The Sister City concept was initiated by President Dwight Eisenhower on September 12, 1956 in Washington D.C. and has been supported by each U. S. President since then as important to the development of people-to-people understanding and international education. At present, there are over 1000 U. S. cities that have about 1700 formal Sister Cities throughout the world. U. S. Presidents have given strong support to the Sister City Program, most recently through challenge grants for international youth exchange.
Michigan's Sister State agreement was signed by Governor George Romney and Shiga's Governor Kinichiro Nozaki on November 14, 1968 in Lansing. The text of the agreement and those of the Sister City agreements that followed include "... will promote interchange in various fields of activities with the object of deepening mutual understanding and working together to bring about mutual happiness and prosperity," and "...this affiliation will unite the people... in everlasting bonds of friendship and promote understanding of the people of the world..." Birmingham's Sister City agreement with Ritto, Shiga, Japan was signed on April 12, 1976.
One of the key components of these Sister City relationships are the annual Goodwill Missions, which offer opportunities for Michigan and Shiga residents to deepen friendships and cultural understanding between our sister-states. These trips are a truly unique cultural experience and delegates and their host families often become lifelong friends.
During the summer or fall of odd-numbered years, a delegation of Michigan community members enjoys a ten-day Goodwill Mission to Shiga, including home-stay experiences with Shiga families. All residents of Michigan are welcome to participate. Those under 18 years of age must be accompanied by an adult. The governor of Michigan names a representative to head the Goodwill Delegation traveling to Shiga. During the summer or fall of even-numbered years, Michigan families host guests from Shiga for about five days during the Goodwill Mission to Michigan.