Two Richmond councillors head to Japan to invite vessel

Couns. Harold Steves and Bill McNulty as well as city staff will travel to Japan for a face-to-face meeting to invite the Kaiwo Maru tall ship to attend a 2023 maritime festival in Richmond.

The trip, estimated to cost $40,000, was approved by council, despite some councillors arguing that it’s unnecessary given 21st century communications technology.

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Steves has been advocating for the Kaiwo Maru to be invited to Steveston to celebrate the city’s fishing industry. The vessel was previously in Steveston in 2005 and 2017.

The city has been holding maritime-oriented events in Steveston since 2002. Currently, the city spends $300,000 per year on the Maritime Festival, which Steves called a “festival with no boats.”

“I don’t really want to take a trip but it’s extremely important,” Steves said at Monday’s council meeting.

In their report to council, staff pointed out that the Japanese appreciate in-person meetings.

“The benefit of personal contact can’t be under-estimated,” said Mayor Malcolm Brodie.

The year 2023, when the city hopes the Kaiwo Maru will come to Steveston, is the 50th anniversary of Richmond’s sister-city friendship with Wakayama, Japan.

Coun. Linda McPhail said Japanese are “relationship oriented” and the face-to-face communication is important, Furthermore, it shows respect and esteem to send two senior councillors to Japan with the request, she added.

“I believe it’s timely to be planning another event and have the event during the year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the sister-city friendship with Wakayama,” McPhail added. “I think it just ties it all together.”

Several councillors spoke against the trip, saying instead of an in-person trip, it should be possible to use 21st century digital technology – a phone call, email, teleconferencing – to invite the tall ship to attend.

Coun. Chak Au pointed out this is not the first time the ship has been invited to Richmond, and a relationship has already been established, therefore, a personal invitation isn’t necessary.

“I don’t think we need face to face in the digital age,” Au said, adding that the trip is not “green” and will increase the carbon footprint.  

The trip is planned for April.

Couns. Au, Michael Wolfe and Kelly Greene voted against the trip.

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