It is a friendship between communities half a world apart that has endured for more than a quarter century.
The City of Lacombe and its sister town Rikubetsu are belatedly celebrating their 25th anniversary of their twinning this year.
A delegation of eight Lacombe residents and municipal representatives have just returned from a friendship visit planned last year, but was postponed when a tsunami devastated Japan.
Jerry Holyoak and 14-year-old daughter Zoe returned on Friday from a nearly two-week visit to Rikubetsu, where they lived with their host families.
“It was a once in a lifetime kind of thing,” said Jerry.
“It was really quite interesting.”
After landing, they spent a couple of nights in Sapporo, the biggest city on Japan’s northern island Hokkaido and then took a five-hour bus ride to their host community, a town of about 2,700.
Much has changed in Lacombe since the communities twinned 26 years ago. They were about the same size then. Now Lacombe has gone from town to city and quadrupled in population.
Holyoak said the agriculture-based community was similar in many ways to rural Alberta.
What stood out most was the welcoming nature of their hosts.
“The generosity of the people that were there was amazing,” he said. “They were very giving in all aspects.”
The Canadian visitors were invited to a summer festival with tents offering food and games and other activities and were given tours of the area.
Adapting to Japanese food was no problem at all.
“The food was really good,” he said. “It was real home cooking.
“We’d get up in the morning the spread that was laid out for was quite incredible. Six or seven or eight different dishes to choose from.”
Holyoak said making the connection with a distant community provides insight into how other cultures relate to each other and go about their lives.
Rikubetsu residents showed they clearly treasure their friendship with Lacombe.
Every year a delegation of students and chaperones visit the Central Alberta city. About 400 have visited over the years and about 80 Lacombe residents have the trip to Japan.
Other Lacombe ambassadors on the recent trip were Coun. Grant Creasey and his wife Wendy, Jon and Quinn Meadus, and Bill and Brenda Jackson.