The 2016 Ohtaki delegates gather for a photo with the Cowichan Lake royalty and a member of the RCMP at Saturday's Thanksgiving dinner.

Ohtaki delegation celebrates Thanksgiving

A longstanding relationship of peace and friendship between distant communities is one thing Lakers were giving thanks

A longstanding relationship of peace and friendship between distant communities is one thing Lakers were giving thanks for over the holiday weekend, as reflected by this year’s delegation from Lake Cowichan’s sister city Ohtaki, Japan.

On Saturday night, delegates, citizens, town staff and council members gathered at the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena to share in the North American tradition of thanksgiving dinner — a first for those visiting from overseas.

“Thank you for welcoming the 29th Ohtaki delegation to Lake Cowichan. And thank you for hosting such a wonderful banquet like the one tonight,” said Akira Ando, the Ohtaki representative leading the delegation, during his address before dinner.

“It has already been 28 years since the cultural exchange of Lake Cowichan and old Ohtaki village began. In that time there have been many tragedies that have taken many lives such as the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the nuclear power station accident caused by the great East Japan earthquake… Through all of these events I am proud that for almost 30 years we have continued the cultural exchange with Lake Cowichan.”

Ando also noted some of the changes in their district that jeopardized the continuation of the sister city relationship. Specifically, the recent administrative reforms that saw the village of Ohtaki combine with the nearby Date City and become “Ohtaki District,” rather than an autonomous entity.

He said one of the reasons this relationship has held strong is because of the home stay program, in which junior high school students from Japan spend several days with families here in Lake Cowichan, and then high school students from Lake Cowichan School stay with families in Japan.

These delegations happen every two years.

“From now on Ohtaki would like to deepen the relationship by continuing the mutual exchange and continuing to invite an international exchange teacher from Lake Cowichan to teach in Ohtaki,” said Ando.

The international exchange teacher program involves a Lake resident traveling to Ohtaki and teaching English at a school there for one year.

Mayor Ross Forrest echoed the sentiments expressed by Ando.

“Over a quarter century of exchanges between our two communities has enabled the opportunities for hundreds of our citizens to learn and understand each other’s cultures and much more,” said Forrest, adding that in some instances children of past delegation and home stay participants have now had a chance to come and meet the same people their parents did 20 years ago.

“Many great friendships have been made and we have been fortunate and proud to share such a positive relationship with our friends from Ohtaki/Date City,” he said. “I hope all our guests have had a wonderful visit and enjoyed their time in Lake Cowichan.”

A Thanksgiving buffet dinner — turkey with all the fixings, including pumpkin pie for dessert — was provided by the arena’s catering service.

After dinner, Forrest and Ando exchanged gifts. From the Town of Lake Cowichan, the Ohtaki delegation received a framed photograph of the totem pole in Ts’uubaa-asatx Square, which is new since their last visit. From Ohtaki, the town was given a traditional Japanese tea set. Local musicians provided some entertainment after the gift exchange, and the Japanese students performed a choir song they had prepared especially for the banquet.

Randi Edwards, a teacher with the Ohtaki delegation, provided translation services.

Kari McKinlay organized this year’s activities, and said it was a very successful trip.

“[On Monday] we had a send-off for them, and there were some of them that said, ‘We don’t want to go yet!’” said McKinlay. “The sun was shining for them so they don’t remember the rain from Saturday hopefully. It was really nice.”

On Sunday, the home stay families took their respective students out on a variety of activities. Some went shopping while others went whale watching or to see the large spruce trees on the West Coast.

McKinlay said someone from the town will be dropping off information packages at Lake Cowichan School about the 2017 delegation to Japan.

She said there has been a lot of interest expressed by students. For more information, people can also contact her directly at the town office.

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