By Trevor Busch
Visitors from the Land of the Rising Sun will soon be touring the community and everything else southern Alberta has to offer in mid-September.
Organized as part of the Town of Taber’s twinning relationship with Higashiomi City, Japan, a delegation from that area tours the region on a reciprocal basis every other year. Last year, the Town of Taber celebrated the 35th anniversary of the twinning arrangement with Higashiomi City, and sent a delegation to that city on an exchange in 2016. Taber entered into a twinning agreement with the Town of Notogawa in 1982. Eventually Notogawa was amalgamated into a larger urban unit, Higashiomi City, but the agreement continues.
In 1999, a non-profit society was formed to facilitate cross-cultural friendship and goodwill between the citizens of Taber and Notogawa, including student exchanges. The Taber-Notogawa Friendship Society was essentially given the responsibility for maintaining the twinning relationship with Notogawa.
“The first exchanges took place in the 1980s, when Taber was first twinned with them, and it was just delegations of town officials basically,” said Taber-Notogawa Friendship Society president Doug Emek. “The student exchanges started in the late 1990s, and continued for a while, every year we would send a group to Japan at the end of school, and they would send a group back in September or October. That was with Notogawa, and then when they amalgamated with several other towns there they had to decide how they were going to handle all their sister city relationships, and they couldn’t do every town every year. So we started every second year, and that’s where we’re at now.”
The delegation arrives in Calgary on Sept. 16, after which they will be spending a “free day” with their host families on Sept. 17. On Sept. 18, members of the group will be touring town facilities, including the Administration Building, D.A. Ferguson Middle School, Taber Public Library, Taber Police Station, the fire hall, and the Taber Aquafun Centre. The day will wrap up with a Welcome Party at the Heritage Inn at 6 p.m.
“Some years it has been only adults, but our preference is to try to have students come and students go back as well, from Taber,” said Emek. “They’ll be introduced to their host families, they’re all billeted with families — the students stay with families with students, and then the adults are going to different other families in the community. Sunday’s a free day, partly to be able to allow them to recover from jet lag, and it’s also really the only day that they can do something with their host family. Monday we’ll start with the kids going to school in the morning, and they will spend the day at D.A. Ferguson (Middle School) — which is Myers (High School) right now — with the junior high students. The students will go to school with their host family, and the adults will go to the school as well and have a tour, and then the adults will be touring town facilities all day.”
On Sept. 19, the group plans to travel to Waterton Lakes National Park, but this will be contingent on wildfire conditions that have recently been threatening the area.
Other locations are being weighed as possible alternatives should the park be closed.
“Hopefully we can go to Waterton, we’ll spend one day in the Lethbridge area, and another day in the Crowsnest Pass. We’ve been doing a little bit of work on that one, trying to have option ‘B’. It would be unfortunate, because they really do enjoy Waterton. We take them on the boat, and a highlight for them is often when we cross the border there, and they point out the cutline and where the border is. It will be disappointing if we can’t do it, but it is what it is,” said Emek.
On Sept. 20, the delegation will be touring Lethbridge, including the Galt Museum, Helen Schuler Coulee Centre, Park Place Mall, and the Corn Maze near Picture Butte. On Sept. 21, the group departs for the Crowsnest Pass to visit the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre and a tour of Bellevue Mine, before flying back out of Calgary on Sept. 22.
In 2005, the Town of Notogawa amalgamated with five other towns in Shiga Prefecture (Yokaichi, Eigenji, Gokasho, Koto, and Gamoto) to form the new community of Higashiomi City. Along with Taber, Higashiomi City is twinned with cities in Korea, China, the U.S., and Sweden. Several Alberta municipalities are twinned with Japanese counterparts, including members of the Alberta/Japan Twinned Municipalities Association, such as Jasper, Taber, Rocky Mountain House, Stony Plain, Camrose, Bon Accord, Brooks, Lacombe, Canmore, Stettler, Crowsnest Pass, Wetaskiwin, Barrhead, Hanna, Whitecourt, Hinton, Didsbury, and the Lethbridge Okinawa Cultural Society and Lethbridge Twinning Society. Nine of such municipal twinnings are in Hokkaido.
“The comments we get back is that they feel very warmly welcomed here, they enjoy seeing Taber and the area, even though it is a much smaller place than Higashiomi City, or even Notagowa — but the wide open spaces, the big sky, at night the stars — they enjoy being out in this part of the world,” said Emek. “Sometimes we don’t think there’s a whole lot to offer here, but when you come from a country that has more than 80 million people to an area that only has basically a few thousand, it’s different.”
Emek expressed why he feels it is important for the Town of Taber to maintain its twinning relationship with Higashiomi City.
“I think it’s important, especially in this day and age where there seems to be so much division in the world. It’s one way to help people understand that although the culture may be different in other countries, we still want the same things. Most people want the same things — they want their kids to be safe, they want them to be happy, they want them to be successful — and you realize that the more you do this sort of thing, that we really are all the same.”