A delegation of high school students from Penticton’s sister city, Ikeda Japan, paid a visit to city hall this week. Steve Kidd/Western News

Video: Laughter bridges barriers

Ikeda students explore the Okanagan, including a week in Penticton

The sound of laughter, it seems, is universal.

While lack of English-speaking skills hampered communications with non-Japanese speaking Mayor Andrew Jakubeit, the laughter of a group of high school students from Ikeda, Japan showed they were enjoying themselves as they explored Penticton’s council chambers Tuesday afternoon, meeting the mayor and trying out the council seats.

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The group of 10 students, along with their principal, have returned home now, but they spent the better part of a week exploring the Okanagan.

Don Grant, music teacher at Princess Margaret, was their guide for the week.

“On Sunday, we went up Carmi, had a big bonfire, toboggan, hot dogs, smores on the fire,” said Grant. They also got a chance to go skiing on Apex, and spent part of Tuesday at Queen’s Park Elementary, teaching younger students how to do fan calligraphy and origami.

Forged in 1977, Penticton’s sister city relationship with Ikeda is one of the oldest and most successful in Canada, but it suffered through some rough years when global economics made it difficult for both cities to maintain regular exchanges.

Related: Penticton’s sister city program with Ikeda on the ropes

The relation was renewed last year, with a delegation led by Jakubeit went to Ikeda to celebrate the 40th year of the relationship.

Related: Penticton renews an old friendship

Ikeda is similar to Penticton in many ways, with a strong agricultural component and similar demographics. They also have a small wine industry — Jakubeit recalls being taken down into a wine cellar where there was “an inch of dust” on the bottles.

“They cracked open a 40-year-old wine for the banquet,” he said.

Jakubeit also told the students about Penticton’s Japanese Garden, next to the art gallery. There are actual pieces of Japan in there, he said, explaining how some visitors would bring stones over in their luggage to add to the garden.

“The Japanese Gardens are probably the most tangible thing that you can see here in Penticton,” said Jakubeit. “It is just signifying that we are a diverse community and welcoming community, fostering goodwill across two continents.”

A delegation from the City of Ikeda is expected to visit Penticton this fall.