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Whistler mayor finds a slice of home in Japan

Whistler, Karuizawa celebrating 20 years as sister cities



During a recent trip to Whistler's sister city of Karuizawa, Japan, Mayor Jack Crompton was greeted by a comforting dose of B.C.'s Coast Mountains.

"I felt very much at home in Karuizawa. They proudly hang a Chili Thom print right in the entrance of municipal hall," Crompton said.

"Seeing Chili hanging thousands of kilometres around the world-it gives you goosebumps."

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the sister city relationship, and Crompton's first visit to the Land of the Rising Sun as Whistler's mayor.

"It was an extremely full agenda for three days in Karuizawa. We were hosted at a beautiful traditional tea ceremony; we visited Shiraito waterfalls on the Onioshidashi volcanic park and blast zone, and beautiful Mount Asama," he said.

"It was fun for me to see all of the places that our Whistler students visit while on exchange. We unveiled an inukshuk in Karuizawa's main park. It's not quite as big as those we have in Whistler, but it was designed by the children participating in last year's student exchange."

Crompton also attended Karuizawa's Yusugenotsedoi festival, celebrating community.

"Like Whistler, Karuizawa has a very large population of second homeowners, and Yusugenotsedoi is a chance for those seasonal residents to connect with the permanent population and celebrate their town," he said.

"I had the privilege to speak to the whole celebration, and my speech was primarily pleasantries-but I did attempt a little Japanese, which they appreciated."

Karuizawa's efforts to connect its permanent population with second homeowners is something Crompton said he'd like to replicate here.

"That work has been an effort over a long period of time, and I think it's resulted in a stronger, more vibrant community," he said.

"It's an important connection, and one I hope to see us pursue moving forward."

The Resort Municipality of Whistler budgeted $25,000 for activities involving its sister city in 2019, including the installation of a commemorative plaque in Whistler Village, hosting Karuizawa's mayor and council in July, and Crompton's trip to Japan.

Crompton's daughter Maggie accompanied him on the trip on his own dime.

At about 20,000 people, Karuizawa's population is nearly double Whistler's, but the sister cities share much in common-both boast beautiful mountain terrain bordering a forested valley, both rely on tourism as a main component of their economy (Karuizawa welcomes about 8.5 million visitors annually), and both have played host to the Olympics (twice in the case of Karuizawa-events from both the 1964 Summer Olympics and the 1998 Winter Games were held there).

The two cities became "sisters" in 1999-the 67th such pair between the two countries.

"There is much to learn from Karuizawa, and it's clear, too, that Karuizawa has learned much from Whistler: they have a growing valley trail network, a very successful farmers' market they've just established, [and] they're considering municipal investment in recreation infrastructure like skateboarding and cycling," Crompton said.

"So it's very much an opportunity for both communities to learn from one another."