by Esther Darlington MacDonald
Ashcroft is the sister city of Bifuka, Japan. Have you ever wondered how this happened?
The whole concept of sister cities was to foster the realization that the world has become “one country”. Bringing two very different cultures together is both a unifier and an educator. There are now thousands of towns in North America that have become sister cities.
Aki Kanamaru of Ashcroft’s meeting with a group of Japanese business men in Kelowna in 1992 began the process of bringing Bifuka to Ashcroft. As Aki explained, the Japanese were in the forestry industry of Hokkaido. They were looking for the latest in the mechanical advances in forest management, and they thought that Canada would be able to provide what they were looking for. Hokkaido, incidentally, is on the northern tip of Japan. Its forest resources are abundant, but they have not been well developed. Socializing with the business men, Aki was told that the town of Bifuka was looking for a sister city to team up with. Why not Ashcroft, thought Aki?
Two years later, Aki told former Mayor Andy Kormendy about the sister city which Bifuka was looking for. Negotiations began with the Mayor of Bifuka. The rest is history.
The Mayor of Bifuka visited Ashcroft. Relationships developed. The exchange has been tremendously beneficial, as Ashcroft people who have visited Bifuka will enthusiastically acknowledge.
Aki was a tour guide at the time of his meeting with the Japanese business men in Kelowna.
Aki had the idea of bringing Japanese students to Ashcroft to learn English. Knowing English has become a very important tool in every sphere, business-wise, culturally, and politically. English classes were set up in Ashcroft Secondary School. Local teachers were hired to teach. The students were made comfortable in private homes in Ashcroft. The students ranged from 18 years of age, to 62. The 62 year old was the retired vice principal of a high school! He spent five months in Ashcroft and greatly enjoyed learning of Ashcroft’s history and meeting the people of the town.
Aki explained that he arranged for only one student in each of the private homes. Smiling a little, and knowing about teenagers, because he and wife Hiroko had had two of their own, Aki reasoned there would be less peer pressure. Aki also realized that it would be all too easy for two students, living together in the same household, to speak to one another in their own language, thus minimizing the benefit of the English-speaking surroundings.
Aki has been teaching Karate in the South Cariboo area for many years. He conducts sessions in Ashcroft, Clinton, Lytton and Lillooet. He makes the trip to Lillooet these days only once a month.
Aki is an expert in the Sho Shoh Ryu style of Karate. He has taught the art for 42 years. He explains that Karate originated in the Island of Okinawa in the 1920’s. Many styles of the martial arts have developed since that time.
“It is not a show of strength,” he says. It is a “defense,” He thinks that young people who learn Karate develop more respect and discipline, and that troubled youth particularly benefit from learning the art.
When I noted that I had seen Karate demonstrated and felt the art had its own choreography, Aki readily agreed. The dignity of the art is apparent in every move. It seems to the writer that it is not aggression, but protection.
Aki was four years old when his father taught him Karate. His father was taught by Aki’s grandfather. “I am third generation Karate teacher,” Aki says.
The history of Aki’s grandfather was fascinating. Apparently, in 1896, his grandfather “jumped ship” while it was docked at San Francisco. The reason for being on the ship was to avoid being drafted into the Japanese army which was involved in a war at the time. Aki’s grandfather settled in Seattle and spent 14 years there. When he returned to Japan, he took a bicycle and a camera back with him. Apparently, these items were not available in Japan at the time. Aki’s father was born in 1911.
When the earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan last March, Aki and Hiroko and others organized a benefit to raise funds for the Red Cross in Japan. Aki takes out a map and shows where the impact of the quake and tsunami hit the hardest. Hiroko grew up near the area, still has friends there.
The couple married in 1972. They met in Vancouver, and the wedding was held in Japan. Daughter Yoriko was born in 1974 and son Hideaki was born in 1978. Yoriko is married and lives in Savona. Hideaki makes his home in Vancouver.
Aki’s organizational abilities, his affection for people and outgoing personality is reflected in activities that have been of tremendous benefit to all of us.