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CIR Report from Kanazawa (17)

By Sophie Bocklandt
(Coordinator for International Relations)

 

2011 has come upon us and for me it will be a year of change. Beginning of August (in mere five months) my contract at Kanazawa City Hall will come to an end. After five years I will have to look for a new job and a new place to live. I hope I can find a job where I can use my living experience in Japan, my multiple work experiences at city hall and my language abilities. I just attended a 3-day conference for returning JETs in Yokohama, during which I received a lot of useful information on possible career paths, networking, resumes and interviews, and reverse culture shock. Of course I combined the conference with sightseeing in the beautiful harbor city of Yokohama and nearby Tokyo and I was able to get in touch with some Belgian colleagues and friends in the area. I really hope a new job challenge will present itself soon!

A lot of recurring events I have done for a fifth and last time. One of them was the International Friendship Festival organized by the Kanazawa International Exchange Foundation (KIEF) during the first weekend of October. Same as every year my CIR colleagues and I did presentation on stage in ethnic clothes. Believe it or not, but I was able to find two outfits that I had never worn before: a white lace outfit from Brazil and a funky green dress from Mexico. Thanks to nice weather and the enthusiasm of all the volunteers, this turned out to be one of the most successful editions of the festival I have attended. There was also the annual international festival organized by Ishikawa prefecture. Every year I put up a Belgian booth which I had to man on my own, but not this year. Since October a Belgian exchange student from the Ghent Academy of Fine Arts is taking courses at the Kanazawa College of Art. She is only here for a few months, but it is always great fun to have another Dutch-speaking Belgian around.

Kanazawa has seven sister cities: Ghent in Belgium, Nancy in France, Buffalo in America, Porto Alegre in Brazil, Irkutsk in Russia, Suzhou in China and Jeonju in Korea. In the entrance hall of Kanazawa city hall you can see a large world map with clocks showing the exact time in each of the sister cities and showcases displaying a large number of gifts that have been sent from the cities to Kanazawa. It is only one of the sister city-related efforts of Kanazawa. Besides employing four CIRs to facilitate the communication and actively sending and receiving delegations (in October a delegation from Kanazawa attended the opening of the new city museum STAM in Ghent), Kanazawa also has a sister city park. In this park every sister city has its own corner, recreating the atmosphere of the city. In the case of Ghent, known as the flower city, you can see a rose garden and relax on a bench next to a gargouille and a relief of the Virgin of Ghent. Both works were presents from the city of Ghent at the occasion of the 20th and the 35th anniversary of the sister city agreement. Next year it will be the 40th anniversary, so I hope I will still be there for the big celebration!

Unfortunately the sister city park is not located in the center of Kanazawa and therefore it is unknown to many citizens. To attract more visitors, our section is actively engaged in promoting the park, by organizing several school tours and events over there. Especially children enjoy listening to explanations while being outside, going around the park. Lately a lot of elementary schools are making children interested in foreign countries by comparing the different food cultures, so I have been giving quite a lot of presentations on Ghent and the Belgian eating habits these past months.

The four city CIRs also engaged in organizing a game event in the sister city park. After a tour through the park with explanations by the four of us we did a relay game. The children had to answer questions about the sister cities and when correct, they received hints where to find the next information to eventually get some snacks from our four countries. After a little break we played games from Korea, France and America, having them run all over the park. A lot of fun, even for us!

In fact children’s events made up a large part of my workload the past months. After four years I was asked once more to do a duo-presentation at the Izumino library. Together with my American colleague I performed a Dutch children’s song, we read an English picture book and we presented a Japanese puppet play. The kids were very excited and it was a good practice for the two kindergarten visits that followed later. At the Tamagawa children’s library I was asked to read two Dutch books to small children: very popular Nijntje and an adventure of Tiny, one of the children’s books I read a lot myself when I was younger. I also volunteered to teach about Saint-Nicholas at an English conversation school, where the children enjoyed making miters and learned new vocabulary related to Belgium and the Saint-Nicholas celebration.

But not all work involved teaching and playing with children. In October the International Symposium on Water and City in Kanazawa took place. During summer we struggled with translating the materials of the guest speakers from English into Japanese. During the symposium itself we had professional interpreters for the lectures, but I was appointed as the emergency contact for the four foreign guest speakers from Iran, America, France and Australia. I assisted with picking them up from and seeing them off to the airport, I was the interpreter in charge for a guided tour through Kanazawa and I helped out wherever necessary. It was a long week, but the guest speakers were wonderful people to work with and the symposium turned out to be a big success. And it gave me the opportunity to wear a helmet and actually enter one of the tunnels in Kanazawa!

Other than that I had to speak about the complicated Belgian political situation at a high school and my radio-interview was also dedicated to the trouble of establishing a new federal government. I sincerely hope Belgium will be able to get out of the political impasse soon.

Of course life is more than just work. In September we had the so-called Silver Week, a week with several public holidays, although less than the Golden Week at the end of April, beginning of May. Last year I spent the Silver Week on a business trip to Europe, this year I decided to use the holidays to see some more of Japan. During the first long weekend I finally made it to Hakone, a mountainous area located in the volcanically active Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, known for its onsen hot springs and its views of Mount Fuji. Hakone is centered around the beautiful Lake Ashi, that you can explore by “pirate ship”. In fact, to have a full experience of Hakone, you should get a pass that allows you to use different transportation, including train, bus, ropeway, cable car and the pirate ships. Of course you cannot leave without having seen the Owakudani Great Boiling Valley, a volcanic hot spot full of sulphurous springs, and trying a Hakone black egg, which is supposed to add seven years to your life. My friend and I stayed at an onsen ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn featuring hot springs, where we enjoyed not only the bathing, but delicious Japanese food in our room as well.

The second long weekend I made a nostalgic trip to Nagoya and the Expo 2005 Aichi Commemorative Park. The park, which now has sport facilities and playgrounds for children, was recently one of the venues for the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 10). To end my Silver Week in a memorable way I took the challenge to climb Mount Hakusan for a second time. When I climbed it two years ago, it was cold and rainy, so we didn’t go that far. This time we left Kanazawa around 6am, to start climbing Hakusan around 8am. It took us about four hours to climb to our goal location, and another three hours to get down. Weather changed drastically while we were climbing, from fog to cold winds to nice sunshine. Mountainous weather is very unpredictable and I caught a severe cold, stiffness kept me from moving around the next day, but the beauty of Hakusan and the satisfaction of having climbed one of the “three holy mountains” of Japan again, made it all worthwhile.

For the fifth and final time I attended the CIR mid-year conference in Tokyo. As I have taken most of the workshops during the past years, there wasn’t much new information, but nevertheless it was great to meet up with CIR colleagues from all over Japan and discuss on subjects that are related to our specific job and our position of being foreigners forming a bridge between Japan and our home country. I took advantage of the conference to attend the reception for King’s Feast at the Belgian Embassy on November 15th. With the end of my contract in sight, it is time to start looking for a new challenging job, maybe in Tokyo. I was a little sad to hear that ambassador Johan Maricou will be leaving for South-Africa next January, but I wish him all the best in his new position.

There was some other news that was quite shocking to me. During the recent mayor elections in Kanazawa a new mayor was elected. The previous mayor had been in the position for twenty years and thanks to the particular nature of my work I had many opportunities to get to know him, so I was quite sad to hear he would leave. I wish him all the best in his future plans and I would like to congratulate the new mayor of Kanazawa.

The weather has been quite unstable these last months. Till half September Japan was suffering from extremely hot temperatures, but during Silver Week temperatures dropped suddenly and heavy rains set in. In October and November the weather has been going up and down, but for sure the winter cold is slowly coming upon us. They say the extremely hot summer will most likely trigger an extremely cold winter, but comparing to Belgian freezing temperatures we cannot complain yet!

To celebrate the arrival of fall and its specific food, my friend organized a fall tour. In Tsurugi, south of Kanazawa, we took a workshop how to make soba buckwheat noodles. We started from flour and water and through endless kneading, reshaping and eventually cutting, we ended up with very thin but very yummy noodles!

In fact I had been to Tsurugi a few weeks earlier as well to visit the touristic highlights, including a park with modern art sculptures, a valley and a shrine. It’s the birthplace of one of my colleagues and she invited us over to her parents’ house, where we helped picking green soybeans!

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my colleagues the past months: helping the new American CIR move to a new place, a welcome party with all CIRs from Ishikawa at which we watched Belgian movie “Loft”, a birthday party for my French colleague, a wedding, movie nights, bowling night, dinner parties. I sat through a No theater performance of three hours with an American friend and participated in another No theater workshop with my Korean and Chinese colleagues. With my Mexican and Japanese friends I went to see the performance of the Hungarian a cappella group Full Moon. Being an International Coordinator has definitely broadened my horizons!

To end this report, I gladly refer to the website of the Kanazawa International Exchange Foundation (KIEF). They recently put up a video of the four city CIRs, presenting themselves in their native language, which for me is still Dutch, even though I don’t speak it often. http://www2.kief.jp/?page_id=142 (click on my name)

Until my next report!

Sophie Bocklandt

 

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