May 21st, 2024

Nikka Yuko Bunka Centre getting set to share Japanese culture

By Al Beeber on October 28, 2021.

Herald photo by Al Beeber The Nikka Yuko Bunka Centre will be unveiled to the public Nov. 26 at the start of the Winter Light festival.


The doors are getting ready to open on the Nikka Yuko Bunka Centre.
While construction is still being done on the new building in front of the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden, the public will get a chance to view it when the garden opens Nov. 26 for the Winter Light Festival.
Brad Hembroff, president of the Lethbridge & District Japanese Garden Society, said Wednesday that the building will open in several stages, culminating on July 14 on the 55th anniversary of the garden when the building will be “fully operational.” The garden will open in spring when weather permits.
Hembroff gave media an update on the centre’s construction which is still on-going. When the Winter Lights Festival kicks off, vaccine protocols won’t have to be followed outdoors in the garden itself, he said.
“We will have to follow the COVID protocols. Fortunately, because this building and the activities for the Winter Light Festival are outside, subject to certain exceptions like indoor private functions and the like, we won’t have to follow the vaccine program, relative to people being out in the garden. So you’ll be able to come, mask, distance and follow the other protocols that are mandated by the government but other than that, you will be able to be outside touring the garden without having to do anything more,” Hembroff said.
When completed, the year-round cultural centre – bunka means ‘culture’ in Japanese – will feature two exhibit spaces as well as spaces for meetings and community events and a cafe.
Construction began on the facility in the fall of 2020 after a ground blessing ceremony on Sept. 11 last year. Funding for the project was included in the 2017 city Capital Improvement Program and on April 6, 2020 council voted 7-2 to give the Bunka Centre construction the green light.
The project actually was conceived, said Hembroff, in 2014 when Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden was given a substantial ($100,000) donation by Alex Yanoshita.
Lead architect for the project was Elizabeth Songer of Songer Architecture Inc. of Lethbridge.
“This is the result of six years of strategic planning, partnership and thinking to allow finally this to come to fruition,” said Hembroff.
“This cultural centre was approved in 2017 as part of the Capital Improvement Program for 2018 to 2027 from the City. This space is intended to facilitate the growth of that magnificent garden that you all see behind you,” he told media.
“When you now come into this building, thanks to Elizabeth Songer that garden will be framed for you and will just be something incredible to see. This society started the project in 2014 when an original donation came from Alex Yanoshita and a lot of what you see sitting in the room and the furnishings and the like are the result of that donation which was significant and really quite remarkable,” he said.
An exhibit room will be set up and established based on a design by Christina Cuthbertson, an independent curator and writer in Lethbridge who previously did curatorial work at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery from 2012-17.
“That will exhibit displays that relate to the history, information of the garden as well as the timeline of the history of this place and Japanese ancestry in southern Alberta, ” Hembroff added.
A Memory Capture Project, he said, will share stories of people in the community.
A booth in the building will offer memory capture information so people can listen to the history of the Japanese community in Lethbridge, he said.
“I think that’s going to be fantastic,” Hembroff said.
The final phase will come on the 55th anniversary of the garden “and we will have many more activities ready to go then. This place will be fully operational by that point in time and I think that you’ll find this is going to just be an incredible place,” he added.
Songer told media “from the start, this building was all about the garden. And we could have come in with something that was Japanese-y directly but we didn’t want to mimic anything in that this is a brand new building trying to honour something that’s time old and of time old tradition. So instead of just coming up with a mock-up Japanese architecture piece, we came up with something that referred to Japanese architecture in many ways.
“Japanese are quite humble and there’s honour in humbling yourself in front of others,” she said, pointing out the roof comes down to the centre point and that’s where people enter the building.
“You enter the most humblest point. The whole building is set up in two pieces that splay apart as we approach the gardens. So once you’ve humbly entered, you turn and see this just opening and solid wall of windows that focuses you on the pavilion itself. So then, of course, that just draws your attention right back to the pavilion. Once you’re inside, the focus, there aren’t a lot of windows beyond this view. The point is you get natural light in but you’re internally focused on the activity at hand and then the building and the roof shoosh you back toward the garden,” Songer added.
“The whole point of the butterfly is to draw you in, to draw you into the community centre and once you’re in it the humblest point and you’ve learned about the culture or you’ve celebrated your wedding or whatever you’re having happen here, you are then greeted and sent off to the peace and serenity of the garden itself,” Songer said.

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