I recently had the pleasure to visit Japan to commemorate the 40th year of our sister city relationship with the Town of Ikeda.
I visited Nagano, Japan just before the 1998 Olympics for a hockey exchange and still remember that experience fondly. Experiencing different cultures enriches our perspectives and helps create more appreciation for what we have here in Penticton.
Tokyo was our first stop on the way to Ikeda and it was sensory overload with all the people, lights and activity. I was amazed by their transit system. Despite very few garbage cans Japan is very clean, and was also very busy, but everyone was very polite and respectful. I was also surprised by the many trees lining the downtown streets and boulevards. Many sidewalks featured mini gardens which were both decorative and artistic and provided some relief amongst the hustle and bustle.
When you think of Japan many people envision the metropolis of Tokyo, but as I flew to Ikeda I noticed vast green farmland nestled in valleys amongst beautiful mountain peaks still covered with snow. Ikeda has a similar climate to Penticton and is home to only 7,000 people. The main industry is agriculture and the town supplies many regions of Japan with the products they grow.
We were greeted at the airport by 15 people and when we arrived at city hall over 50 were on hand with Canadian flags and welcome signs. The Japanese are very gracious hosts and we got to witness traditional customs, daily activities, and authentic cultural experiences. It was very humbling to be welcomed into their homes, have friendships fostered, and be treated like royalty. We spent a few days in Ikeda and I was surprised to learn that the town has operated its own winery for over 50 years and that the area also has several sawmills, and a vast array of solar panels. Everyone we encountered in our tour went to great levels to ensure our visit was a success.
Sisterhood is all about relationship building and sharing experiences together. Forty years is a long time to be in a relationship, so I was honoured to be part of that celebration. The question for the future is how should we rejuvenate or re-frame our relationship? It is about 12 hours and two flights to get from Vancouver to Ikeda so it takes a long time and can be expensive. Our school district has a sister city student exchange program every three years. Cultural and educational experiences are valuable tools to enrich our lives, and while it is great to have our younger generation take part, I hope to see more adults taking part and experiencing the culture, history and friendships the sister city brings.
The Japanese gardens behind the art gallery on Okanagan Lake is perhaps the best legacy of the sister city relationship, and is an iconic spot for relaxing and to take some photos.
The city is not the driving force behind the sister city relationship, so we need new and younger members to ensure it continues for another 40 years. If you have an interest in Japanese culture I invite you to join the sister city society. You can learn more about the organization through their website at http://www.pentictonikeda.org/
Most people think of a sister city relationship as an economic or trade partnership; and while there might be some agricultural opportunities, it is the cultural and educational experiences that provide the most benefit.
I first visited Japan 20 years ago and I hope I don’t have to wait another 20 years before I go back again.