In honor of the 45th anniversary of its sister-city program with Toba, Japan, Santa Barbara is hosting delegates from the Japanese town to strengthen community bonds through cultural exchange.

The Toba City Delegation — consisting of Mayor Ken Kida, Toba City Council Chairman Norio Itakur and 14 Japanese business owners — will arrive today and stay through Saturday for a U.N. Day Celebration Dinner. Toba is the oldest of Santa Barbara’s seven sister-cities.

According to Linda Mathews, President of SB-Toba Sister City Organization, the sisterhood has impacted many families and individuals from the Japanese city.

“There is hardly a family in Toba that does not have a relationship with Santa Barbara,” Mathews said. “It is either through visiting as an adult, coming here as a chaperone for the exchange or they came as a student exchanger.”

Mathews also said the two cities’ governments have built a stronger relationship in recent years since Toba’s City Hall took control of the program.

“The City Hall of Toba has become much more involved in recent years with the sister city program,” Mathews said. “It was pretty much in private hands until recently. So the City Hall of Toba has taken quite a lead on it. So I am really excited to see what kind of a new direction the mayor of Toba might like to see this relationship take.”

The cities have formed a close bond throughout their 45-year sisterhood. According to Mathews, Toba has sent relief aid during emergency situations in Santa Barbara

“There were certain exchanges among professionals with policemen over here and firefighters over here and vice versa,” Mathews said. “When we had one of our disasters, earth quakes and fires, they sent some assistance they gathered money in Toba to send to us.”

In addition to supporting each other during crisis, Mathews said the sister-city organization offers youth from both areas a chance to travel across the world and stay with families for several weeks.

“We send four Santa Barbara Junior High or High School kids, they have to be between 13 to 15 years, every summer to Toba and Toba sends four of theirs from the same age; it is a family to family direct exchange. We pair them up girl-girl and boy-boy, and so the kids spend about 20 days together round trip with the Toba kids coming here for ten days and then the Santa Barbara kids go to Toba for 10 days,” Mathews said.

Japanese Studies professor Hiroko Sugawara said the program is important for the development of both cities.

“I do not know what kind of activities they do in the youth exchange program, but if it can inspire the young people to become more aware of the importance of wilderness protection, I think it is very beneficial to both cities’ future,” Sugawara said.