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Everything is illuminated, Peace Park set to shine

An annual candle festival is Canberra’s way of honouring its sister city in Japan, Nara.
The Canberra Nara Candle Festival is an anticipated annual event, drawing people from around the country and overseas to engage in the celebration of Canberra’s international relationships. This year, in the evening of October 22nd, the Nara Peace Park will be illuminated with two thousand Japanese candles.
What is the history of the Nara Peace Park and the candle festival?
The park was originally named the Canberra Nara Park. It was officially opened on 9 October 1999 by the ACT Chief Minister at the time, Kate Carnell, and the Deputy Mayor of Nara, Hiromu Kiriki.
The citizens of Nara raised $100,000 to contribute to the development of the park, which also paid for the construction and shipping from Japan of two of the largest stone lanterns ever made.
The renaming of the park was a controversial affair – the RSL objected to putting the word “peace” in the park’s name due to issues concerning the terrible treatment of POWs by the Japanese army in the Second World War. After much debate, the park was renamed the Nara Peace Park in 2010.
The Peace Park is government run, with the help of the Canberra Nara Sister City Committee.
Narelle Hargreaves, chair of the committee, says the committee’s main function is to support the candle festival.
“Also, we assist the young groups of people, mainly students involved with studying abroad, musical or sporting groups, with billeting in Canberra and guiding them around,” she said.
Jeremy Lasek, the ACT Executive Director of Culture and Communications, speaks highly of the committee.
“It’s a great committee,” he said. “Also, the Japanese Embassy is a significant player and very supportive of the opportunity to celebrate the relationship…the numbers prove this, people come interstate for the festival.”
The first candle festival was held at the Nara Park in 2003 and due to its success, it became an annual event. The key feature at the festival are the 2000 shining Japanese candles but other events such as origami, Japanese drum ensemble performances, calligraphy, lantern making, Anime and kite flying share the attraction.
The festival in Canberra attempts to duplicate a similar event is held in Nara every year. The difference is how Canberra’s candle festival combines Australian culture with Japanese activities. The festival this year will be important, due to 2011 heralding the 18th anniversary of the sister city relationship.
How did Nara and Canberra become sister cities?
The sister-city relationship was proposed and sponsored by the ACT Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in conjunction with the Nara Chamber of Commerce, and became the formal sister city relationship between the ACT Government and the Nara Municipal Government in 1993.
Initially, the relationship between cities was suggested by a number of key individuals and organizations in Nara and Canberra. The official proclamation was signed by Chief Minister Rosemary Follett, on 26 October 1993. The proclamation was formalised the following year when Yasunori Ohkawa, Mayor of Nara, led a delegation of 150 Nara officials and citizens to Canberra, to formally sign the agreement to twin the two cities.
How many sister cities does Canberra have?
Canberra has two sister cities – Nara, Japan; and Beijing, China. Mr Lasek says the relationship with Nara is terrific.
“It’s a friendship that’s close but respectful,” he said. “It’s a relationship built mainly on culture.”
Mr Lasek spoke about the strong relationship with Beijing being established to further develop cultural and business opportunities for both cities. He said the business area has closer ties with Beijing than any other.
The main focus of the relationship presently is economic, through business, trade and promotion of the ACT.
One example of promotion of the ACT was during 24 April 2008 when Beijing was hosting the Olympics. Canberra was the only city in Australia given the privilege of hosting a leg of the Torch Relay.
“We have very strong ties with Beijing, but not on the same level of contact as Canberra has with Nara,” Mr Lasek said.
What does a sister city relationship entail?
For Nara, some aspects of the sister city relationship include links between schools, an active teacher and student exchange program, sporting organizations promoting youth sporting exchanges and exhibitions, rotary clubs, business and exchanges in cultural and professional fields.
For Beijing, most aspects of the relationship surround business and exchanges. Some programs being employed are the Beijing Finance Bureau Training Program, Water Industry Cooperation (mutually beneficial exchange of urban water industry issues), education and training for students. In terms of tourism, Australia has been accorded “Approved Destination Status” by Chinese Government tourism authorities.
Mr Lasek is a witness of the positive effect the sister city relations have upon people.
“Everyone benefitted greatly through the relationship and it helps strengthens ties with young groups,” he said. He The Executive Director pointed out also that the similarities between cities help the bond; Beijing being a thriving capital city and Nara a “city not dissimilar to Canberra”.
Are there any memorials dedicated to Canberra’s other sister city, Beijing?
“The closest symbol of the sister city status with Beijing is the Confucius statue in Dickson which was unveiled there a while ago; it wasn’t specifically to represent the relationship and there has not been a formal memorial/statue as yet,” Mr Lasek said.

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