In Hakodate, Japan there’s a star-shaped fort that overlooks the harbour and busy boardwalk. The port city boasts universities, colleges and a successful fishing industry. Sound familiar?
Long before amalgamating with Dartmouth and Bedford in 1996, Halifax became twin to another city much further away. In 1982, mayor Ron Wallace signed a twinning agreement with Hakodate’s mayor Yasushi Yano, birthing a new borderless relationship.
Celebrating the 35th anniversary of the agreement, on July 12 Hakodate’s current mayor Toshiki Kudo and 13 delegates will be coming to Halifax to meet with mayor Mike Savage for the first time. The delegates will represent the municipality and private agencies, including the International Affairs office, the Hakodate Chamber of Commerce’s tourism department and the Hakodate port and airport.
“It was very foresighted to develop the relationship,” says Savage. “If you’re outward facing as a city, it gives you a leg up when it comes to business.”
But business is not the only reason two countries on opposite sides of the world would pronounce themselves twins. Traditionally, these kinds of agreements are formed to promote industry, travel and peace.
Twinning cities became popularized after the Second World War in an effort towards reconciliation. England’s heavily bombed Coventry and Russia’s Stalingrad (today Volgograd)—known for the bloody Battle of Stalingrad—marked the first formal twinning agreement in 1944.
“Through twinning you understand the other country and there’s an exchange,” says Kanayo Trappenberg, the first exchange student to come to Halifax from Hakodate in 1984. “If you understand the other culture it really makes a big difference.”
Today Trappenberg lives in Halifax along with her husband Thomas, president of the Halifax-Hakodate Friendship Association.
Since the ’90s, Halifax has been sending a Christmas tree to Hakodate each year, similar to the Boston agreement. Many people in Japan travel to see the tree and lighting ceremony—tourism is yet another industry the cities share.
“They make a huge festival out of the Christmas tree, so in Hakodate, Halifax is extremely famous,” says Trappenberg.
She says the purpose of the mayors’ meeting is “always to strengthen the relationship” between the cities. During the visit, Savage will host a dinner and reception. There will also be a tour of the city, with stops at Pier 21, the Halifax Central Library and the Public Gardens, where there is a monument for the relationship.
“We will be getting acquainted and getting to know each other personally,” says Savage. Each Halifax mayor since 1982 has visited Hakodate. Savage says he hopes to make the trip, although there are currently no plans in place to do so.
One of Hakodate’s most famous attractions is the Hakodate City Tropical Botanical Garden, where macaques (snow monkeys) can be seen hottubbing in natural springs in the wintertime. Perhaps, while they keep warm, they recognize their own reflection.