NAWILIWILI — The Kaua‘i County Council on Wednesday extended a hand to Japan’s Iwaki City, honoring a request from Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. to make the city ravaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami the Garden Island’s 15th sister city.
“I think we are going to be really happy with this relationship,” Councilman Dickie Chang said.
When Kaua‘i halted the Kaua‘i Hula Festival after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001, Iwaki City picked up the bill, continuing the festival in their own town.
But Kaua‘i’s relationship with Iwaki goes back further. Since 1996 the 10th largest and 72nd most populous Japanese city has sent thousands of hula dancers to Kaua‘i, according to Chang, who said he thought Iwaki was already a sister city.
“It might be hard to measure why we are doing what we are doing, but they have been just extremely loyal people,” Chang said.
Some of the public testimony opposed to entering into a sister-city relationship with the Japanese city because of the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, about 30 miles away from Iwaki.
But as Councilman Tim Bynum said, “it’s the other way around.” Kaua‘i should not turn its back to Iwaki in a time they need it the most, he said.
Chair Jay Furfaro and Councilwomen Nadine Nakamura and JoAnn Yukimura also saw value in the sister-city relationship with Iwaki, including recognizing cultural ties with a city that has promoted Kaua‘i in many ways.
But council members also said criteria for entering into sister-city relationships should be discussed with the community.
“It raises the question of our overall policy with respect to sister cities, and it is a good opportunity to maybe look at establishing a formal policy that articulates the values we look for when we establish relationships, and the kind of commitments we make in terms of servicing those relationships so that they become meaningful to us,” Yukimura said.
She said she would like to figure out how to make the connection available to the larger community, not just between artists.
Furfaro said there are historic, cultural and economic connections between Kaua‘i and its 15 sister cities.
“We have so many pieces that we also need to keep alive,” he said. “It’s good for our stewardship with these people who have migrated and have become part of our island community.”
The resolution was unanimously approved, but Councilmen Mel Rapozo and KipuKai Kuali‘i were absent on official council business so did not vote.
Iwaki has 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 March 11 by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
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.
The Iwaki government has said it doesn’t expect many visitors to the city’s beaches due to the accident at the power plant, which has released “highly contaminated water” in the ocean, and radioactive substances might be found on beaches.
The government has closed its swimming beaches for the remainder of the year.
“It has been judged difficult to secure the swimmers’ safety and keep suitable swimming environment,” Iwaki’s official website states. “Debris due to the Great East Japan Earthquake have been scattered along the beach, and it will take time to remove them. There remains the concern of the aftershocks and consequent tidal waves.”
Since the earthquake there has been over 900 aftershocks in Japan; some 60 of them over 6.0 magnitude and three over 7.0.
Iwaki’s main tourist attraction is Spa Resort Hawaiians, the largest outdoor hot spring in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records. The spa is a leisure park under a gigantic dome, with water slides, hot springs, Polynesian shows and a tropical setting.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.