Soon after Admiral Perry opened the doors to Japan in the 1850’s, the new Emperor Meiji instituted a bold plan to Westernize and modernize Japan. Many New Englanders were enlisted to help develop its northernmost island of Hokkaido, including Dr. William Clark, then President of Massachusetts Agricultural College, now the University of Massachusetts. In 1876, Dr. Clark went to Hokkaido with three graduate students, including William Wheeler from Concord, to assist in the founding of what is now Hokkaido University. Their mission was to introduce northern agriculture and dairy farming. Wheeler took over the administration of the college for three years after Clark returned to Massachusetts. Wheeler’s achievements were acknowledged by the Emperor with the singular honor of the Fifth Order of the Rising Sun.
On returning to Concord, Wheeler became a major contributor to Concord through his many engineering projects and years of public service. He built Concord’s water and sewer systems, including the water works at Sandy Pond, Nashawtuc Hill, Annursnac Hill and Nagog Pond. He was “Concord’s foremost citizen,” serving fifty-one years on Town committees and elected positions such as the Water Commission, School Committee, Board of Health, Light Board, Free Public Library, Town Donations and Moderator. He was also a Trustee of the University of Massachusetts from 1880 to 1929. In addition, he was responsible for bringing to Nashawtuc Hill its uniquely beautiful Japanese trees that were planted at his home there called Maru-Yama Kwan (Round-Hill House) after his time in Hokkaido.
The relationship between Hokkaido University and the University of Massachusetts was rekindled in 1976 at the time of Hokkaido University’s Centennial. In 1990, Massachusetts formalized a sister state relationship with Hokkaido. After a five year courtship, Nanae Town and Concord established a sister city relationship. This was approved by a near unanimous vote by the 1997 Concord Town Meeting.
The Concord Public Schools and the Concord-Carlisle High School have had relationships with Nanae and its schools since 1994. The Thoreau, Willard, and Alcott Schools have affiliations with the Onuma, Togeshita, and Fujishiro Elementary Schools. The Concord Middle School hosted five students and a teacher each year from 1995-2002. The Concord-Carlisle High School has hosted students each fall since 1997 and the CCHS Concert Band went to Nanae in 1998, 2004, and 2007.