BY RYAN WELLICOME
A delegation of officials, citizens and students from Lacombe’s twin town of Rikubetsu, Japan are arriving for a four day visit to Lacombe on Sept. 17th to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the two towns’ twinning.
The annual delegation of 13 students and four chaperones will be accompanied by Rikubetsu Mayor Hidetaka Nojiri, Vice Chairman of Rikubetsu Town Council Manabu Honda and three of the town’s citizens.
Linda Henderson, secretary of the Lacombe and Distric Rikubetsu Friendship Society, said the group is looking forward to hosting this year’s expanded delegation. “We are very excited. We haven’t had a mayor visit for quite a number of years,” she said. “We’ve never met (Nojiri) before so that makes it exciting.”
The last visit in which Rikubetsu’s then-current mayor had attended was in June of 2006, accompanied by three council members and one citizen.
In April, City council approved the decision to amend the City’s entrance signs to include the phrase, “Proud sister city of Rikubetsu, Japan since 1986,” in recognition of the milestone.
In addition, Consul-General Kunihiko Tanabe will be making an appearance from the Consulate-General of Japan in Calgary for the festivities.
According to Henderson, the delegation will be visiting Calgary, Banff, Jasper and Edmonton before they arrive in Lacombe. A four day itinerary is planned for the delegation that includes a 30th anniversary banquet, a ribbon cutting ceremony for Lacombe’s new entrance signs and a trip to the Telus World of Science in Edmonton.
Henderson believes the annual visits and culture exchange are important and of great benefit to the students of both countries. She expressed that these opportunities don’t come often. “This is maybe a once in a lifetime.”
She said the Japanese students bring gifts in the form of food and games to share with their hosts. “In Japan, gift giving is a very important part of social life so they come here bearing many gifts,” she said. “They, quite often, will bring Japanese treats for the host families.”
For the duration of their visit, students will stay with families of Lacombian eighth graders.
The annual delegation is made up of exclusively Grade 8 students and they are told of the visits as early as Grade 1.
“They know from the time they start school that this opportunity will be available to them when they reach Grade 8,” said Henderson.
A delegation has visited Lacombe almost every year since 1984, postponing twice due to the Sept. 11th, 2001 attacks on the United States and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The Lacombe and District Rikubetsu Friendship Society, formed in 1991, oversees the annual visits of the delegation. The two towns were twinned in July of 1986.
Rikubetsu has a population of approximately 2,800 and is located in the Ashoro District of the Tokachi Subprefecture on Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido. The region is one of Japan’s coldest, with the average lows in January and February reaching -20C and an average yearly snowfall of 420cm.