Big surprises in twin city

Hiroyuki Abe said he knew Canada was going to be beautiful, but the Alberta landscape still left him astonished — as did a trip to a Lacombe grocery store.

Sugano Yu Ya

Sugano Yu Ya

Hiroyuki Abe said he knew Canada was going to be beautiful, but the Alberta landscape still left him astonished — as did a trip to a Lacombe grocery store.

“Everything is big. Snack bags, milk, everything is huge,” the 13-year-old from Rikubetsu, Japan said through a translator on Monday.

Abe is part of a delegation from Japan that is in Lacombe this week to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the twinning of the two cities.

The Grade 8 student said he was looking forward to learning about Canadian culture and practicing the English skills he just started learning in school last year.

And the international visitors will provide just as much insight into Japanese culture during their short trip to Central Alberta, said Kelly Holyoak, president of the Lacombe and District Rikubetsu Friendship Society.

“I think it’s a wonderful way for us to experience another culture without leaving home,” she said.

“These kids and chaperones bring to us a lot of culture in the gifts that they bring, in the entertainment that they provide us.”

The society was established in 1991 to continue fostering a connection between the sister cities, a relationship established in July 1986 after former Rikubetsu mayor Minoru Sugita met former Lacombe mayor Charles Budd in the Alberta community to sign a formal agreement.

The first group of Rikubetsu junior high school students visited Lacombe in January 1993 and a delegation has arrived every September ever since.

This year, 15 Grade 8 and Grade 9 students and three chaperones made the trip. They arrived on Saturday and fly home Wednesday.

Lacombe sent delegations to Rikubetsu in 1994, 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2004.

A local group of about 20 was planning to visit in July. Plane tickets were booked just the day before a powerful earthquake and tsunami hit the East Asia country in March, heavily damaging a nuclear plant that released radiation.

Holyoak said the trip was postponed until the summer of 2012 as a precaution even though Rikubetsu’s location on the island north of mainland Japan is far from the areas damaged by the natural disasters.

The Japanese guests, local host families and city representatives gathered in Bruns Pond Park in Lacombe on Monday for the unveiling of a torii built to commemorate the long-standing relationship.

A torii is a traditional Japanese gate most commonly found at the entrance of a Shinto shrine to symbolize the transition into nature’s landscape. The iron structure was welded by Lacombe Composite High School teacher Brent Chalmers.

“I think it’s a cultural exchange that we share with them,” said Lacombe Mayor Steve Christie, who hosted a Rikubetsu guest last year.

“Bringing them over here and seeing them so excited about our culture, and when our delegations go there and learn about their culture, in this world of multiculturalism it just adds to the depth of Lacombe.”

The delegation will go to Drumheller today, where they will tour the Royal Tyrrell Museum and the hoodoos.

Anyone interested in joining the Lacombe delegation in Rikubetsu next summer or being a host family can call Kelly Holyoak at 403-782-9932 for more information.

— copyright Red Deer Advocate