Princess touts family's ties to Canada during visit

By Geoff Smith (@smithco on Twitter)
July 14, 2017 - 1:47pm Updated: July 15, 2017 - 7:32pm

LETHBRIDGE -- Members of her family helped inaugurate the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden in Lethbridge in 1967. In 1992 her parents came to mark its 25th anniversary.

The tradition has continued with Princess Ayako of Takamado. The member of Japan's Imperial family received a tour of the garden Friday, July 14 as part of a weekend of 50th anniversary events. She also was the guest at a public ceremony that included music and dance, and was joined by dignitaries including Lt. Gov. Lois Mitchell in the unveiling a plaque to mark the visit.

"My mother fondly remembers the visit that she and my father made in 1992, and asked me to convey her best wishes," the princess told the crowd, as she also congratulated Canada on its 150th birthday. She recalled her father, Norihito, Prince Takamado, who died in 2002, had been a student in Canada and considered it his second home.

"He always said that it was in Canada that he learned the true meaning of living together in harmony and the importance of respecting different cultural traditions and values," she added.

Nikka Yuko (which means "Japan Canada Friendship") was a centennial project meant to recognize the contributions of people in the Lethbridge area of Japanese-Canadian ancestry.

"There were deeply rooted communities in places like Raymond, where the first Buddhist temple popped up back in 1929, right on up until the present, where there was incredible connections between Japan and Canada," said John Harding, chair of the 50th anniversary celebrations and a University of Lethbridge professor.

The Friday ceremonies included drumming by Lethbridge Community Taiko; the Nikkei Cultural Society of Lethbridge and Area Bon Odori Dance to "A Wonderful Canada," and a performance by singer and whistler Kirara Kato.

Harding found the 26-year-old Princess Ayako to be warm and engaging, which wasn't surprising given her and her family's connections to Canada. The princess herself attended the University of British Columbia and also studied in Victoria.

"(She's) part of this lineage now of this third-generation of visitors to the garden, visitors to Lethbridge, and she's carried that mission off with aplomb. We've been just very impressed with her personally," Harding said.

Princess Ayako closed her remarks with the hope that the Nikka Yuko garden will remain a symbol of friendship and goodwill between the two countries.

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