In 2005, the Marion Carnegie Library, with a $30,000 grant from the Illinois State Library, developed a Japanese resource collection to aid families transferred to the Marion Aisin Manufacturing plant. Thus began the Southern Illinois Japanese Friendship Program and the grant served as a spearhead to open Marion up to Japanese families associated with Aisin.
The partners at that time were Aisin Manufacturing, Marion Carnegie Library, City of Marion, Marion Chamber of Commerce, REDCO and the Marion Unit 2 Schools. This group thought that such a program might be beneficial to the long-term relations between Marion, Aisin, Japan and Illinois.
In 2006, a second grant allowed the library to expand its resource collection. Today, the library has over 1,000 books in Japanese, 150 books in English about Japan, 100 Japanese language DVDs and an extensive anime collection.
In 2007, the city sought a Sister City in the Japanese prefunct (prefecture) where Aisin is located. In 2008, The mayor of Kanie Town, Japan; school superintendent, and several city officials visited Aisin, an unofficial start becoming Sister Cities.
In 2009, the city began the official discussions with Kanie to establish a Sister City relationship. The following year, Kanie Town’s mayor, several Kanie Town city officials and 12 students visited Marion for the first “official visit” and on March 26, 2010, the cities of Marion, Illinois, and Kanie Town, Aichi Prefecture, Japan signed an agreement formally recognizing each other as Sister Cities.
From this point forward, the two Sister Cities have alternated their annual visits to each respective community. What started as a professional, cultural and educational relationship has now flourished into a real family partnership among all involved.
In 2019, when the Kanie delegation visited Marion, the cities celebrated the ninth anniversary of the partnership by placing a permanent Friendship Bench on the Marion Tower Square. The bench, constructed of 100% recycled plastic bottle caps, is inscribed with the Kanie and Marion city logos, as well as the words “Sister City Cultural Exchange” with arrows pointing East and West to symbolize a forever friendship across the 6,000 miles. Each time a Marion resident or visitor rests for a moment, they will be reminded of the strong bonds that tie our two communities together.
Marion Chamber of Commerce members interested in learning more about the Sister City relationship are urged to join the Sister City Committee. Please contact the Marion Chamber of Commerce for more information.