six miles, Hoffman said.

"They weren't able to reciprocate in any way, which is fine, but the relationship just dropped off," he said.

The break with Scandicci, a suburb of Florence in Italy, was more direct.

"It started out nicely but a couple years after the government elected was Communist they decided they didn't want anything to do with nasty capitalists," Hoffmann said.

Japan's capitalist leanings mean that will probably not be a problem with Omura, Hoffmann said.

Regardless, the goal with any sister city isn't necessarily to find a mirror image of San Carlos.

"It's a way for us to learn about others and for them to learn about us," he said.

Michelle Durand can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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