The Kasugai Gardens is a symbol of friendship between the Japanese city and Kelowna.
Ken Fix, vice-president with the Kelowna-Kasugai Sister City Association, is the last person to be featured in Carli’s Cultural Connections, a bi-monthly segment that aims to highlight culture around the Central Okanagan. The Capital News will be debuting a new video series in the days ahead.
Nix discussed the history of the garden and highlighted some of its features.
Q: What’s the reason for Kelowna to have a garden?
A: The Kasugai Gardens were opened in 1987. Al Horning and Roy Tanaka, who were members of the association at the time, were instrumental in bringing the gardens to Kelowna. The Simpson properties behind city hall, at the time, were looking for something to have, so the association offered the idea of having the Japanese garden in-behind city hall.
Q: What’s the relevance of a garden in Japanese culture?
A: Kasugai had built an actual street, called Kelowna Boulevard and right down the centre in a stream and halfway down the boulevard, a replica of the sails were shipped over there. The gardens have become one of Kelowna’s gems. It’s like a sanctuary for people to come in and have lunch or find a quiet place to come in amid the bustle of downtown Kelowna. It gives you an array of types of gardens that were all put into one. The sister city association has actually created a pamphlet to be able to see a little bit about the association and a self-guided tour of the gardens.
Q: Why was a relationship established between Kasugai and Kelowna?
A: The people from Japan really wanted to become more internationalized, so the governments of the countries, the state and the municipalities were investing money to become multicultural and one idea that they had was to create sister cities. It all started with the junior chamber of commerce in Kelowna, which had contacts with the cities over there.
Q: There was a history of racism with Japanese Canadians in the Okanagan, were these sister cities established to build a better relationship?
A: I don’t think that was necessarily for that at the beginning, but there was a lot of ostracization at the schools where I was at when I was younger and it was really difficult for people not to get bullied because of your race. That was back in the 1970s. The sister-city association, when it came aboard, it was something people didn’t know about. There was a lot of fear, there were a lot of things to do with people’s race because it wasn’t familiar, it was strange. But through the sister-city visits, we found that a lot of the cultural activities that they showed us, and what we showed them, really brought on a collaborative exchange and created a curiosity rather than a fear. As we did that more and more, people were really trying to get to know more about the Japanese people.
In the mid-1980s, Roy Tanaka, he went to KSS and gave an idea of having a school exchange. So a private school in Japan and KSS became the first sister schools and the youth got to know more and more. It continues today.
Q: Do you think people are becoming more interested in the Japanese culture because of the gardens?
A: I think that the culture of Japan, because of anime and martial arts, all the really different cultural aspects of Japan have flowed into our culture. I think more interest in Japan comes from the interest in the anime and stuff. I believe though that the sister-city relationship will grow. I believe if more youth become interested in that relationship, it will grow.
As Carli’s Cultural Connections ends, stay tuned at kelownacapnews.com for more video features focusing on the summer in the Central Okanagan.