The term "sister cities" suggests a common quality, two places that share similar characteristics. And with Salt Lake City and Matsumoto, Japan, that is certainly the case.

On the cover of a brochure produced by the Shimin Times is a photo of Matsumoto. Craggy peaks, frosted with snow, serve as a backdrop for a populated valley. The sky is bright blue. Rivers run through the valley, as do major thoroughfares. Given the abundance of farmland, it could be a shot of Salt Lake City circa 1963.

This week, representatives from both cities have been meeting in Salt Lake City to discuss not only their kinship but their differences, ideals and goals for the new millennium. This year is the golden anniversary of the sister city relationship. And the Matsumoto media, along with its city leaders, spent several days getting reacquainted with its Utah ally. The last time they were here was in 1993 — the 35th anniversary of the partnership.

There is still much to be learned, on both sides.

In 1993, when the Matsumoto contingent came to town, one of the Japanese leaders made a little joke. In Japan, it seems, cities tend to be either "castle towns" (with a famous, ancient castle) or "temple towns" (with a famous ancient shrine). Matsumoto is a castle town. In fact, the reputation of its famous castle grows with each passing year. It will soon become a national monument.

"It's nice to be in Salt Lake City," the representative from Matsumoto said, "even though Salt Lake City is a 'temple town' and not a 'castle town."'

The Utahns present had no idea what he was talking about.

The goal of the sister city relationship is to open up the gates of information and exchanges so, in the future, Salt Lakers will be able to chuckle at such comments along with those visiting from Matsumoto.

There is a lot of spade work still left to be done. But this past week has proven to be another worthy — and successful — attempt to keep the relationship between the two cities alive and thriving.