Nearly the entire city of Denver will head to Tokyo next week on two separate flights — on June 10 and 11 — as part of a trade-and-tourism mission that is also meant to promote United Airlines' new non-stop flight from Denver International Airport to Narita International Airport, which starts on June 10. (The flight, which uses the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, was slightly delayed earlier this year when the Federal Aviation Administration grounded all of the Dreamliners because of battery problems.)
Okay, maybe not the "entire city," but along with Mayor Michael Hancock, two city council members, some local mayors and tourism officials, there will be another sixty people on this inaugural mission, including the head of the Denver Zoo, reporters from two local news outlets, and nine members of a Montbello High School drum line. Hancock spokeswoman Amber Miller says "the vast majority of the costs" of the flights are being covered by the delegates themselves and by private sponsors, along with DIA and "partner organizations" like the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation; the drum line students raised their own money.
The Four Seasons Hotel in Denver is even sending its executive chef, Simon Purvis, who will cook as a guest chef at Ekki Bar & Grill, in the hotel company's Tokyo property. (Four Seasons is offering Japanese travelers who come to town via the Dreamliner an overnight package that includes a Colorado craft beer and a choice of Japanese or American breakfast in the morning.)
The self-professed goal of the mission is to "open new gateways for business, tourism and culture that will link the Rocky Mountain West with all of Asia" — or at least make the existing links take a little less time now that there are no layovers involved.
But Japan and Denver already have many connections. Here are a few of the ways that Japanese culture has affected the Mile High City over the past few decades:
1. During World War II, the U.S. government set up an internment camp in Granada, Colorado, where it forcibly detained thousand of people — many from California — of Japanese descent. When the war was over and the prisoners were freed, a large group stayed in Colorado, living and running businesses in what is now part of LoDo.
2. The area around Sakura Square, at 19th and Lawrence streets, has been a center of Japanese culture since the 1940s, and while only a few vestiges of what was once Denver's Japanese neighborhood remain — notably, Pacific Mercantile market and the Tri-State Buddhist Temple — the square still hosts the four-decades-old Cherry Blossom Festival, which takes place this year on June 22 and 23.
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3. The traditional Sho-Fu-En Japanese Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens is a tranquil spot that can transport visitors to a different time and place. The DBG also hosts Japanese tea ceremonies and boasts a large bonsai collection.
4. Artist Yoshitomo Saito was born in 1958 in Tokyo, but moved to the United States in 1983 to study studio glass art. He moved to Colorado in 2006 and now has a workspace and foundry in RiNo's Ironton Studios. Last year's Yoshitomo Saito: Espirito Alegre, a well-reviewed show at Goodwin Fine Art, featured his nature-based bronze sculptures.
5. Although Denver is a cowtown in a landlocked state, we have a plethora of good sushi restaurants, the kind that keep people coming back again and again to try delicate bits of raw fish, vegetables and rice. Three of Westword's favorites: Sushi Sasa, Sushi Den and Land of Sushi.
6. Newer Japanese cultural phenomena have also reached Denver, and the city is now home to two separate conventions celebrating anime, which wraps Japanese animation and video-game fandom up with cosplay and costumery: the long-running Nan Desu Kan, which earned a Best Anime Convention nod in Westword last year, and a newer entry called Animeland Wasabi. Both attract a lot of creative dressers. 7. The City of Takayama Park is one of several parks named for Denver's sister cities around the world. Located along Cherry Creek Drive North, between Dakota and Virginia avenues, Takayama Park honors Takayama, Japan; Takayama and Denver have been fostering U.S.-Japanese relations and cultural connections since 1960.