It all started in 1990 when the high schools of Tono, Iwate, Japan and the Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences (CSAS) in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA were paired by School Partners Abroad to establish an exchange program.
Near the end of every Japanese school year, a delegation of Tono high-school students visited Chattanooga, and reciprocally, a delegation from CSAS visited Tono every summer. The city of Tono embraced this exchange and organized a delegation of junior high school students to visit CSAS and the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts (CSLA) a few weeks before the high school students.
The idea is simple, but the stories and lives that have been positively affected by this program are profound. Now, 25 years into a vibrant and successful program, the exchange is known to those involved as an invaluable asset and experience.
However, the program has not lasted without its fair share of adversity. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack was one catalyst of trouble, causing students’ families in both cities to reconsider sending their children on an international flight during a time of uncertainty for air travel safety. Things had finally returned to normal when another disaster struck: the March 11, 2011 earthquake & tsunami that severely affected Tono and the surrounding Tohoku region of Japan. As a result, the high school exchange program was suspended and is currently in the process of restarting.
Even through trying times, the friendship between citizens of Chattanooga and Tono has kept an important relationship going. With this background, interested parties from both cities came together to form what are now joint friendship committees: Chattanooga-Tono (based in Chattanooga) and Tono-Chattanooga (based in Tono).