The town of Port Hardy will see a few new faces come October with cultural exchange students coming from Numata-cho, Japan. The delegates will visit from Oct. 23-28 and Port Hardy Twinning Society will have organized the delegates’ activities.
Leslie Driemel, the chairperson of Port Hardy twinning society, said that she has “been five times to Numata. Last time was in May for three weeks. ” She noted she will be also be a host to one delegate this year on top of helping organize the itinerary.
“Technology is amazing. People used to do pen pals, but that fades. Facebook posting and messaging keeps twinning going. I’m Facebook friends with (Numata’s) mayor.”
Delegates were coming in July to attend FILOMI Days, but the twinning society has now decided to travel in the Fall.
Driemel, who also has over 20 years of experience volunteering for the society, added that she was “quite amazed by the similarities between our towns relying on resources. Numata is a small resource community that grows rice, but mechanization means loss of jobs. Similar to forestry here.” She has visited Numata over four times during her work with the twinning society.
While delegates from Port Hardy stay in Numata they attend what is known as an “andon” or fighting lantern festival where two enormous floats violently attack each other in a dramatic display.
Port Hardy boasts a waterfront garden celebrating the twinning relationship with Numata. Driemel has worked for over 10 years to get a “torii” gate built, which is the wooden structure found next to the garden. The “torii” was made possible by Western Forest Products.
In Numata, a totem pole carved by hereditary chief Calvin Hunt from the Coppermaker Gallery (Kwakiutl First Nation) was raised.
Many other twinning activities take place throughout the year, though the trips to the sister city is often the highlight of the program. The society participates in the FILOMI Days parade every year. The twinning society helps with organizing the trip and in some cases helps with fundraising.
Port Hardy residents visiting Numata have had traditional experiences in the past. Some Port Hardy delegates have slept on tatami mats, which is made of grass and rice straw, and buckwheat pillows, eating traditional Japanese food throughout the trip. The cultural experience depends on which homestay the delegate stays at.
The organization had separated from the District of Port Hardy and established its own society in 2001. Usually, there are anywhere between 10 to 15 exchange students and adults coming to Port Hardy. Those participating in the cultural exchange lodge in what is called a homestay or a private residence. The Japanese students then learn about the North Island, local First Nations, and Canada.
The society raises awareness of the program, maintains the garden, and shares Japanese culture during public events. The twinning society also arranges the private homestays and schedule of events for delegates.
The first delegation of five arrived from Numata in 1993 for three days. The mayor of Numata, Shinoda, planted a Japanese cherry blossom tree near the garden. Mayor Huddlestan planted a BC Dogwood tree near Numata’s municipal hall. The following year Port Hardy-Numata were twinned when then-mayor Russ Hellberg and six other delegates visited the sister city, celebrating its centennial birthday.
Visiting the sister city with the cultural exchange program can cost roughly $3,000. The two communities, Port Hardy and Numato-cho, alternate sending delegations every other year.