As you read this I will, surprisingly, be in Handa, Japan, representing council for our five-yearly cultural exchange visit.
Council and Handa have had a sister city relationship since 1990, and in March, council accepted an invitation for the mayor and two delegates to attend the 80th Dashi Float Festival.
Due to Peta Pinson’s inability to attend, the general manager asked if I would represent as deputy mayor, so here I am – half a world away from you and an hour’s flight from Tokyo, with Patricia Johnson, OAM, and Bruce Hardy, both founding sister city members.
Pat is heavily involved in the annual Handa school and music exchange to our area – a great cultural program with strong support from local schools, parents and the Hastings Koala Orchestra.
Also attending are delegates from Handa’s two other sister cities - Michigan, USA, and Xuzhou (said ‘Shujo’) China.
Right now I cannot imagine what life must be like for both Handa and Xuzhou these days, each lying in the shadow of North Korea.
Although this is a purely cultural exchange, there is also a trade aspect to the sister city relationship, which I am keen to better explore in terms of its value to our local area.
If it’s Thursday when you read this, I’ll have just arrived from the 18-hour journey, straight into the formalities and aiming to acquire as much Japanese as quickly possible!
Friday begins the official visits, including exchanges with the other sister city delegates, Handa City Council and Handa tourism, business and international associations.
Saturday is the Dashi Festival, which is a big thing in Japan, drawing huge crowds to see the 31 ancient floats brought together from around the countryside every five years.
There’s then another day and a half of official events before returning from this most unexpected tour of duty, hopefully bringing benefit to our community.