Celebrating AAPI: Q&A with Concord Ambassadors

For Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we take a closer look at the Concord Ambassadors.

What is Concord Ambassadors all about and how did you start? 

Concord Ambassadors is non-profit, charitable organization dedicated to promoting mutual exchanges in education, culture, social affairs and economics, as well as personal & business relationships between “Sister Cities” Concord, California and Kitakami, Japan. 

The partnership began in the 1970s when Court Kirkeeng of Concord and Zenji Katagata of Kitakami met at an international telecommunications conference and came up with the idea for a Sister City affiliation. The two not only became the founders of the program, but lifelong friends as well.  

With the help of city leaders and citizens, including members of Concord’s Diablo Japanese American Club, the Sister City partnership was officially established on October 26, 1974. Concord Mayor Richard Holmes and Kitakami Mayor Goro Saito signed the affiliation proclamations in Concord at the official celebration attended by 30 ambassadors from Japan. 

For nearly 48 years there has been a steady flow of visitors between Concord and Kitakami enjoying home stay visits and cultural exchanges. We stay active in the community and on social media. You can visit our website at Concord Ambassadors and follow us on our Facebook and Instagram pages. 

People still talk about a huge event in 2014 put on by Concord Ambassadors that featured thousands of paper cranes. Tell us about that event. 

On March 11th, 2011, a 9.0 earthquake struck the Pacific Ocean off the northern coast of Japan, lasting six minutes. The resulting tsunami struck the Iwate coast, just 45 miles from Kitakami. The massive waves reached heights up to 133 feet with speeds of up to 435mph, and traveled as far as six miles inland. The catastrophic events resulted in widespread devastation with nearly 16 thousand deaths and more than 2000 missing.  

The Concord Ambassadors and the City of Concord held a candlelight vigil at Todos Santos Plaza on March 31, 2011, in support of our friends in Kitakami and to raise funds for relief efforts in Japan.  

An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds 1,000 cranes will be granted a wish, such as a long life or recovery from illness or injury. Concord Ambassadors asked attendees to bring or create an origami crane along with their donation, with the goal of collecting 1,000 paper cranes. The community responded and over the next 30 days that number grew to more than 13,000 cranes in honor of our friends in Japan.  

The cranes were used by artist Sean Olson to create the Rainbow Bridge Sculpture, which became the centerpiece of the Sister City 40th Anniversary celebration in October 2014. Concord Ambassador Cranes

What future plans, events or partnerships we can look forward to? 

Concord Ambassadors are excited to be a part of the Creative Concord murals project in June that will include a Japanese inspired design, plus a new craft beer collaboration from Epidemic Ales and a Kitakami brewery! 

We are also currently working with the City of Concord to plan for the 50th Anniversary of Friendship event in 2024. Nearly 100 of our friends from Kitakami will travel here to attend the four-day celebration. It is our goal to provide our visitors with an experience that they will never forget and we look forward to getting the whole community involved. 

The Amabassadors continue to support and volunteer at the local Japanese language and cultural school Diablo Nippongo Gakuen and look forward to their annual Summer Festival taking place in person this year on July 30-31. For more information visit the Diablo JA Club website. 

These are just a few of the things of the many we’re working on right now. For more information, visit our website at www.concordambassadors.org

 What does AAPI Month mean to you? 

AAPI Month is a time to recognize the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In Concord, we have a special interest due to our relationship with Kitakami.  

As previously mentioned, in 2024 we will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of our Sister City friendship. Then in 2026, we will be celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Diablo Japanese American Club and the Japanese American Religious and Cultural Center (JARCC). The center is known for its distinctive building on Treat Blvd. and annual Japanese Summer Festival. 

Through both the Sister City program and the Japanese American Club, there has long been a wonderful interplay of people and culture in Concord. AAPI month is both an observance and a springboard for activity that goes on all year long here in our city and across the Pacific. 

In front of the Concord Japanese Garden
Constructing the cranes from the 2014 Earthquake & Tsunami Virgil
Constructing the cranes from the 2014 Earthquake & Tsunami Virgil
Welcome to Concord sign
Welcome to Kitakami

Visit Concord Ambassadors website to learn more about the history of their program and Sister City of Kitakami, Japan.

Website: Concordambassadors.org

Email: concordambassadors@gmail.com

Stay up to date and find Concord Ambassadors online on Facebook and Instagram.