The Town of Lake Cowichan’s Japanese sister city of Ohtaki/Date City certainly felt last week’s devastating earthquake, but remained safe.
“As far as I know, they’re doing okay,” Town of Lake Cowichan executive secretary Roni-Lee Roach said.
Through her work at the town office, Roach helps organize the exchange of students and delegates between the two communities.
“I think they felt some of the tremors, but nothing like they did in Sendai,” she said.
Sendai, located an hour’s plane ride south of Ohtaki/Date City, was the epicenter of the earthquake. It is in Sendai where Lake Cowichan Secondary School’s sister school, Sendai Ikuei Gakuen High School, is located.
“I can’t stand to look at the images,” local woman Margaret Davis said. “I’ve been to Sendai a few times.”
Davis helped organize the exchange between Lake Cowichan and Sendai, which began in 1990.
“For many years we had Sendai students here,” she said, adding that as a result, there are many connections to Sendai students in the Cowichan Lake area.
Many local students also went out to Sendai to study for a year, and to play hockey, as it was a one-for-one exchange program.
With the overall Japanese death toll rising into the thousands, many Cowichan Lake residents are still waiting to hear from their foreign friends.
Since the disaster, Roach has been in contact with Mayu Kikuchi, an employee in the Date City office.
Last October, Kikuchi travelled with a group of student delegates to Lake Cowichan, where she served as the vice-mayor’s translator.
About 1,000 people were evacuated from Date City last week, due to what Kikuchi described to Roach as a “little tsunami,” but everyone seems to be okay.
“They’re totally safe in Ohtaki, because they’re higher elevation,” Roach said.
Town of Lake Cowichan councillor Tim McGonigle, who has travelled to Japan as part of a delegation, said that earthquakes, albeit much smaller ones than last week’s, are a part of life in Japan.
McGonigle recalls his first trip to Japan, when a 5.3 earthquake struck the restaurant he was dining in.
“We sat down, and a 5.3 quake hit us,” he said. “It was such a daily occurrence, no one was reacting. The waitress was still pouring coffee.”
The next trip of local delegates to Ohtaki/Date City is currently being organized, with 10 local students and four adults slated to go.
A tentative departure date of July 2 has been selected.