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The function of this committee is to actively support the Sister City Program of Sister Cities International and seek to establish a closer more lasting relationship with the City of Higashimurayama, Japan.

Membership Information

The City Council appoints 9 members of which the Mayor and one Councilmember are appointed as ex-officio members, the remaining 7 members are appointed for overlapping three-year terms; said members are to serve upon this committee without compensation. Residency is required, but committee members may also serve on other boards.

Current members:
  • Mayor Rory Rowland
  • Cassy Pallo (Chair), term expires May 1, 2026
  • Dustin Henrich (Vice Chair), term expires May 1, 2024
  • Kristy DeMeyer (Treasurer), term expires May 1, 2025
  • Katie Gall (Secretary), term expires May 1, 2024
  • Jeannae Segura Brown (Historian), term expires May 1, 2026
  • Danijela Nenadic, term expires May 1, 2026
  • Chad Whisenunt, term expires May 1, 2024
  • Cori Tharp, term expires May 1, 2026

History of the Sister City Committee

On January 26, 1978, a charter signed by Mayor Richard A. King and Mayor Retji Kumaki established a Sister City relationship between Independence and Higashimurayama. One month later the first adult visitors from Japan arrived in Independence for a homestay. In August 1980, Lana White led the first group of Independence citizens on a tour of Japan and homestay in Higashimurayama.

The first exchange of students from Higashimurayama arrived in Independence on July 29, 1979, for a two-week home stay. Each year thereafter a student group with one or more adult leaders has visited Independence.

The Independence student exchange to Higashimurayama began in the Spring of 1981 when a group of six students went to Higashimurayama. Each year since that date the Japanese Sister City Commission has sponsored an exchange of students with Higashimurayama. In addition, the two sister cities have sponsored adult exchanges including homestays.

Before the tour begins, students attend classes on the Japanese language, food, culture, and traditions in preparation for the homestay.

Overview of Higashimurayama, Japan

To the west of Tokyo, there is a city very similar in size to Independence, MO. The city's past is not of wagon trains or famous presidents but in 1889 several villages merged to form Higashimurayama Village. Higashimurayama is known for the "Shofukuji" which is on the national treasure list of Japan and is a temple that is supposed to house 1000 Jizo Buddhist deities. Higashimurayama is also known for the Kitayama Iris Park where a vast landscape of flowers is grown and enjoyed.

Programs and efforts of the Committee

In 1984, the Higashimurayama Friendship Club presented Independence with a Japanese Garden and provided eight gardeners to supervise construction. With the help of the Independence Park Department, individual and corporate gifts, the garden was built at the southeast corner of City Hall. In 1985 Mayor Ichikawa, Mayor Potts, and citizens from both cities dedicated the Garden to lasting friendship and enduring peace.

On January 20, 2007, a special rededication ceremony was held at the City Japanese Garden. On a day very similar, almost thirty years prior, the Sister City relationship became official. It was an awesome feat to convince people that they could become family with the hometown of President Harry Truman and the vision of Lana White, the persistence of Carolyn Weeks, and the willpower of Dick King the cities united.

The Japanese garden at the southeast corner of Independence City Hall was donated to Sister City to honor those founding men and women from both Independence and Higashimurayama. Over the years a plaque had been damaged and a new stone replaced it in commemoration of the completion of the Japanese garden and is engraved with two languages.

The rededication was to officially rename the former Friendship Garden in memory of former Mayor Reiji Kumaki and to honor the two public servants who acted to establish the very special sister city relationship that exists between Higashimurayama City and Independence.

The garden was trimmed by Koji Morimoto in preparation for this important time when co-founder, Dick King, had passed away and the 30th Anniversary was quickly approaching.

In 2008, Alumni Student Emily Collins founded the Japanese Sister City of another JSCC Friend, Buck Buchan, who directed a garden clean-up day. Citizens of the community are welcome to participate in the Garden Day each October. So many years of history have stood between the two cities, the founders of the commission, and the people who volunteered their time to make it a very strong and loving relationship. The Sister City Commission hopes that the park brings beauty and peace to those that visit it.

Independence High School & College Students have a travel opportunity for a two-week home-stay in Japan.

American Ambassadors

Travel Opportunity to be a Student Ambassador to our Sister City Higashimurayama

You Are Invited to apply to the City of Independence’s unique program for cultural exchange. If you like to meet new people, are interested in foreign cultures, and would like to be a part of a worldwide association promoting peace and understanding then please apply. Up to ten students will be chosen as Student Ambassadors to represent Independence in our Sister City, Higashimurayama!


Candidates must be residents of Independence, going to Truman, Chrisman, Van Horn, or Fort Osage High Schools; or going to a private school, or are home-schooled students. Candidates may also be college students going to a local college or attending an out-of-town college if their parents live in Independence. The age requirements are 15 years old or having completed their freshman year of high school up to 22 years of age. Students must uphold high personal standards of conduct and earn the recommendation of school officials.

Applications for the upcoming delegation will be accepted at the beginning of the school year and collected until the interview process begins. Students will have time to prepare for the trip by attending classes to learn about society and language. The escort and numerous guest speakers will assist in preparing the group for the trip.

Opportunities in Japan

When in Japan the Student Ambassadors will meet with the Mayor of Higashimurayama, City Council, School board, and other city officials. They will tour historical and present-day tourist locations, and have hands-on activities from the Japanese culture. Each student will live with a host family and experience real Japanese life. During this time the students will visit the Elementary Sister City School and the Junior High Sister School, as well as meet with and get to know the Japanese Student Ambassadors. For pictures of some of these events go to our photo album page.

By the end of the experience, American students will have not only been able to visit Japan, but they will have a Japanese family, feel a part of the community, and have friends for a lifetime. The same opportunity is given to the ten Japanese Student Ambassadors and these two groups will have been able to spend many weeks together between the exchange programs. Students are not required to host a Japanese student but it is available and highly suggested for a full experience.

American Host Families

Be a Host Family, Host a Sister City Student from Higashimurayama

Families, preferably with teenagers at home, can host one of the Higashimurayama Students for their stay in Independence. Families will not only give them a place to sleep and live while they are here but also share their daily lives with them. Families are given time over a weekend to take their students to special events the family enjoys as well as attend the provided potlucks, pool parties, and events for the whole group that are hosting Higashimurayama students.

A full schedule is provided for the Higashimurayama during the day and the student only needs to be dropped off and picked up at specific locations, which often is the Sermon Center. Visiting Students tour Independence's historic sites, Fire and Police Stations, and schools as well as other planned events such as a trip to the Plaza or a tour of the Harley Davidson factory. Worlds of Fun, Baseball, water parks, and boating are also planned into their days, and the Sister City Commission takes care of these activities for the host families.

Higashimurayama Student Host Families

Host families can share home life, holidays, and favorite sites in the Kansas City area that are not covered by the Sister City Commission and make sure the student gets to see things that are in their particular interest. It is a very rewarding time and learning experience and a wonderful time your family will never forget. Many families stay in contact with their host students for years to come.

Glendale Elementary School

Glendale Elementary School established a cultural exchange program with Megurita Elementary School in Higashimurayama in 1988. Glendale School sponsors a Japanese Culture Club to promote this relationship.

The mission of the Glendale Japanese Club is to give our Glendale 4th and 5th graders an opportunity to learn about Japan. We have many cultural lessons and activities such as ikebana, origami, sushi tasting, tea ceremony, and many others. Recently we have added drumming, Kempo, and small plays of Japanese children's stories. Glendale Japanese Club performs several places all over the city. Our most recent performances were at the KC Comets Game, The Jackson County Cultural Arts Commission's Showcase of Arts, and at the KC Japan Fest at JCCC.

Glendale Japanese Club is unique to the Independence School District because it is the only elementary school with the distinction of a Sister School in our sister city of Higashimurayama. We have exchanged gifts, emails and letters with Megurita Elementary for over 15 years. Last year we were fortunate to have the principal of Megurita, Mrs. Ishida, come to Glendale for a day. She brought with her a beautiful tapestry that was made by students at Megurita. Many of our Glendale Japanese Club members are able to visit Megurita Elementary when they reach high school. This is a very special experience for our students. They are truly visiting old friends!

Glendale Elementary houses many beautiful Japanese artifacts including quilts, dolls, and clothing. Please come visit us anytime! We're very proud of our club.

Join us at the annual Japan Festival at Johnson Community College in September and see the Sister City School perform. Visit the festival's website for more details.

Glendale Japanese Club
Jeannae Segura Brown (sponsor)
Glendale Elementary School
2611 Lee's Summit Road
Independence, MO 64055

Pioneer Ridge Middle School

Pioneer Ridge Middle School has established a cultural exchange program with a Junior High School in Higashimurayama in the 30th Anniversary year of 2008. Both schools sponsor a Japanese Culture Club to promote this relationship. It costs $55 to join the club at Pioneer Ridge, as an after-school sponsored program.

The mission of Pioneer Ridge Japanese Club, which is still being drawn up, will be to give our Junior High School students an opportunity to learn about Japan, and the Japanese students in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades will be able to learn about America. This additional program in Independence, as well as in Japan, will help to offer opportunities to another age group.

Glendale Elementary Students who participate in the Japanese Club perform in Independence as well as in other areas of the Metropolitan area of Kansas City because the program is run by the elementary music teacher. The Junior High group will not repeat or be exactly like the elementary program. It will be geared toward an older age group.

Japanese Clubs, started by Mrs. Sue Hammett over 20 years ago, are unique to the Independence School District because these schools are the only elementary and middle schools with the distinction of Sister Schools in our Sister City of Higashimurayama. Jeannae Segura-Brown, the head of the Glendale Sister School has already been to Megurita Elementary and Alreda Adams, the head of the new Pioneer Ridge Sister School, will meet with Hirom Tanuguchii in Japan this summer. Alreda and Hirom will draw up their Mission Statement, set goals and most of all bond together in their sister city endeavors.

Many of our Glendale Japanese Club members will be able to continue their interest in Japan when they advance to middle school at Pioneer Ridge and perhaps they will be able to visit the sister schools when they reach high school. The Japanese Sister City sends ten "high school-to-college age" students to Japan each year. This is a very special experience for our sister school students. They are truly visiting old friends!

Join both sister schools, Glendale and Pioneer Ridge, at the annual Independence Cherry Blossom Festival. The day is packed full of Japanese interests such as anime, bonsai, Ikebana, martial arts, and Japanese entertainment. Japanese food will be served and Japanese items will be for sale.

Pioneer Ridge Japanese Club

Alreda Adams (sponsor)
Pioneer Ridge School
1656 South Speck Road
Independence, MO 64055