JET Program CIR Report

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CIR Report from Kanazawa (13)

By Sophie Bocklandt
(Coordinator for International Relations)


It may seem to you that I will never leave Kanazawa and maybe you’re not that mistaken. I’ve been asked to stay a fifth year and I am seriously considering it! By Christmas I have to give my definite answer, but I don’t see much reason not to stay. I still enjoy the job, it is good practice for my Japanese, I love my freedom to travel and my cozy apartment and I have plenty of friends here. After 4 years it might be a good time to try something new, but since 5 years is the maximum whatsoever, what’s another year, right? It will give me the opportunity to look for a new job challenge at ease. The only thing that keeps me from signing right away is the fact that my job content has slightly changed, although I should see that as a challenge. Since the arrival of my French colleague I am no longer involved with Nancy, the French sister city, only with the Belgian sister city of Ghent. So my administrative work has decreased, but instead I have more school visits and events to do. Especially the number of school visits has remarkably increased the last months. Where it used to be at a pace of once every two, three months, it’s now up to at least once or twice a month, in December even three visits in one week! After all these years the school visits have become rather routine, so I’m always happy with new requests from the children, like teaching them Dutch songs or Dutch self-introductions. In October I helped out at a Halloween party for English club. Believe it or not, it was the first time I actually carved a pumpkin and did doughnut bobbing! And the students had a lot of fun dressing us volunteers up in costumes they made using only a garbage bag, toilet paper, cups and plates, colorful strings and balloons!

One of Kanazawa’s newspapers has begun asking foreigners their opinion on Kanazawa’s treasures, so I’ve already been interviewed about my thoughts on the beautiful Kenrokuen garden and the traditional Noh theater. In September I participated in a workshop for volunteer guides in Nanao, a city in the middle of the Noto Peninsula, about 1, 5 hour drive north from Kanazawa. It’s famous for its traditional shopping street with a candle store, a soy sauce store (that even sells soy ice cream!), Japanese textile store etc, as well as the Seihakusai festival. Japanese volunteers had to guide foreigners around in English, Korean and Chinese. In the beginning they were quite nervous, but it turned out to be very informative for both sides and most of all, a lot of fun!

Every year during the first weekend of October it’s the International Friendship Festival in front of city hall, organized by the Kanazawa International Exchange Foundation (KIEF: http://www.kief.jp/English/E_Frame_Total.htm), a foundation attached to city hall and the workplace of our American CIR colleague. Same as every year the Kanazawa city CIRs had to do presentation on stage in folk costumes (I went for Austria and Georgia), but this year we also organized a Halloween decoration session for little children. After the city’s international festival we also had the prefectural one, organized by the Ishikawa Foundation for International Exchange (IFIE: http://www.ifie.or.jp/index.php), workplace of five CIR colleagues. This year as well I put up a Belgian booth, promoting our delicious products, beautiful architecture and large comic book tradition. At the end of both days I participated in a fashion show, modeling a traditional outfit from Tonga. Even though the international festivals become repetitive, they are always a great opportunity to meet new people and meet up with colleagues and friends in a fun atmosphere. And this year the festivals turned out to be very fruitful for our French club, which gained several new members.

Since last year Kanazawa and Nancy have a new exchange programme, exchanging a student from both cities at the same time (instead of alternating). After signing an agreement last year to exchange art students with Ghent as well, Kanazawa has just received a Ghent student at the Kanazawa College of Art. She will stay for three months, giving me the opportunity to actually speak Dutch in Kanazawa!

After having obtained the recognition of UNESCO as a creative city, Kanazawa has become very active in showing the world why they deserved this title. Last October the city organized a Creative Cities Forum where they invited several key players in the creative cities network, including a representative from Ghent, also recognized by UNESCO as creative city of music. The organization of this Forum did not go through our International Exchange Section, so I was not directly involved and did not have to interpret, but still I had the chance to once again meet up with someone from Ghent. It still amazes me how active Kanazawa is concerning its sister cities!

Even though we now have a French CIR at city hall, they asked me to accompany the mayor and his wife on a business trip to Paris again. The mayor gave a speech for the Association of Mayors of Big French Cities, and meetings were held for next year’s Japanese-French Conference in Kanazawa. Of course a visit to the UNESCO office was on the agenda as well. In the meanwhile I accompanied the mayor’s wife on some sightseeing trips, giving me the opportunity to enjoy myself the beauties of Paris and surroundings. This year we went to the castles of Chantilly and Fontainebleau and even went to the communes of Barbizon, Moret-sur-Loing and Grez-sur-Loing to visit the former studios and houses of great painters like Jean-François Millet, Alfred Sisley and the Japanese Seiki Kuroda. The business trip gave me the chance to reunite with some good friends from Aichi World Fair now living in Paris, and with my family during a weekend off in Belgium.

Every year November we have to attend the CIR mid-year conference. All CIRs from all over Japan (about 350 people) get together for three days, attending several workshops to improve work skills and to socialize with other CIRs. Ishikawa was well represented with 17 CIRs, not a record but still a high number compared with other prefectures. Because this was my 4th orientation, I had to attend a special workshop on teamwork. Together with other 4th and 5th year CIRs we had to discuss the business strategies of our group and eventually build several structures with domino blocks, trying to reach certain quota. Nerve-racking at times, but a fun and interesting way to feel the importance of teamwork. Until now these conferences were held in Tokyo, but this year it moved to Makuhari in Chiba prefecture. I seized the opportunity to visit some friends in Tokyo and Chiba, including Belgian friends living in the capital, and I went to see a Kabuki play. The famous Kabuki theatre in Tokyo will be renovated starting next April, so they are now organizing a grand farewell tour, staging the most famous Kabuki plays and actors. Although I wrote my thesis on the Kabuki writer Chikamatsu Monzaemon, I had only seen Kabuki once, a quite impressive experience. So a little dream came true when I entered that majestic building a second time!

While work keeps me busy during the week, traveling keeps me busy during the weekends. The weekends I was home the last months I can count on one hand. I won’t go as far as to say I’m addicted, but travelling around, seeing and experiencing new things, meeting new people has for sure become a passion.

A Japanese friend invited me to spend a long weekend in Nasu, a villa resort in Tochigi prefecture. The region is mostly known for its hot springs, sake, golf and ski resorts. The Imperial family also has a villa in Nasu. It’s really an area to relax, and so we did, visiting the local zoo, springs and fortune teller!

It had been a while since I visited the closest big city, Kyoto. So when a couple of friends asked me to join them there, I couldn’t say no. Thanks to them I finally discovered the Nishiki market, rich with history and tradition, selling traditional and famous Kyoto goods and food. I bought myself a Japanese hanging scroll of cherry blossoms and a rare print of a geisha in the snow, drawn in the 1950’s. The next day we left Kyoto for Uji, home of green tea and the famous Byodo-in temple that can be seen on the Japanese 10 yen coins. On the way back to Kyoto we got off at the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine with its hundreds of red torii gates lining into trails that go all the way up to the mountain. Only one month later we went back to Kyoto for a memorable event: maiko henshin, transformation into maiko, apprentice geisha! Although we were expecting a studio full of foreign tourists, except for us all customers were Japanese! On a Saturday afternoon the studio was really crowded, with rows of girls waiting to get their make-up and hair done and to get dressed for an original photo shoot. The white face paint is literally painted on with a brush, leaving a bit of the neck uncovered which is supposed to be attractive for a geisha. Eyes are done with reddish eye powder, and lips with fiery red lip paint. After the make-up is put on, we chose a kimono and purse and for the finishing touch we were put on a wig with hair decorations. Believe me, that wig is really heavy and combined with a tight kimono and uncomfortable geta clogs, I could only think that beauty definitely has its price! After a professional photo shoot in our maiko outfit, we were allowed to stroll around on our own, but we didn’t get far, because every few minutes people asked for our picture. It must indeed be a rare sight, two foreign maiko amidst the temples of Kyoto!

In fact I participated in another photo shoot for the Eye on Kanazawa free paper. This time my Korean friend and I were filmed while trying out a make-it-yourself tea ceremony and enjoying a deluxe Japanese dinner at a ryokan hotel.

Furthermore I went to the amazing guzuyaki or fighting fish festival in southern Kaga, we barbecued at the river in front of my house and celebrated in style the arrival of our new American and French colleagues. So all is well in Kanazawa!

Please take care of yourselves! Until my next report!

Sophie Bocklandt

 

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