Sooke district will play host to a group of Japanese exchange students next month as part of an exchange program.
The students hail from Natori, Japan, which has a long-standing relationship with Sooke. Since its incorporation, its students have come here to visit regularly every other year – the following year Sooke sends its students to go and visit them.
In the past, the students come to meet the mayor and council, and they have lunch at Sooke Municipal Hall. Protocol-wise, there’s an exchange of gifts, some of which are on display inside the council chamber, said Mayor Maja Tait, noting the gift is usually special and unique.
“The gift has a value of $150 to $200, which goes to another government [Natori] office,” she said.
All councillors supported both the gift and the lunch unanimously at a recent meeting.
The Natori-Sooke exchange program goes back to 2001, marking the beginning of a strong friendship between the two cities. As such, many Natori residents and officials have visited Sooke, including the mayor of Natori.
The twin-city relationship came to a tragic halt on March 11, 2011, when the 9.0-magnitude Tohoku earthquake and tsunami laid waste to Japan’s coastline, including Natori, killing more than 230,000 people and causing more than $300 billion dollars worth of damage.
It was not the end of the Sooke-Natori connection however, and several years later, after continued support from the local community, the program resumed in 2015, with 22 Japanese students coming to Sooke and exploring the area.