Blair Lancaster Attends Itabashi Japan as Deputy Mayor
The City of Burlington and Itabashi Japan 25 Year Twinning Celebrations
In the spring of this year, the City of Burlington and the City of Itabashi Japan celebrated their 25th year of their twinning agreement. As the representative on the City of Burlington`s Mundialization Citizens committee I was designated to travel to Itabashi on behalf of the City of Burlington. The Mundialization Committee is responsible for keeping our twinning relationship with Itabashi going, during and in between visits, as official visits only occur every five years. The Mayor would have normally attended Itabashi as a delegate, but due to a conflict it was impossible for him to attend this year. Instead he bestowed the honour of Deputy Mayor to me, an honour I will never forget.
General Manager Scott Stewart also joined the delegation which was for four days and following our visit, The Mayor of Itabashi and his delegation celebrated with us in Burlington during the Sound of Music Festival. In total between the officials and citizen delegates we each had a group of about 24 people participate in each visit.
Why do we have a twinning relationship?
The purpose of a twinning agreement with another country is to build relationships between people and build bridges of understanding between countries and cultures. If we are able to truly understand another`s culture we will build trust that could create opportunities for friendships, economic development, learning`s from each other and potentially prevent international conflicts. The visits and exchanges over 25 years between Burlington and Japan have built trust and friendships between our countries that have seeded many opportunities and benefits. Our delegation met business owners and spoke of the opportunities for growth in Burlington, we also met with health care providers and shared information regarding support and risk reduction for women affected by Breast Cancer.
On behalf of our delegation I can personally say that we were changed as a result of this experience. The Japanese people are humble, hardworking, gracious, caring and appreciative. They have grown from their experiences as a country and are determined to share those learning`s with others. I have learned to appreciate many new things as a result of my visit including the significance of a Japanese tea ceremony, block painting, the importance of the kimono and Japanese cuisine.
We dressed as Japanese Samurai Warriors and I sparred with Mayor Sakamoto, ate a whole crab (shell and all), wore a Kimono and danced a traditional Japanese dance, attended a Japanese festival celebration, took a trip on the bullet train, touched the snow cap on Fiji, boiled an egg that turned black in a hot mineral spring, bathed, ate and slept the traditional Japanese way (even though my back may never recover), enjoyed many beautiful Japanese gardens and temples, met a wonderful group of women who had started a support group for women with breast cancer, visited a daycare with about 500 little children (they identified them by different coloured hats), explored a bonsai tree farm that also serves as an earthquake safe zone, planted a sugar maple at the Itabashi City Hall and yes I even enjoyed a little Saki!
After an event in Japan, the host announces when the event is over by a series of clapping. Everyone joins in on the clapping and no one leaves before the host is finished and no one lingers after. Your hosts then wave you off until you are completely out of sight.
In Japan everything you eat is mildly sweet, salty or spiced. The food was very different at times from our Canadian cuisine. Sweets are often made of soy beans or seaweed and everything is served in small portions. Even drinks, snacks and chocolate bars are half the size of ours. A lesson to be learned as they are so slim and petite! I had never eaten a green tea Kit Kat chocolate bar or wasabi ice cream, both were fun and delicious.
It was astounding to see both the traditional and the modernization of Japanese cities like Tokyo.
Our visit to Hiroshima left the biggest impression on our group and it was then that I felt I truly understood the beliefs and behavior of the Japanese people of today, who are striving to make our world a better place. The indescribable devastation that the people of Japan faced after the bombing of Hiroshima caused them to reflect and learn. They now believe it is their mission to share these learning`s with the world in order to prevent a nuclear bomb from ever being dropped again. The Japanese people have taken responsibility for what happened and have vowed to do everything in their means, to prevent it from happening again.
They believe that our twinning relationship with Itabashi and other cities that Japan has twinned with around the world, will help to contribute to this cause. After my visit to Japan, I believe they could very well be right.
During Itabashi`s visit to Burlington we arranged many activities that reflect our culture. They enjoyed the Sound of Music Festival including a spectacular fireworks show in their honour. We attended the teen tour band and the MM Robinson Band drum off which was spectacular. They visited our Performing Art Center, The Burlington Art Gallery and the Royal Botanical Gardens. Joseph Brant Hospital provided a tour of our Breast Screening Clinic and plans for our new hospital. We took them on a tour of our rural area, visited a school, we took some members of the delegation to Niagara Falls, celebrated with a wishing tree at Tansley Woods near the Itabashi Bridge and arranged for traditional Canadian food, like chicken wings, ribs and both a roast beef and turkey dinner and we arranged for some Maple fudge!
When Mayor Sakamoto said good bye he told me that he would never forget his visit to Burlington, I also feel the relationship with Itabashi Japan is a very special one that will stand the test of time. A group of us that had been on the trip to Japan decided to meet the Japanese delegation in the lobby of the hotel for a send- off or wave off, just as the Japanese had done for us in Japan. The funny part was that as the bus disappeared with us waving, we realized they had to turn around and come back. So there we were waiting and waving, making such a spectacle that cars honked and a whole bunch of residents joined us just for fun!
The wave off was a wonderful expression of our lessons learned and cultural exchange in Japan and our next exchange to Japan will be in five years. Burlington also has a twinning relationship with Apeldoorn in the Netherlands.