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Historic agreement to twin ancient castles in North Wales and Japan

An historic agreement will be signed next month to twin two ancient castles – one in North Wales and the other in Japan.

The arrangement to partner Conwy Castle and Himeji Castle, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, is believed to be the first of its kind for the UK.

The Mayor of Himeji, Toshikatsu Iwami, will be travelling to Conwy on July 6 to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with his local counterpart, Cllr Sam Cotton, during a special ceremony at the town’s Guildhall.
The initiative has the backing of the Welsh Government and the aim is to finalise the arrangements next year in Japan when it hosts the Rugby World Cup.

The twinning has come about because North Wales Tourism has been forging close links with the Japanese tourism industry with the help of Nakajima Takeharu, a Welsh Government representative in Japan who is also coming to Conwy.

As a result, more and more visitors from the Land of the Rising Sun have been coming to the area on their holidays.

Remarkably, work building the two castles began within 50 years of each other, with the Norman king, Edward I, making a start in 1283 and the construction of Himeji Castle getting underway in 1333.

After being remodelled several times over the centuries, Himeji Castle is a stunning five-storey wooden building that provided the backdrop for scenes from the 1967 James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice, in Sean Connery’s fifth outing as 007.

The nearly three million visitors who go there annually are greeted by men dressed in traditional Samurai costumes.

Last year it was named as Japan’s top-ranked castle for the second year in a row by TripAdvisor.
Among those welcoming the Mayor of Himeji will be Jim Jones, the managing director of North Wales Tourism, who was instrumental in making the visit happen.

Conwy is already festooned with Japanese flags in readiness for their arrival.

Mr Jones has been working closely with the Japanese Association of Travel Agents to promote the region.
As a result there has been an 84 per cent increase in the number of Japanese visitors, with almost 3,000 of them coming via travel agencies that have not previously had North Wales on their itineraries.

One of the reasons for the boom has been the creation of a new tourism route, the Road of Castles in Wonderland, which takes in many of North Wales’ main attractions and was designed with Japanese holidaymakers in mind.

Mr Jones said:

“I’ve been to Himeji Castle and it’s absolutely stunning and you take your shoes off to go in.
“The synergy between Himeji Castle and Conwy Castle is they were both started around about the same time.

“The twinning is the first of its kind for Wales and probably for the UK.
“The Mayor of Himeji and his delegation will be here for four days and as well as visiting Conwy Castle they will be taking in the Proclamation parade or the 2019 National Eisteddfod and calling at a local school.

“They want to come and experience our food and the Japanese have a particular fascination for Welsh Rarebit which regularly feature in high-end magazines over there.
“In fact, they like anything Welsh so Bara Brith and Welsh Cakes are also big favourites.
“They also love our gardens with their seasonal changes in colour along with our plethora of attractions.

“The Japanese delegation will also be visiting the Trefriw Woollen Mill where they will be meeting a talented Welsh weaver, Gethin Ceidiog Hughes, who has been commissioned by the Welsh Arts Council to create a commemorative tapestry representing the links between Conwy and Himeji.

“We’re also aiming to establish educational and cultural links between the two communities.
“This is the start of a beautiful friendship that is gathering momentum. It’s a huge opportunity.”