CANMORE – Over the past two weeks, four students from Higashikawa, Canmore's sister-city in Japan, have experienced a crash course in Canadian culture.
As part of an ongoing agreement between the two towns, students have been making the trip across the Pacific Ocean in the summer and fall. It is the first time these students have visited Canada. For Amane Habuki, Shunsuke Nishimura, Karen Ishikawa and Mikoto Okazaki – the trip has provided them with the opportunity to experience a new culture, try new food and make new friends.
"For these students to see other countries when they are young – is really priceless. A 30-year relationship [between Higashikawa and Canmore] can make this happen. So we need to keep this for our kids," said Onsite Canada Director, Yuji Akiyama, who acts as a liason between the two towns.
More than 20 students from Higashikawa applied for the exchange, and they were selected based on an essay and interview. Their flights and expenses were paid for by the City of Higashikawa.
Over the last two weeks, the students attended classes at Canmore Colligate High School, hiked Cascade Mountain, walked along the shores of Lake Louise, rafted in the Bow River, shopped in Banff, and toured around Calgary.
"It is very beautiful, and so big," commented 16-year-old Nishimura, referring to the scale of the Canadian Rockies.
The students home town is located at the base of Mount Asahi-dake, the tallest mountain on the island of Hokkaido. The town is home to two ski hills and one is named after Canmore.
The students were surprised by the many Japanese restaurants in the Bow Valley, and equally surprised by a few Canadian specialties.
"We tried poutine and beaver tails," said 17-year-old Ishikawa with a wide grin. "It was very delicious."
One thing the students were not particularly fond of was the cold fall mornings in the Bow Valley. While their hometown does experience occasional sub-zero temperatures, they have a more mild climate.
The students were hosted by four families in Canmore. Anika Gasser is from one of those families. The 16-year-old Canmore Colligate student was also one of three students, along with CCHS teacher Ken Symington, to be invited to Higashikawa for their annual International Photo Festival this past summer.
"So far in my life, it has definitely been the most impactful trip I've ever done," said Gasser of her trip to Japan. "Going to Higashikawa was amazing and meeting the students there and then having them come here really makes it a full circle."
"We are hopeful this will continue. It's wonderful for our Higashikawa students to be here and for us to share our culture with them," said Symington.
Japanese students have been coming to Canmore since 2015 and students from CCHS have been making the trip to Higashikawa since 2016.
"We need host families every year so if somebody in town can help, that would be great. It is the 30th anniversary this year and we should keep this special relationship for next generation," said Akiyama.