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Overview: Official Burlington Delegation Visits Itabashi, Japan

Mayors with Burlington Key

As part of the dual exchanges that take part in our twinning relationship with Itabashi, Japan, both of our cities send reciprocal official delegations to each other every five years. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the City of Burlington’s twinning agreement with the City of Itabashi.

Earlier this year, the Official Itabashi Delegation and Mayor Takeshi Sakamoto visited us during our Canada Day celebrations. As Burlington’s Mayor, I was part of the Official Burlington Delegation that was in Itabashi from Oct. 15-18.

My office will submit a report to Committee and Council in December, similar to the report regarding my trip to Juno Beach in France, with itineraries and costs some time after we return from the official visit, but in the meantime, I have provided an overview and some of the highlights from the trip below.


After a full day of official meetings and ceremonies, some of the highlights from our first day in Itabashi included a visit to the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo (about a 20-minute car ride from Itabashi) and a meeting with JETRO — Japan’s External Trade Organization — to talk economic exchange.

We then toured Tokyo starting with a visit to the Sensoji Temple where you can read your fortune and incense is burned outside for people to wave good fortune. We next headed to Ueno urban park that features many stones and historic markers, a shrine, and a giant lake with massive water lilies.

We also toured famous commercial streets in Tokyo, including the largest intersection in the world — Shibuya Crossing — where approximately 2,500 people cross at a time.


To start off Day 2 of our official visit, we headed to Itabashi City Hall where our hosts literally rolled out the red carpet to welcome us. There is a subway stop right in City Hall — the rail lines are privately owned, earning revenue from development around stations.

Itabashi City Hall was filled with displays commemorating the 30-year anniversary of our twinning relationship. There was even a paper “maple tree” where people could write messages to Burlington and our citizens. One million people are served at Itabashi City Hall each year and the city has a population of about 550,000 citizens.

I was honoured to bring greetings from Burlington and on behalf our our Official Delegation that included Ward 3 Councillor Rory Nisan, who is Council’s representative on the Mundialization Committee (the committee that maintains our twin city relationships).

Children at the on-site day care made us paper frogs. The frog is considered a Japanese lucky animal, seen as good fortune in things returning.

We also had a tour of the Assembly Hall where I had an opportunity to sit Mayor Sakamoto’s chair and the large elevated chair reserved for the Chairman, who presides over the meetings. There are 46 Assembly Members, seated by parties or affiliations, similar to a parliament.

We then had a spectacular traditional lunch of sushi, soup, rice and sweets, served in a traditional-style Bento Box. These lunch boxes were used by Samarais when they would visit the Sakura trees in the spring.

After lunch, we toured City Hall and got a glimpse into the City’s disaster operations room. They have two high-altitude cameras in Itabashi that are used to detect fires or floods. They also have 7 rivers through the city with rain gauges. In one rainfall, more than 3 metres fell in 30 minutes.

Itabashi aims to be very environmentally sustainable. The tiny tiles on a street they named “wine block” is made with recycled wine glass bottles. Silver seats for seniors and the disabled are also made with recycled wine bottle glass. Itabashi aims to be “green” with planted medians on their streets.

We next visited  the newly-renovated Itabashi Art Museum where the work of their extremely talented local artists are put on display. We got to meet the artists and learn about their craft techniques and brushes. I met an artist who was seven years old in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped during the Second World War and saw her painting that depicts her sister and other citizens who ran to the water to escape the bomb, only to be swept out to sea.

There was also a photography exhibit at the Museum with such incredible talent on display. The visit prompted a goal for me as Mayor to develop a formal art/artists exchange between our Art Gallery of Burlington and local guilds with the Itabashi Art Museum and its artists.

The afternoon ended with a visit to a local school where Mayor Sakamoto’s wife works. The children gathered around us and practised their English.

Day 2 ended with an official Welcome Dinner. It was an honour to present Mayor Sakamoto and the City of Itabashi with two special gifts: an original artwork with bark/blossoms from a Sakura tree from Spencer Smith Park and the our new Key to the City and our first international recipient.


This was a day to learn about and immerse ourselves in Japanese culture.

In the afternoon, I joined Mayor Sakamoto, Chairman Yoshiyuki Motoyama and the Burlington delegation to lead the dancing at the close of the day-long parade for the annual Itabashi Citizen’s Festival. We had time to explore the festival, where I tried fried fish on a stick (think a large sardine  — and yes, you eat everything but the head. Sweet and salty at the same time). I also tried a bit of fish sake (fish floating in a homemade brew pan) that was locally crafted by those operating the Canadian beer tent at the festival.

We also tried candy-covered bananas (some with candy faces on them) that were a big hit at the festival, and some roasted tea that smooth, not bitter and has no caffeine.

Earlier in the day, we saw how Soba noodles from scratch. Our teachers were retired people who do this as a hobby at the local community centre. It takes 3 years to master mixing, rolling and cutting Soba properly. The Soba teacher (dressed in blue in the photo below) taught all the chefs at the community centre the fine art of Soba noodle-making.

Before the Itabashi Festival and at the request of our hosts, we were given traditional Kimono to wear to take part in the official opening ceremonies. They were such beautiful works of art. The Kimono are complicated, and one of the ladies with us said she couldn’t do it herself and needed help. She also showed us pictures of herself and her grandkids all wearing Kimono for special occasions, such as graduations and weddings.

Once in our Kimono (the men in our Burlington Delegation also donned them), we were taken to a traditional tea room for a formal tea ceremony. We were told you wash your hands before entering the tea room by drawing water from a nearby pot. Similar pots were also seen outside of shrines.

Inside the tea room were people playing traditional instruments. We noticed the door height of the tea room was very low and that is to force everyone who enters the tea room to bow down and lower their head — we were told it is meant as a symbol that when you are in the tea room, everyone is equal and no one is better than the other.

We ended the afternoon with a lesson in traditional Japanese drumming where several of us in the Official Burlington Delegation were called onto the stage to teach us how to do it. The performance was at a community centre in Itabashi where Robert Bateman prints hang — they were a part of a previous gift exchange.

Day 3 ended at one of Japan’s best restaurants (according to Mayor Sakamoto) for the Sayonara (good-bye) dinner. In addition to everything tasting fantastic, great care is taken to make sure the food and area looked good.

Before saying farewell for now to the Mayor of Itabashi at the dinner, I presented him with several gifts from our community, including a Cherry Blossom Vase that was intricately designed by two Burlington woodcarvers Hugh Widdup and John Mills. The wood for the vase came from one of the original Cherry trees given to the City of Burlington by Itabashi during a twin-city presentation. The design was carved using chisels. All of the branches, leaves and flowers were wood burned for shading before they were painted and sealed. The inside of the vase is gilded in gold leaf and glazed with magenta pearl paint and then shaded with the same colour of pink as the cherry blossoms on the outside of the vase.


This day was one to learn more of the history of Japan and visit sites of historical significance.

Our first stop was a bullet train ride to Sendai (about a two-hour train ride from Itabashi) to visit the Yuriage Port Market Cooperative in nearby city Natori. The market there was hit by a devastating tsunami in 2011 that caused by an earthquake under the sea.

It was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan, and the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since modern record-keeping began in 1900. The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves that may have reached heights of up to 40.5 metres (133 foot) and that travelled, in the Sendai area, at 700 km/h for up to 10 km inland. Residents of Sendai had only eight to ten minutes warning, and more than 19,000 were killed, many at the evacuation sites — more than 100 of which were washed away.

The tsunami was still travelling at about 60 km/h when it hit the coast — too fast to outrun or out-drive. Many people who tried to get away in their cars drowned. We were told a story of five adult children who came back to Sendai from a neighbouring city to rescue their parents, who had already been evacuated. The children ended up drowning.

There is a memorial at the Natori market to the residents who died as a result of the natural disaster. A concrete statue of a bean shows the height of the waves when they hit.

A Canadian doing business in Japan offered to help rebuild the market, and secured lumber and funding from Canada to build the new welcome centre and museum. We had an opportunity to meet the CEO, Mr. Satori, and present him with a Canadian flag to fly at the museum. He told us more than 7,000 people visit there for the market and to see the Canadian flag. It was certainly a proud moment for me, and for our country.

Our next stop was Zuihoden (瑞鳳殿, Zuihōden), the mausoleum of Date Masamune, one of the most powerful feudal lords of the Edo period and founder of the modern-day city of Sendai. Masamune was the first in a long line of Date lords to rule over Sendai from Aoba Castle. His son and grandson, Date Tadamune and Date Tsunamune, are entombed in nearby mausoleums. Zuihoden was designed in the ornate style of the Momoyama Period. It features intricate woodwork and a rich variety of vivid colors.

Massive cedar trees surround the paths in the area, and are meant to symbolize the long history of the Date clan. A museum beside the Zuihoden main building shows some of the personal artifacts of the Date family, and even some specimens of their bones and hair.

Our last stop was a visit to the Aoba Castle (青葉城, Aobajō) built in 1600 by Masamune. He built the castle on Mount Aoba, 100 metres above the town below. Now all that is left of the castle are remnants of the outer stone walls and a guard tower. It provides a lookout onto the city. A statue of Masamune, samurai armor-clad and horseback, recalls the site’s origins.

We ended the day with another amazing dinner where the restaurant’s specialty was beef tongue. And yes, I ate it. And yes, it was delicious — very tender and flavourful.

For more photos from the Official Delegation/City Business portion of the trip, please click this link:


DAY 5 — The official city business is done, and the next few days were personal travel that I paid for.

Highlights from this day started with a full day in Hiroshima — a beautiful city, touched by unbearable horrors with the dropping of the first atomic bomb in history, on Aug. 6, 1945 at 8:15 a.m.

We visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park, to learn, pay our respects and commit to peace among nations and peoples.

Twinning relationships were born in Japan after the bomb dropped, to forge friendships, understanding and the sharing of cultures, with the goal of world peace.

A marker at the entry of the museum states that it “conveys to the world the horrors and inhumane nature of nuclear weapons and spreads the message of ‘no more Hiroshimas.'”

The museum depicts the unimaginable suffering of the citizens who lived through the bombing, with clothing, items salvaged from the bomb, written records and eye-witness accounts.

The bomb exploded 600 metres above the city, directly above a hospital. Temperatures hit 4,000 C when the bomb hit and the heat of it could be felt 60-70 km away.

I left out the most graphic of images I took at the museum when I shared them on social media, but I will describe what I saw verbally below (WARNING, THE CONTENT BELOW CONTAINS GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS. IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO READ IT, PLEASE HEAD DOWN TO “THE GENBAKU DOME” AFTER THE 4 BULLET POINTS.):

  • photos of burn victims, faces unrecognizable, mothers, fathers, children, civilians;
  • bloody ragged clothing, some blackened by the “black rain” that fell after the bomb, radioactive and toxic, people turned their faces to the sky and opened their mouths to drink it because they were burning up;
  • bodies floating in rivers, skin hanging off of limbs, and internal organs exploding to the outside of bodies;
  • the suffering went on for years, and decades, with people dying in agony after a few days, bleeding from the inside out, falling ill from the effects of radiation years later, or suffering abnormalities at birth from exposure of pregnant women to radiation.

The Genbaku Dome (also called the Atomic Bomb Dome) remains, untouched, as a reminder of what occurred, and is now a World Heritage Site, designated in 1996.

We spent the rest of the day learning about Hiroshima city and history.


The remaining days of the my personal portion of the trip to Japan, we visited a few more sites of significance and beauty.

The Fushimi Inari Shrine is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates that straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari that stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds. We climbed to the top of the mountain and visited dozens of shrines on the way up. Lots of wild cats roam in the shrines, some friendly, others not so much.

Fushimi Inari is the most important of thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the grounds. This cat was napping under the fox statue at the entrance, still there hours later.

We also visited the Kinkakuji Temple, also called the Golden Temple — a Zen temple in northern Kyoto whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. Formally known as Rokuonji, the temple was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.

Our next stop in Kyoto, Japan was the Arashiyama bamboo grove. It was 24C the day we visited and we were grateful for the shade! Then we climbed for 20 minutes to visit the monkey farm. It was very entertaining watching the monkeys eat, fight, play and groom each other.

We took the Kyoto Sagano Scenic Railway, also called the “Romantic Train” for its views of Hozugawa River. Next, a boat ride across Lake Ashinoko in Hakone. On clear days, you can see Mount Fuji, but she was shy, in the clouds when we were there. Lots of leaves turning colours.

Our final stop was roaming the streets of Tokyo in the rain. Overall, a great visit to an amazing country.

— Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward


*Posted by John Bkila, Mayor’s Media and Digital Communications Specialist.

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Media Specialist: John Bkila