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Sister Cities an Ocean Apart

Numata and Port Hardy: A tale of two towns and their kinship.

In 1993, Mayor Hisao Shinoda of Numata, Japan wrote a letter to the mayor of Port Hardy, BC, that sparked an unexpected bond. In it he described his city to Mayor Al Huddlestan and suggested the development of a twinning relationship between the two communities. Huddlestan replied and was excited to learn more about Shinoda’s idea. His response established the twinning relationship that thrives to this day.

A Helping Hand From One City To Another

The vision statement for the cities’ relationship is “to strive for the advancement of friendship between [Port Hardy’s] community and Numata through the promotion of exchanges in the field of economy, culture, education and sports … in full and free cooperation with our sister city.” When the twinning process first began, the focus was on economic development. However, few contracts have been made and the focus has become more cultural and educational. Still, the Port Hardy Twinning Society helps wherever it can to promote Port Hardy businesses and products in Numata. Port Hardy has shipped over $3,000 worth of local products and crafts to Numata for Port Hardy Week. The society also facilitated a contract for a totem pole. The pole was carved in Port Hardy, then shipped to Numata and completed by Port Hardy carvers Calvin and Marie Hunt with the help of local citizens. Shortly after, a hall was named in the Hunts’ honour.

Since the founding of the society in August of 1994, Port Hardy has sent 68 people to Numata to sightsee, experience Japanese culture and meet countless people in their sister city. These trips happen every two to three years, and since Numata began sending groups to Port Hardy every year, over 120 Japanese have visited the northern Vancouver Island community.

Leslie Dremiel has been a member of the Twinning Society since it was established in 1993 and has visited Numata three times. For her, the most interesting and important aspect of the relationship between communities involves understanding cultural differences. “It is amazing to see the residents of Port Hardy experience things that most people could only dream of,” says Dremiel.

Cultural Differences

Numata and Port Hardy have a number of similarities, but their differences are obvious. When Dremiel first visited Japan, she hopped off the plane and greeted her host family with big hugs. Hugging in public is practically unheard of in Japan. Dremiel quickly learned that Japanese customs and mannerisms are almost the complete opposite of what she was used to. Not only did she have to learn to bow when greeting someone, she had to learn how to avoid eye contact. When Japanese people talk face to face, they do not look into each other’s eyes. Gift giving is also a custom in Japan. When Dremiel visits, she now knows to offer gifts to her host family, as well as to almost everyone else she meets. Even small items such as pencils or key chains are seen as tokens of extreme thoughtfulness. Bev Parnham, the current mayor of Port Hardy, has also had the opportunity to visit Numata. “They treat you with such dignity,” she says, remembering the hospitality she received.

In April of 2004, the Twinning Society celebrated its tenth anniversary. Eighteen members of the Port Hardy Twinning Society made the trip across the Pacific to celebrate. They attended a formal ceremony at Hunt Hall where they enjoyed exceptional hospitality. The group took part in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, an ikebana flower arranging activity and the preparation of soba noodles for dinner. The visitors also toured the nearby cities of Otoru, Rumoi and Asahikawa.

After 15 years, Port Hardy and Numata can honestly say that they have established something far more than just a business deal. Long-lasting friendships have developed, and members of both communities have learned an immense amount about another country.

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