County expanding ‘ohana

NAWILIWILI — Kaua‘i is about to expand its family ties. Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. has proposed another sister-city relationship with a foreign municipality. If the Kaua‘i County Council approves it, Iwaki will become the island’s fifth Japanese sister city and the county’s 15th worldwide.

“Kaua‘i continues to attract visitors from Japan because of our rich multi-cultural community,” Resolution 2011-66 states. “The city of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, has expressed a desire to enter into a sister-city relationship with the County of Kaua‘i, based upon the common history and heritage which its citizens share with descendants of immigrants who currently reside on the Garden Island.”

An informal cultural exchange between Iwaki and Kaua‘i extends for over 15 years, according to county spokeswoman Beth Tokioka.

From 1996-2001 the Kaua‘i Hula Festival — a free Hawaiian music and hula event organized by Kaua‘i’s major resorts — brought hundreds of hula dancers and enthusiasts from Japan to Kaua‘i, she said. The festival ended in 2001 due to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, but was restarted in Iwaki. Many Kaua‘i hula dancers and musicians have been invited to perform there each year since.

Iwaki is Japan’s 10th largest city, with an estimated 350,000 inhabitants and an annual influx of 7.6 million visitors, according to the city’s official website. The city — on Japan’s northeast coast — is less than 30 miles away from Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, badly damaged in the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11.

The natural disaster caused widespread destruction and loss of life in Japan; it is estimated that over 15,000 people died and more than 5,000 are missing.

Tokioka said that when the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation requested that each Hawai‘i county establish a new sister city partnership from an APEC region for its energy conference in September, Carvalho selected Iwaki. His choice was based on a long-term cultural exchange with Iwaki.

Building a relationship

In 1999, a commemorative “Hula Tree” to honor Japan’s most revered kumu hula, Kaleinani Hayakawa, was planted at the Kaua‘i War Memorial Convention Hall by then-Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, according to Tokioka.

In 2001 a “goodwill tree” was planted at the convention hall grounds to honor Iwaki Mayor Shike, who visited Kaua‘i and brought a group of 100 people to attend the Matsuri Kaua‘i Festival. Since then a group from Iwaki has participated in the Matsuri Kaua‘i Festival every year. The festival will not be held this year, due to the earthquake and tsunami of March 11.

In November 2008, when Carvalho was elected for his first term, a large group from Iwaki City and Spa Resort Hawaiians flew to Kaua‘i to congratulate the new mayor, Tokioka said.

Spa Resort Hawaiians is one of Iwaki’s major attractions. It’s a large leisure park complete with slides, Polynesian shows and a tropical setting.

The spa utilizes the area’s natural hot springs, famous for healing properties. A large dome — six times bigger than the Tokyo Dome — keeps the temperature at the spa at 82 degrees Fahrenheit all year around. The Guinness Book of Records lists the open air bath as the largest outdoor hot spring bath in the world.

In May 2009, Carvalho accepted an invitation from Hayakawa, instructor at Spa Resort Hawaiians, to attend a large hula event in Fukuoka, Japan, according to Tokioka. In that trip, Carvalho also visited Iwaki City for two days, when he met with government, business and community leaders.

Last September, Hayakawa, along with Iwaki Hawai‘i Exchange Association and Spa Resort Hawaiians, brought Manjushaka — an award-winning modern Japanese Kabuki dance group — to Kaua‘i for free performances at the Matsuri Kaua‘i Festival, Mahelona Hospital and Puakea Care Home, according to Tokioka.

All in the family

Sister-city relationships foster and promote the exchange of cultural exhibits, educational programs, visits by citizen groups and acknowledgment and sharing of cultural bonds, according to the resolution.

Tokioka said the female winner of the Iwaki Sunshine Marathon, which took place in February, will participate in the Kaua‘i Marathon on Sept. 4. An official from Iwaki City Hall will escort the runner and her father.

On Sept. 11, a group of six officials from Iwaki City is scheduled to arrive on Kaua‘i to formally sign an agreement to be Kaua‘i’s sister city. The delegation will be made up of four members of Iwaki City Hall, including an official representative of Iwaki City Mayor Takao Watanabe and a representative of the Iwaki Hawai‘i Exchange Association and Spa Resort Hawaiians.

The council on Wednesday will make a final decision on the sister-city relationship proposal.

Because of the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, Iwaki’s government closed the city’s swimming beaches for the entire year.

Iwaki government has also said that it doesn’t expect many visitors to the city’s beaches due to the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.

• Oshima-Gun, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan

• Ishigaki (includes Yaeyama Gunto, Ryukyu Islands), Japan

• Moriyama (also a friendship city), Japan

• Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan

•  Whitby, England (with Waimea Town, Kaua‘i)

• Cook Town, Australia

• Santa, Philippines

• Qinhuangdao Municipal, Hebei Province, China

• Bangued City, Abra Province, Philippines

• Urdaneta City, Pangasinan Province, Philippines

• Papenoo, Tahiti, French Polynesia

• Penghu County, Taiwan

• Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores Islands, Portugal

• Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, Philippines

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