Otaru is located on the west coast of Hokkaido, Japan, and is renowned for its fishing and tourism industries.
During the 1970s, New Zealand became increasingly conscious that its economic future lay in trade and economic co-operation with countries in the Pacific Rim, specifically increasingly powerful and wealthy Asian countries. Dunedin was one of the earliest cities in New Zealand to take advantage of this, with the establishment of a sister city relationship with Otaru in July 1980, at the instigation of then Mayor (Sir) Clifford Skeggs.
Otaru was selected as Dunedin's sister city for a number of reasons, not least because of the sheer physical similarity of the city to Dunedin - both cities of steep hills, beside a large, natural harbour.
The Dunedin-Otaru Sister City Society
The Dunedin-Otaru Sister City Society was formed in 1986 and has a membership comprised of Dunedinites interested in Japanese culture, students and teachers of Japanese and Japanese nationals living in Dunedin. The Committee also has a representative from the DCC to provide liaison between the two bodies.
The Society is a focal point for Japanese nationals living in Dunedin. Although its main focus is on the sister city relationship, it is very involved in many other Japan/New Zealand activities. The Society conducts a Japanese language competition each year, with the winner invited to compete in an International Japanese Language competition in Tokyo.
2009 was the 30th anniversary of the sister city relationship. With a triennial civic exchange between our two cities, it was Dunedin's turn to visit Otaru in July 2009 for the celebration. These visits include an exchange of significant gifts. Some of these gifts have included:
- A playground given to Otaru
- The Otaru Teien Garden in our Botanic Garden
- 100 kimonos presented to Dunedin
A personal touch
As well as the formal delegations, there are yearly youth exchanges. About 12 young people from schools that teach Japanese are given the opportunity to visit Otaru on alternate years. The students experience the full spectrum of Japanese culture, home life, school and recreation. For more information about these exchanges, contact the Dunedin-Otaru Sister City Society.
Delegations at Otaru
There are strong links between the Otago Museum and Otaru Museum, with regular exhibitions sent between the two institutions. Mr Shuzo Tsuchya, director of Otaru Museum, was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit at Government House in 2004 in recognition of his contributions.
Many of our top artists, including Graeme Sydney, Ralph Hotere and Else Noordhof, have visited Otaru and various Japanese artists have come here as artists-in-residence at Otago Polytech, including Kan Shimada and Yoshi Takada.
Otaru Canal Road Race
Otaru Canal Road Race began in 1989 in commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the designation of Port of Otaru as a foreign trade port. It counts among the most popular events in Otaru and represents many races held in early summer of Hokkaido. About 2,400 entrants come from all over Japan every year.
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