JET Program CIR Report

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(Reports from Werner)

 

CIR Report from Kanazawa (6)

By Marlies
(Coordinator for International Relations)

 

This is it, my final report…

The last few months as a CIR in Kanazawa were a mad rollercoaster of work, travel and making the most of the time I had left. It’s impossible to fit everything in this report, but here is a little recap :-)

In May I enjoyed my last Golden Week.

There was a great festival in Nanao, called Seihakusai Dekayama Matsuri, where three huge floats were pulled through the narrow streets under loud cheering of the crowd. The floats were lean and tall (looked very unstable  ) and on one side they had elaborate tableaus depicting scenes from a legend of the region (something to do with a monkey…). Bystanders could participate in pulling the floats through the streets (only recently they allow women to do this too), while a group of men standing on the float sang and set the pace and a third group tried to keep the float steady, managing the breaks and the steering. Especially in the turns the floats made for an exciting sight as they had to be turned by shoving what looked like giant wooden spoons under the wheels, causing a loud “thump” with every insertion, making the entire structures sway violently and the men on the floats hang on for dear life. Suddenly sparks flew when one of the floats rocked right into some electricity wires! No harm was done, the crowd cheered and on they went…
There’s always some excitement to be had at Japanese festivals :-)

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Nanao

Last year I tried rice planting at Senmaida, this year I challenged bamboo shoot picking in Tsubata! How on earth did I come up with that one? Well, it so happens that it was an event organized by our Tsubata CIR colleague Chelsea, and Yoolim and I went to check it out. On a sunny morning in the middle of nowhere in very rural Tsubata, about twenty local families and curious foreigners gathered for an international bamboo-shoot-digging experience, followed by a lunch with… you guessed it: all kinds of bamboo shoot food! ;-)

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Tsubata

Before getting started I barely even knew what a bamboo shoot looked like, but a local veteran ‘bamboo shoot picker’ explained to us novices what to look for and how to dig the things out of the ground. All enthusiastic diggers then set off into the bamboo forest to get their hands dirty. It’s hard work digging for bamboo shoots, I can tell you :-)

After a while, we had dug out so much, there was plenty to prepare and even more to take home as omiyage. The old man was quite surprised by our abundant harvest, as this year was supposed to be an off year for bamboo shoots. (Apparently good and bad years alternate.) Another piece of bamboo shoot wisdom I picked up: bamboo shoots rapidly lose their freshness and quality after being dug up. It is adamant to prepare them as soon as possible after they come out of the ground. Therefore bamboo shoots aren’t something you should buy in the supermarket; the only ones worth eating are the ones you receive from family or friends who dug them up themselves, because then at least you are sure they are fresh. (me now a.k.a. bamboo shoot expert ;-) )

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Cooking Class

Keeping with the culinary theme, I also had my last Leonidas cooking class in May. Because it was my last I decided to step things up a notch, with a menu fit for a festive occasion. Each dish required a little more work than just your everyday cooking, so I suggested the ladies might want to split up into tables making one course at each table… that idea didn’t fly though… they all wanted to make “everything” :-) Despite my protesting that there was not enough time they were reluctant to budge on the matter and instead came up with a rather unexpected solution… They decided to do the main courses and desserts at all the tables and to have their “sensei” show them how to prepare the first course in front of the entire group… Unanimous cheers of approval meant the matter was settled (sensei has no say in things)… putting the pressure on me to try and deliver as professional a demonstration as possible on how to prepare that first course under the scrutinizing looks of a dozen eager ladies. I buckled up… and besides receiving some grinning at my cauliflower-chopping skills and barely avoiding the milk boiling over, I managed … all the while giving extremely useful comments like “add… at random”, “stir… any which way really”, “cut… randomly”, “taste… till it’s right” :-)
Despite my cracking verbal skills, the result turned out more than edible, and the overall response to the festive menu was great! Except for the part where you have the first course FIRST, FOLLOWED by the main and LASTLY the dessert… Having everything on the table before you start eating is just makes so much more sense… ;-)

Besides the occasional school visits and some translation work May was otherwise a quiet month. The beginning of June started of slow as well for some of us. There were no Western delegations to attend to, so we could enjoy Kanazawa’s Hyakumangoku Festival leasurely this year! We started off with the floating of colorful Yuzen silk-painted lanterns down the Asanogawa river on Friday evening. It was the perfect occasion to dress up in yukata too… Julie and I didn’t have to be told that twice!

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Hyakumangoku Festival

On Saturday Nishi-Kanazawa SUN Cho-me (the yosakoi group Yoolim and I joined some time ago) had to perform on the castle grounds, and afterwards we could see the Hyakumangoku parade go by.

My next big adventure came right after: my first trip to China! I started off in Shanghai, then traveled to Suzhou, Wuzhen and Hangzhou. If left to my own devices I never would have gotten anywhere I think, but I was lucky to have my Chinese friend Reien travel with me from start to end, making this China adventure absolutely unforgettable! Amazing food, fantastic gardens, beautiful sights and museums... and spending precious time with friends, it was a perfect trip.

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China

Back from China it was straight back to work because I had my last KIEF event only days after. For my final introduction of Belgian culture I chose to do a contemporary dance workshop! Not an obvious choice, but I figured dance enthusiasts can be found anywhere… Even so it was touch and go for a while, and I started to get really worried there wouldn’t be enough participants. But in the end some brave people did show up, the event turned out to be a big hit, everyone had a great time and people wanted to come back for more!

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Dance

Right after the dance workshop finished I got in the car to join the other CIRs on our annual camping trip/farewell-weekend at Kenmin-no-mori. Just like last year the weather left to be desired but that couldn’t spoil the fun. We had BBQ, cake, presents and picture time, and by popular demand: Belgian waffles too :-)

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Kenmin-no-mori

For this job I spend a lot of time behind my desk at city hall, but occasionally a work request gets me out of the office. Imagine my surprise though when a request from the city of Hakusan came in, asking me to “test-drive” a sightseeing tour in their nature park! In an attempt to attract more foreign tourists to the mountain (Mount Hakusan) and the region, the city invited a handful of CIRs to participate in a model trip. Afterwards we would be asked to give feedback about what worked and what didn’t. There are worse ways to make a living :-)
We went to see the waterfalls, did some hiking, had a bento lunch on top of a mountain with a stunning 360 degree panorama view of the surrounding mountain range, and we ended the day with a relaxing bike ride in the valley.

Last big event for me in June was my first ikebana exhibition entry! In the beautiful setting of an old merchant’s house (machiya) recently refurbished as a students and citizens’ community center about fifty people showed their creations. To think that I only just started last year, I was really glad I got to experience this before going back! Thank you Kaoru sensei!

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Ikebana

In July there was a CIR BBQ on Uchinada beach… in the rain… talk about die-hards :-) Also, a Brazilian Zouk (dance) workshop in Komatsu organized by Raffaele, the Brazilian CIR. My evenings were filled with ikebana and yosakoi practice, and even though it was my last month at work, I was given no time to finish things up quietly… instead I was sent off to Europe for another business trip!

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Yosakoi

Off I went, to Nancy for a day, and on to Ghent, for a few days… with a double delegation: a study group sent to learn about the light plan of the city, and a group to discuss the possibilities for a youth exchange with jazz musicians. Needless to say, I had my hands full managing the schedules and translating for 8 people. Luckily the meetings went really well, and we could return with good results all over.

Unfortunately though the last-minute business trip had left me with very little time to take care of all the preparations for my leaving… I decided to leave mid-August, after the Hyakumangoku Yosakoi tournament, which seemed random at the time, but turned out to be my salvation, for I never would have made it in time had I left any earlier. With barely a week left on my contract, I had to arrange my trip home , get my successor up to speed, make sure I had all the necessary documents and the most daunting part… move out of my apartment. I am a bit of a packrat you see…

Oh, and I should mention… there was a little city trip to Seoul in there as well :-)
I had been wanting to take a trip to Korea for over a year, and I wanted to go with Yoolim… but for some reason our schedules were soooo incompatible that it never worked out… until we finally decided to plan the trip at the end of my contract, thinking chances of something getting in the way then would be slim… little did we know at the time (that was beginning of 2013 mind you). Crazy as it was, we didn’t want to give up this last chance of traveling to Korea together, so we went! I had to restrain myself from buying more stuff, which was pretty difficult in the shopping paradise that is Seoul ;-) And it was hot, but it was great!

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Seoul

Come August I managed to clear out my apartment on time! I moved my mountain of stuff temporarily into Yoolim’s place, who had kindly offered to take me in for the remaining time. During those last two weeks I packed and repacked and shipped off box after box to Belgium. Even though my contract had officially ended, I still found myself at the office finishing things up. After work yosakoi practice reached its peak, with the big tournament just around the corner. And of course there were goodbye-lunches, farewell-dinners and last visits here and there.

The Hyakumangoku Yosakoi Tournament was my first big tournament and the final big happening to top off my JET years. Teams had come from far and wide to compete. We danced in Kanazawa’s main street in temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius! We danced and danced some more… It was an over the top fest of brightly colored costumes and sequins, flags waving and complex group choreographies!

And the end result… Nishi-Kanazawa SUN Cho-me won!
No better way to bid Kanazawa goodbye than by giving it my all dancing for “my” team in front of an audience full of friends and supporters! It was awesome! :-)

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Last Photo

My two years on the JET Program have flown by, and it is only when looking back (while writing these reports ;-) ) that I realize just how much has happened during that time. I did a wide variety of work, discovered some amazing places, met a great many people (made some friends for life :-)), and I got a bit wiser with every experience. I am very grateful for all the opportunities I was given, and proud of the things I have achieved. I wish my successor all the best and hope his life in Kanazawa will be equally exciting :-)
To everyone in Kanazawa I say: “Tot ziens!”, until we see each other again!
And to all of you: “Thank you for reading!”

Groetjes,

Marlies



(Photos by Marlies)

 

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(Reports from Werner)