August 27, 2004 Features & Images » Feature Story

Sister cities linked by Games, resort environment 

Canadian-born missionary key to Karuizawa’s emergence as a resort

This year, Japan and Canada are celebrating the 75 th anniversary of their establishment of diplomatic relations. The two nations have a long history, some good, some not so good. However, many individuals in the diplomatic world believe that communication between people, and cultural exchanges, are vital to international relations.

In March 1999, Karuizawa, located in Nagano Prefecture, became Whistler’s sister city. How did it all start?

Karuizawa’s emergence as a resort began in 1886. Alexander Croft Shaw, a Canadian-born missionary (his descendants live in Toronto today) of Scottish decent, spent a summer in the area and soon after recommended it to friends as a retreat away from the summer heat. He built a cottage, and it wasn’t long before Shaw’s missionary friends were doing the same.

By 1893 the Usui Railways opened up the area, taking approximately six hours to travel up from Tokyo. (Today it takes one hour on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Bullet Train. The Tokyo- Nagano line opened in October 1997.) And in 1905, Naoyoshi Yamamoto opened the Mikasa Hotel, the first Western style hotel in Japan. Designed and constructed by the Japanese, the architecture is entirely Western. Today it is designated as a national cultural heritage site.

Officially, the town of Karuizawa was established on Aug. 1, 1923. The local government consists of one mayor and 20 assembly members who are elected for a four-year term. The municipal flower is the primula (primrose) and the municipal tree is the magnolia. Mount Asama (a volcano) at 2,568 metres, is the highest peak in the area, but its off limits as it has been active over the past several years. Forests of larches and birch are home to approximately 130 species of birds, and approximately 1,500 species of plants.

In 1952, skating rinks were built to entice winter visitors to the area. Trains and buses offered trips from Tokyo and visitor numbers did increase. In time, national and international skating events were hosted in Karuizawa.

In 1964 Tokyo held the 18 th Olympic Summer Games, becoming the first city outside of Europe and America to do so. Awarding the Olympic games to Japan was an act of reconciliation after World War II. At the opening ceremonies, the Olympic flame was carried into the stadium by a young man who had been born near Hiroshima on Aug. 6 th , 1945; the same day an atomic bomb was dropped on the city.

The Tokyo Olympics introduced satellite television and the Games were broadcast to living rooms around the world.

Karuizawa hosted the equestrian events at the 1964 Games: dressage, jumping and a 32.7km endurance race. Forty-eight participants representing 12 nations competed in the three-day events.

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