Japan’s Consul-General personally thanked Nelson this week for its relief efforts following the massive earthquake and tsunami in his country last March.
“On behalf of the Japanese government as well as the people of Japan and particularly those affected in that region, I would like to express my deep gratitude for your strong support,” Hideki Ito said during a visit here Tuesday.
Ito, along with Tetsuya Isono, the consul for cultural affairs, met with Mayor John Dooley as part of a two-day visit to West Kootenay that also included stops in Trail, Castlegar, and the Nikkei Internment Centre in New Denver. It was his first trip to all of these places.
Ito said he was touched to hear of the local campaign to fold origami cranes as a sign of hope, and of fundraisers held for Onagawa, a hard hit community with ties to Nelson.
“Fortunately Japan is not a poor country, so it’s not the amount of money which counts,” he said. “The important thing is that the affected people can see they are not alone — somebody cares about them. In that sense, folding cranes is very heartwarming and uplifting.”
Ito’s visit was part of an ongoing effort to see each BC community with a Japanese sister city — including Nelson, Castlegar, and Trail.
“Seventy Canadian cities maintain sister city relations with Japanese cities. Out of the 70, 34 are in BC,” Ito said. “So as Consul-General, I’m trying to visit those 34.”
After two years, he has been to about half.
Some like Nelson have frequent exchanges, while others are more tenuously linked, he says: “It varies. In some cases because of the financial situation of both cities, they are finding difficulty in exchanging student delegations.”
A group from Nelson’s official sister city of Izushi departed the same day Ito arrived, and he said he regretted not being able to meet with them.
Ito joined Japan’s foreign ministry more than 30 years ago. Because he studied Arabic, most of his assignments were in the Middle East, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and immediately prior to Vancouver, Bahrain.
Although Consuls-General don’t have fixed terms, two to three years is a typical posting.
“Vancouver is considered a very good place,” he says. “If I stay here too long, all my colleagues would criticize me.”
Ito’s visit was the third this year to Nelson by a foreign dignitary. China’s Consul-General came last month, while Ireland’s ambassador was here in the spring.
Mayor John Dooley says while it’s coincidental, he welcomes the interest.
“It’s not only good for us to get an understanding of what else is happening in the world, but it’s terrific to get this kind of exposure for our municipality and surrounding area,” he says.
“This was a special visit because we have been working hard to find ways to help after the tsunami. It was an emotional time for not only the Japanese people but us here, and it was important to demonstrate solidarity.”