Tsutomu Watanabe, former mayor of Hanamaki, Japan, Hot Springs’ sister city, passed away yesterday in Hanamaki. Of the mayors serving Hanamaki during its 22-year sister city relationship with Hot Springs, Watanabe spent the most years nurturing, expanding and supporting the program. He visited Hot Springs a total of seven times, more than any other Hanamaki elected official, collaborating with former Hot Springs mayors Bob Mathis, Helen Selig and Mike Bush.
During Mayor Watanabe’s last visit to Hot Springs, at the 20th anniversary celebration of the Hot Springs-Hanamaki exchange program in 2013, he was presented with a special certificate for his major contributions to the program’s success.
“Mayor Watanabe was a distinctive leader whose influence and support significantly strengthened the Sister City Program,” said former Hot Springs Mayor Mike Bush. “We mourn his passing and offer our deepest condolences to his family, friends and associates in Hanamaki. At the same time, we celebrate his accomplishments. The foundation he laid during his tenure as mayor continues to change the lives of many people in both our cities. Our Sister City relationship will continue to endure as one of his most important legacies.”
Photo: Former mayors Mike Bush of Hot Springs, Arkansas and Tsutomu Watanabe of Hanamaki, Japan celebrate during a reception following the latter city’s merger ceremony, held in Hanamaki in 2006.