Oliver reconnects with 'sister town' of Bandai Japan

Twin towns reconnect

The first meeting of sister towns Oliver and Bandai, Japan since 2020 took place on Oct. 11 with a two-person delegation from Bandai visiting Oliver for the day.

The Sister City relationship was struck 35 years ago and this iteration saw the meeting of Oliver Mayor Martin Johansen with Bandai Mayor Junichi Sato.

Oliver Mayor Martin Johansen said town officials spend the day with the Japanese delegation which inculded the mayor, of Bandai, a town employee and an interpreter that joined them from Vancouver.

“It was a great day, you know, very casual, nothing too formal, too serious, but we did do some touring and some wineries,” he said. This included a visit to Phantom Creek and the District Wine Village.

“There was a lot of interest by the Mayor of Bandai to learn about some of the winery stuff that is going on and I think there’s an interest to have something like that in Bandai as well,” he said.

The local economy of Bandai (population approximately 3,500) centres around precision machinery production and seasonal tourism, especially golf courses and ski resorts.

When asked if there were any discussion of business opportunities Johansen said it was more of a “meet and greet and just trying to get the sister city relationship back on track,” since the last delegation was here prior to the pandemic.

“This was an interesting visit, it was a bit of cultural exchange. We got to talk about what things are like in Japan, what they do there and show them some things here.”

There is interest in various quarters on a reciprocal visit he notes, including from the Oliver Ambassadors. This visit could come as early as next summer.

“We will have some discussions about what that could look like and what kind of a deal would work. We do have a Sister City Committee that will have to meet and sort of make some plans.”

This committee consists of two town councillors, one member of Oliver Tourism Association, one from the South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce, and up to six community members at large.

Johansen says he asked Sato to send an invitation which will enable the process to begin, starting by reaching out to see who is interested. “Of course, there would be some funded fundraising required to make that happen,” he added.

There is some existing budget because the town continues to put money into the Sister City program. He’s completely aware of the amount because it has been gradually built up over time, but “some of that money could be used to support a delegation and the rest would come from fundraising.”

The committee would also leverage people that have been to Bandai before, “to understand what they’ve done and what we can do to look at you know, economics, or cultural exchanges and how we can make that a positive thing for the town”.

When asked if this type of “twinning” arrangement still had value nearly four decades on in a world much more interconnected Johansen said, “I don’t know it’d be hard to quantify exactly what the value is.

“I think there’s definitely a cultural component that’s of value and for young adults to go over there and see a different culture and how things are done, and how different people live.

As an example, he points to the tour of the BC Tree Fruits facility in Oliver which employs an automated robotic sorting line. The Bandai mayor was surprised at the level of automation with Johansen saying that “it sounds like everything over there is much more labour intensive.”

There is some value for Oliver representatives to go over and see how things are done he says, adding, “We may be able to offer some advice or just learn different ways of doing things.

It’s still very much a work in progress,” he says. “I think there’s some value there and I think the cost is minimal.

“From a cultural exchange point of view, I think there’s tremendous value there and if we can somehow spin some economics out of it, that would be just a bonus.”

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