JET Program CIR Report





CIR Report from Kanazawa (2)

By Marlies
(Coordinator for International Relations)


Hello everyone!
Although it is a little late… Akemashite omedetō gozaimasu!
Happy New Year! Or Gelukkig Nieuwjaar!!

It’s hard to believe that over half a year has passed since I started in August as the new Belgian CIR… I’m still occasionally called “the new Sophie” but gradually that’s being replaced by “Marisu”, the Japanese rendition of my name :)

Name Card

These last couple of months have been jam-packed with activities, so it’s going to be a loooong report… Let’s pick up where I had left off at the first report… November!
My first job in November was a radio interview for FM Ishikawa, where I had to talk about Belgium (of course :) ), and my life in Kanazawa so far. I got a CD with the interview as a souvenir. But I hardly dare listen to it because it feels a little (read: very) weird to hear your own voice on the radio.

The second big item on my agenda in November was the visit of the mayor of Vilvoorde (Belgium) and his wife to the near-by city of Komatsu. There is a Brazilian CIR in Komatsu, but the people at Komatsu city hall thought it might be nicer if the Belgian visitors could speak in their own language (Dutch) so that is where I came in ;)
Very excited about a rare opportunity to speak some Dutch, but also very nervous about the pressure of being the interpreter for two days straight, having to translate everything from dinner conversations to guided tours around the city and its industrial sites… but it all turned out well! Thanks to the mayor and his wife who were lovely, and the support of everyone at Komatsu city hall.

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Mayor of Vilvoorde in Komatsu

Then November took a bit of a culinary turn.
For starters I had my first Belgian cooking class! I had “witloof” (chicory) sent over from the other side of the country in order to make one of my absolute favorite Belgian dishes: “Witloof-in-hesp-rolletjes” mmmmm….
When the scent of the witloof started to fill the kitchen, the Japanese ladies around me couldn’t really understand my excitement, but when everybody got to sit down and taste the amazingness of this dish, sounds of approval were legio ;)

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Cooking Class

After this warm-up home-cooking event, it was time for the big work with the professionals. The biggest challenge of the month: Cook it Raw Ishikawa!! 15 world renowned chefs came to Ishikawa Prefecture to explore and taste its regional flavours during a week-long tour. The visit was to culminate in a final banquet where they would each produce an original dish using regional ingredients. (Check out the website )
… but euhm… Why was I there? Oh yes, originally I was supposed to interpret in French for some of the chefs, but in the end I ended up doing English interpretation instead… (yes I have to be flexible ;) ) It was a tough week as the schedule was crazy busy and kept changing all the time, and the interpreters were always the last to be informed, and the stuff we had to translate was of a very high technical level but… In retrospect it was an amazing thing to be part of!
On the program there was foraging of wild plants, duck hunting with nets, fish auctions and sake brewery visits and I was there for all of it, with next to me some of the most amazing chefs in the world! If only I could have followed them all the way into the kitchen! ;)

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Cook It Raw

As Cook it Raw came to an end, my life returned back to somewhat normal again. But there were still some fun intermezzos in between translation work, like going out to the samurai district to shoot a new version of the Kanazawa website video, and a lesson in Noh (a traditional Japanese form of theatre) dancing and singing with some of my colleagues, with real Noh actors as our teachers.

And if you think that was about it for November surely, you are mistaken!
The last item on my agenda was the 3-day JET Midyear Conference for CIR’s in Chiba. The conference was about getting together all CIR’s from all over Japan, for workshops and seminars full of useful information on how to improve on our jobs. And of course it was a great chance to catch up with some friends who work in distant prefectures, and meet a lot of other CIR’s (up until now I had only met the Ishikawa CIR’s and the first year CIR’s who arrived in August with me, but there are many more of them :) ).
And thàt concludes things for November :)

November was a month full of interpretation challenges, and December turned out to be the month of “bunka shōkai” or culture introductions, with a record of five school visits in a week! and my first Belgian event at KIEF, the International Exchange Foundation. The school visits ranged from kindergarten to sixth grade elementary school, so it was time to get in touch with my inner child again! I especially like elementary school visits because the kids usually prepare some kind of performances or presentations and those are just awesome to see :D
This time too we weren’t disappointed (I see “we” because usually most of the CIR’s in our office are invited to a school at the same time) as the children had prepared original introductions of Kanazawa culture, games and songs. Some classes had even studied about our countries before our coming (and proved to be better Belgians than me as they were able to explain the meaning of the colours of the Belgian flag… can you?) But I tried to match their presentations with a Belgian right/wrong quiz!!! Maybe I should post it here too some time ;)

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Shooting School Visit

Coming up with an idea for my first Belgian culture event was a difficult task, as a lot of things had already been done by my predecessor, but for my first event I wanted to do something new. Some questions that complicated things even further …what can considered as “Belgian culture”? And what can be introduced in the form of an interactive class/presentation by a non-professional like me? After many sleepless nights I came up with the idea to make a “Belgian Christmas wreath”. That may not be strictly Belgian per se, but it is something deeply rooted in our Christmas traditions, … and if it is made by a Belgian, then it is a Belgian wreath :)
As I couldn’t see a single front door in Kanazawa with a Christmas wreath I felt this could be a chance for some culture exchange ;)
It ended up being a learning experience for me too… If there are no wreaths on people’s front doors, then you will also not find a lot of wreath-making materials in stores… *sigh* …But in the end I managed to find enough Japanese materials to make a Japanese size Belgian wreath ;) so the event could be done!
The idea turned out to be a great hit, with over 30 people applying to take part, so in the end I did my event twice! That means Kanazawa had at least 30 Christmas wreaths at its front doors in 2011!!

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Belgian Culture Event

Just two days later, I got to go back to the land of wreaths, as I went home for Christmas! I had a great time celebrating with my family and meeting up with friends. I had never really thought about Christmas as being a big deal, but this year it became clear that it is :) In Japan it is a relatively new holiday (and technically it isn’t even a holiday, cause no day off) usually celebrated by couples who go on Christmas dates, but no family, no presents, no big deal…
The big deal comes with New Year, when families get together to eat and drink (for several days) and visit temples and so on… Having never experienced a Japanese New Year before, I figured I couldn’t let the chance slip this year, so after a heartwarming Christmas at home, I returned to Japan for a taste of the Japanese New Year craze!
And I didn’t go alone…my sister came to Japan with me! We’ve traveled through Japan together twice before, once in summer and once in spring, so adding winter to our checklist was an added bonus :)
We decided to do this New Year thing properly and went “hatsumōde” or New Year temple visit at Todaiji Temple in Nara, the largest wooden building in the world. It is huuuuuge because it houses a massive bronze Daibutsu Buddha stature. Todai-ji Temple opens the high window so the Great Buddha can look outside only a few times every year, and one of these times is at New Year.
Visiting Todaiji at daylight is already quite a sight, but doing it at midnight with illumination around the grounds was truly spectacular. There were thousands of people lining up to enter the temple, and the streets were lined with food stalls, and although it was a little cold, the mood was quite festive.

liningup todaiji daibutsu fukubukuro
Todaiji Temple Fukubukuro

Vacation can only last so long, so before I knew, it was time to get back to work again. I was happy to be among my lovely colleagues again and to hear their x-mas and New Year stories. Work was a little slow those first days, with some long weekends so I could hang out with my sister! We went to Naoshima (6 hours by train :s), Japan’s art island, which lies in the Seto Inland Sea. As we arrived we noticed that the climate there is a quite a bit warmer than in Kanazawa, and with a room with a magnificent view out on the sea, our trip was off to a great start! Naoshima houses some amazing art museums like the Chichu Museum and Benesse Art House, and you can also explore some art sites (mostly in old houses) scattered throughout the town. Some local residents are going along with the art theme and create their own works in their front yards etc. (Although the quality of those is debatable ;) ) But for art lovers this island is definitely the place to get your fill of contemporary art!

naoshimabenesse pumpkin leeufang Iloveyu

Our second outing took us to the Unesco World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go (only an hour from Kanazawa), with its village of traditional thatched-roof houses. Covered under a thick snow carpet, it was a fairy tale sight! Where we live in Belgium we rarely get over 10cm of snow, but here they can measure it by the meter!! :)

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Unfortunately my sis had to go back home halfway January, but it was great having her here. Getting back to work I had to attend the New Year Party of the Hokuriku Belgium-Japan Friendship Organisation, with Belgian beer and chocolate fondue for the occasion. With my French colleague off to France it was up to me to interpret for a counselor of the French embassy who came to Kanazawa to talk about public transport, and I had to give the longest Belgium presentation so far (1 hour) for a group of seniors. But then it was time for some relaxation and fun again with a New Year party with the Ishikawa CIR’s and a trip to the Hakusan Shiramine Snowman Festival!!! The entire village is covered in meters of snow, in which every family makes caves where they put their snowmen :) But did you know Japanese snowmen only have two parts? And that with all that snow?? So my American CIR colleague Jeff and I added a three part snowman to the mix :) In the evening candles are lit in and around the snowmen, which topped off a great fun day in the snow!

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CIR Party Hakusan Shiramine Snowman Festival

And talking about snow…
Do you remember the photograph of my route to work on the last report? Well, this is what it looks like now :)
(route to work winter)
Kanazawa gets quite a bit of snow during the winter, but as it doesn’t really freeze here very often, they don’t use salt to de-snow the roads, but a sprinkler system using groundwater that melts the snow…it’s unique for this region, it’s quite funny when you see it for the first time, but frankly when you have to deal with it on a daily basis, it SUCKS :) …(and when it does freeze, it’s lethal)
The roads do get de-snowed but they also get completely flooded in the process, resulting in toooo much water everywhere!!! And when the occasional sprinkler malfunctions, you get fountains spraying up to your middle, not to mention the cars racing by through the slush (they do it on purpose I tell you!) :)
(photos Kanazawa snow)
My best buy here has undoubtedly been my rain boots! EVERYBODY in Kanazawa wears rain boots. If you see a sucker without them, you know it’s a tourist ;) So although the cars remain to be a bit of a hazard, my rain boots have saved me! I now splash on happily to work every morning, and the water can’t touch me…So bring on the rest of the winter! I can take it! (I’m such a ridiculous optimist :D)

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To Work Sprinklers

…If you want to know how this adventure continues, you’ll have to wait for the next report to come out! (February already looks promising ;))

Groetjes uit Kanazawa!


(Photos by Marlies)