Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan this month is traveling to Bethlehem’s oldest and newest sister cities.
Callahan last week visited Tondabayashi, Japan, to celebrate Bethlehem’s 50-year relationship with the city. Later this month, he plans to travel to Corfu, Greece, to mark Bethlehem’s newest sister city relationship, formed in January.
The cost of the entire Greece trip is being paid by the Corfu government. Callahan’s plane ticket to Japan was funded with a $1,500 line item in the city budget for sister city activities while Tondabayashi paid for his accommodations and Callahan paid for his own meals.
Bethlehem’s other sister cities are Schwaebisch Gmuend, Germany, and Murska Sobota, Slovenia.
Many of the partnerships have roots in Bethlehem’s immigrant groups, but the Tondabayashi relationship started when a Lehigh University alumnus, the Rev. Kenneth Heim, became friends with a man from Tondabayashi while working in Tokyo. The two visited each other’s cities and encouraged friends to make similar visits and in 1964, the two cities entered a formal relationship.
Tondabayashi resident Yoshinaga Sakon, one of Japan’s outstanding landscape architects, built the garden and tea house outside Bethlehem’s library in 1971. A student-exchange program also was started that year, and 80 students from both countries have participated since.
On his recent trip, Callahan was accompanied by Ellen Bearn, chairwoman of the Bethlehem-Tondabayashi Sister City Commission, and three students who were previously involved in the exchange program.
“Here in Bethlehem, the Garden of Serenity, the tea house, and the cherry trees — all gifts of Tondabayashi — are a beautiful reminder of the family ties that bind our two sister cities,” Bearn said in a statement. “We treasure the 50 years of friendship.”