JET Program CIR Report

 Back

List

Next  

(Reports from Marlies)

 

 


CIR Report from Kanazawa 1

By Werner Vanhorenbeeck
(Coordinator for International Relations)


I’ve been to Japan quite a number of times, two of which where long stays. This is the third time I am residing in this country for a long stay.

I was very happy to hear that I got selected as the new Belgian Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) in Kanazawa. I was also a bit unsure because I didn’t think I knew anyone in the region. The first thing I did was gather information about Ghent since growing up in the region of Brussels; I hardly knew anything about the city of Ghent.

The second thing I did was gather information on the Ishikawa Prefecture and look for connections or people I knew in the Kanazawa area. I knew more people in the area than I thought, which was a big relief to me. I was packed and ready to go.

The first few weeks at the job were pretty busy and the assignments were pretty varied: from translating and interpreting, to speaking on the local radio station, to giving presentations about Belgium and Ghent to children. The job is so varied I never get bored, and I get to meet a lot of new people. But what I think I enjoy the most are those days I can have a chat with my colleagues or other people I met through work.

Travel

I haven’t been able to do much traveling yet. I believe the furthest I’ve been is to the city of Komatsu, which is a Sister City of Vilvoorde. In August, 8 students from Vilvoorde accompanied by a municipal executive and a civil servant from the city of Vilvoorde came to Komatsu for a short youth exchange program. Because the relationship between Komatsu and Kanazawa is close, I was asked to interpret for the delegation along with a Brazilian CIR working at Komatsu City Hall. I believe this was a great experience for the children of both Komatsu and Vilvoorde. It was also a great opportunity for me to learn more about the city of Komatsu. We were taken on a tour to Komatsu Limited. Komatsu Ltd. is known for their vehicles such as bulldozers and cranes. The most interesting thing I saw there was a little chart carrying necessary tools that followed the assembly line. I was told that the productivity rate raised tremendously after the automated moving chart was implemented, thus taking away the need of workers to push the chart. Granted, a chart moving on its own might sound like a simple thing. But this proves small things certainly make a difference.

Komatsu is also known for its Rojo-park. This park one of the few remains from the old Komatsu Castle, which the third lord of the Kaga Domain used as his retirement castle. The park is a popular spot for picnics. There also is the Motorcar Museum of Japan, which is the biggest motorcar museum in the country. Although I have not visited the museum yet, it is big enough a reason to visit Komatsu again in the future.

Japanese beverages

When one thinks about Japan, one often thinks about sake rice wine. Its taste differs from distillery to distillery and from area to area. The areas with the best water quality can produce the best-quality rice. The best Japanese sake can be distilled from the best rice. What about Kanazawa? What does it have to offer? Well, the Ishikawa prefecture is blessed with a great supply of clean water. This means that there must be good rice wine to discover in this area. I took the liberty of visiting one of these sake-distilleries. The first thing that my eye catches whenever I visit, are the brown sugitama hanging from the roof in front of the entrance. These are ball-shaped objects made of Japanese cedar. A brown sugitama hanging in front of the entrance of a distillery indicates that a new batch of sake has been fermented and is ready for consummation. These sugitama’s cedar leaves are not always brown. At the start they are light-green. The Japanese cedar leaves take a slow withering process, the time it takes to wither is similar to the time a batch of sake takes to ripen. Its leaves turn brown when they are fully withered, resulting in the new batch of sake to be ripened.

But of course, rice wine is not the only thing Japan has to offer. The Japanese are the biggest, if not the biggest importers of whisky and whiskey worldwide, making the beverage often cheaper than in Western countries. Whisky production for commercial purpose has started in Japan in the early 20th century. Although it had a rough start, they have been getting better and better. Today, some of their brands are now internationally known. I am looking forward to enjoy some nice Japanese blends during my stay, and I am also looking seeing how the industry will be in roughly 10 years.

Music

When I was studying in Fukushima as an exchange student, I met a high school student who was fascinated by opera. Not only was this the first Japanese friend I made, it was also the person who introduced me to the world of opera and classical music. He went on to study at the Tokyo College of Music and became a tenor. Unfortunately, enjoying opera is rather difficult in Japan due to the lack of Opera Halls. However, Japan is a great place to enjoy classical music. Thanks to after school club activities, many Japanese children get accustomed to playing instruments at a young age. Which results in many people being able to play instruments, and thus there are many places to enjoy classical music concerts.

The first concert I’ve been to in Kanazawa was a warming up concert of the big bands JAZZ-21 and Ontano. Ontano, which is a band assembled with elementary children from Japan, was up first. The name is short for “Ongaku Tanoshimou”, meaning let’s enjoy music. They played extremely well considering their young age. This made me look forward to the performance of the middle school and high school students of JAZZ-21, who were far above expectation. The children of JAZZ-21 will be attending workshops, and will be holding a concert in the city of Ghent in late April 2014. I recommend everyone interested in Jazz music to take the time to listen to young Japanese talent in Ghent.

A few weeks after Jazz 21’s concert, my vice-division chief took me to the 25th anniversary concert of OEK (Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa), held at the Ishikawa Ongakudo. This relatively new building consists out of a shoe-box type concert hall, ideal for classical music; a Hougaku Hall, ideal for classical Japanese music and plays; and an Interchange Hall, which is used for various exhibitions.

The orchestra invited a professional violinist, Miss Akiko Suwanai, to Kanazawa to celebrate their 25th anniversary. I believe her name rings a bell to many Belgian classical music fans. She was placed second for the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition for Violin in 1989, and was one of the members of the jury in last year’s competition. After hearing the classics, they rounded up the concert with a song that was unknown and somewhat mysterious to me: Bird Heterophony, composed by Mr. Akira Nishimura.

In only 2 months time I had the privilege of listening to the music of children, teenagers, an adult orchestra and a professional violinist. How much better can life really be?

Film

I have always had a soft spot for tokusatsu. Tokusatsu is the general term given to Japanese shows using special effects, which usually involve monsters that roam around Tokyo waiting for a superhero to defeat it. Godzilla and Ultraman come to mind. It always strikes me how much time and effort is spent in the making of the costumes and sets. Some shows are even blessed with the creativity (and budget) to create a new monster suit every week. What is even more fascinating is the making of special effects by filming miniature models; there are even miniature models of cities used for monster to run about. Unfortunately, many of these models are replaced with CG nowadays.

One of the tokusatsu shows I saw as a child that will always stick in my memory is Jetman, directed by Mr. Toshiki Inoue. This show differentiated itself from other shows by its mature themes, such as love triangles. Its plot might have been a bit too daring for a young European audience, considering it got cancelled in Europe midway.

Getting back on track, this show was based on the Japanese comic and animation series called Gatchaman, known in the West as the show which was released under ridiculously many different titles: Battle of the Planets, Science Ninja Team, G-Force… After years of speculation, a live action film of Gatchaman has finally been made and is out in the Japanese theaters. I didn’t have any interest in the original comic- or animation series, nor do I remember ever watching it as a child. However, I was more than curious to find out how similar or different this film was from the tokusatsu show based on it. And yes, there were many similarities, and of course also many differences. I would definitely recommend anyone to watch and compare this film with the original manga or the tokusatsu series from the early 90’s.

The Cleanliest Statue of Japan

I took part in a walking tour around Kanazawa of Kanazawa’s History, organized by the Hokuriku Gakuin University. The tour was led by a lecturer from New Zealand at Hokuriku Gakuin University. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to learn things about Kanazawa’s history that cannot be found in the usual guidebooks.

A statue of Yamato Takero no Minamoto can be found in the Kenroku-en Park. This statue, dating from the late 19th century, is believed to be the oldest non-Buddhist bronze statue in Japan. What is most remarkable about it is its cleanliness. All around the world people struggle with the problem of bird droppings covering their cities’ precious statues. But not this statue! It is as clean as it gets. Its cleanliness puzzled a professor from Kanazawa University for years. He started research on the intriguing matter.

I learned that bronze melts at 1300℃. But due to the lack of good-quality furnaces, the Kanazawan artisans had to find a way to melt the bronze alloy at a lower degree. Thus they melted the bronze with arsenic, which allowed the bronze to melt at merely 1000℃. To humans arsenic in a solid state is not poisonous, but it is to birds. The toxicity of the solid arsenic is what is preventing birds to come near the statue. The professor eventually succeeded in replicating the alloy used in the statue, and was rewarded with the Ig Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2003.

Not far from this castle lies the Kanazawa Castle. I found the castle being very small, considering the wealth of the Maeda lords. But it sure is beautiful! It's adorned with white roof tiles. The tiles are made of wood covered by a small layer of tin. According to many pamphlets the Maeda lords decided to use tin in stead of stone tiles because it can easily be melted into bullets. However, there is no historical source to be found that proves this theory. What are the other advantages of using tin? Well first of all, tin turns white after it oxidizes, and thus making it look pretty. Another advantage of using small layers of tin is its light weight. Kanazawa is known for its piles of snow during winter, which can be too heavy a load for normal tiles. However, tin has one mayor disadvantage: it’s highly inflammable. When fire broke out, the firefighters would not only be fighting against fire, but also against hot liquid tin pouring from the roofs. Stains of melted tin are still to be found on the stones of Kanazawa Castle.

Autumn

Autumn is coming. This means that it will get cooler and it will be raining a lot in the Hokuriku region. It also means that the Japanese hunting season will be starting soon. Watch out Mr. Deer and Mr. Boar! I am more than looking forward to trying some Japanese prepared game! A lot of people recommend me to climb the Mount Tate or Mount Haku, which are two of the three Japanese ‘Holy Mountains’. Since these two mountains are close-by, I do plan on climbing them sometime during my stay. However, I am more interested in a much smaller mountain in Kanazawa next month: Mount Utatsu. The history of this mountain intrigues me. This mountain is west from Kanazawa Castle, and was commonly known as Mukaiyama, the mountain on the opposite side. It was the only place on higher grounds than Kanazawa Castle. Thus it was also the only place in Kanazawa where people could spy on things occurring in the castle. Setting foot on the mountain was strictly forbidden until the fall of the shogunate. It was considered as treason and was punished by death. Climbing this mountain might be less challenging than climbing one of the Three Holy Mountains, but it sure is more exciting.

I’m also looking forward to a little trip to Tokyo and Fukushima next month.

 

 Back

List

Next  

(Reports from Marlies)