It was a short trip, but visitors to Lacombe have made fond memories here.
On the night of Sept. 23rd, the Lacombe and District Rikubetsu Friendship Society held a farewell potluck for the students and chaperones from Lacombe’s twin community of Rikubetsu, Japan.
The delegation from Rikubetsu arrived in Lacombe on Sept. 20th and left early the morning of Sept. 24th.
While the trip was very short, both the visitors and the families who hosted them will have long-lasting memories of the visit.
Among them is Twyla Dutz, who decided to host two of the Japanese visitors because of a special place Japan has in her heart.
Dutz said that she and her husband actually lived in Japan for a few years shortly after they were married in a community not far from Rikubetsu. After learning about the annual visit from Rikubetsu from a friend who had hosted previously, Dutz signed up to be a host family as well.
Because Dutz had lived in Japan, hosting the Japanese visitors was very special to her.
She described the experience as “natsukashi” a Japanese word meaning a fond remembrance, what Canadians might call nostalgia.
“What I loved is just having Japan (come) back to me,” said Dutz. “Because we were there and our hearts have always had Japan in them.”
Thirteen-year-old Rin Kambayashi, one of the students who stayed with Dutz, said that she wanted to come to Canada to study a different culture. She said that when she first arrived, the generosity and friendliness of Canadians took her a little bit by surprise.
“Canadian people are so kind,” said Kambayashi through an interpreter.
Yuko Sugawara, who served as interpreter for the delegation, actually visits Canada fairly often in her job as a tour escort.
She is actually returning to Canada with another group next month and had visited Lacombe in the past as well, serving as interpreter for last year’s delegation too. Sugawara said she was happy to return.
“I had very good experiences (last time I visited),” she said.
During their visit, the Rikubetsu delegation did many things as a group, like touring Lacombe and visiting the Royal Tyrell Museum outside Drumheller, but they also made time for fun and bonding with their host families.
Dutz said she and Kambayashi visited Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, went out for sushi, played mini-golf and of course, did some souvenir shopping.
When the delegation toured around Lacombe, one of the places that stuck out for Kambayashi was the group’s visit to the Lacombe YU-Turn Centre.
She said that such hang-outs don’t exist in her home.
“We don’t have that kind of place in Japan,” said Kambayashi, speaking through Sugawara.
Kambayashi said she very much enjoyed staying with her host family and her favourite activities with them including going luging at Canada Olympic Park and driving Dutz’s side-by-side quad.
She added that she now knows a little bit more about a different culture and has created a bond with her host family, making her trip a very worthwhile experience.
Cultural exchanges could be said to be the whole point of the annual visit from Rikubetsu.
Dutz said that this can go a long way to promoting tolerance and acceptance, something there isn’t always enough of in the world today.
“I think if we live in a culture where we don’t experience other cultures, what’s the point?” said Dutz.
Sugawara agreed, saying that is especially important for children to learn about other cultures while they are young and impressionable.
“It is important to experience other cultures, especially at an age like this,” said Sugawara gesturing to Kambayashi.
Kambayashi also attempted to bring some of her own culture with her to share with her host family in Lacombe.
She said she brought chopsticks to use with her host family and taught them some origami. Dutz added that they all even tried their hand at cooking some Japanese dishes together.
At the farewell supper, there was a short program where representatives of Lacombe made speeches and exchanged some gifts with the delegation.
Among the gifts presented to the visitors were personalized Lacombe hockey jerseys, one for each member of the delegation.