JET Program CIR Report





CIR Report from Kanazawa (5)

By Marlies
(Coordinator for International Relations)


It feels like only yesterday I was writing my October report, yet here we are already January 2013! Happy New Year everyone! :-) This year is the year of the snake according to the Japanese zodiac… people who are born in the year of the snake, stock up on those red socks to avert bad luck! ;-)

Over to the actual report then… From the beginning of October…

The first event of October had us all on our best behaviour… the Japan-Belgium Society was to visit Kanazawa on an annual member outing. Quite a few prominent Japanese businessmen were on the participant list, as were a number of Belgians, amongst whom the Belgian ambassador and his spouse. Reason enough to want to make a good impression. :-)

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Visit JBS Ambassador & Ohi master

You can imagine we were very relieved to see the visit go smoothly. The group enjoyed the tour, the food and the activities we had prepared for them. Besides the standard museum visits there were some more hands-on activities too, like indigo dyeing at Utatsuyama workshop. The highlight of the day was a meeting with the 10th generation master potter of the Ohi family, who is a living cultural asset in Japan! The Belgian ambassador and his spouse got to decorate their own Ohi tea bowls under the watchful eye of the master. (The bowls were later glazed and fired by Mr. Ohi and sent to Tokyo. I hope they will make for a wonderful souvenir :-) )

Also in October I was invited to go talk about Belgium and “cultural differences between Japan and foreign countries” (notice how the “foreign countries” all get lumped together :-) ) at an adult study group. Now, when I say study group, you think 15 to 20 people tops, right? … Try 140. Moreover, they wanted me to lecture for an hour and a half! I guess that’s okay if you can talk freely and make things up as you go along… unfortunately “winging it” in Japanese is quite impossible for me :-) Hence a considerable amount of preparation went into this presentation (the trick is to plan the joke but make it sound natural… ahem.) :-) I started off with the Belgium quiz, which is a crowd pleaser every time… then Belgium in a nutshell and at the end half an hour of “cultural differences”. A couple of experiments I conducted in the room for the cultural differences section had some people move uneasy in their seats as interactive presentations are not exactly what they are used to here… but I guess that in itself worked as another illustration of cultural differences :-)

Just like last year, we had to make a movie for the city’s movie contest. Only this year we were excluded from actually winning any prizes… :-) (Last year our entry won a prize, which was a bit awkward, being city hall employees and all… so we then donated the prize money to charity) And now in January the results were up… the number one winner ended up being none other than our former French colleague Momo! Congratulations!! (You can find the videos on Kanazawa’s homepage if you are curious to see the winning entries: ) (…I find it quite interesting that both the number one and two are non-Japanese entries… just saying ;-) )

Moving on to the next big event: the IFIE International Festa. This meant country booth time again! Last year I had the pleasant company of Dominique, the exchange student from Ghent, this year there were no Belgian students around though, so for a while it looked like it would just be me in my Belgian booth… until it turned out that one of the American ALTs is actually half Belgian (his mother being from Liege) and since they had plenty of Americans to man the American booth, he became Belgian for the day! :-) And if that wasn’t enough, we also got a visit from Sophie, so suddenly there were three Belgians in the Belgium booth!

IFIE Festa

We had our fair share of journalists over in October. First a Flemish one who was doing an article on Ishikawa and had heard through the grapevine that there was this Flemish girl working in Kanazawa… so we had to meet of course. :-) Then two French duo’s (who were put in Julie’s care), of whom I only dealt with one photographer (Julie’s day off ) for some last photos of the city and some souvenir shopping. It turned out he was from just over the border from where I grew up in Belgium… couldn’t help but think: “how small the world is…” :-)

And by then, it was already November! Much like last year, November turned out to be a month for school visits. Apart from those, I also did a radio interview; this time the talk was about lace and famous Belgian food like chocolates and beer and of course, the absolute favourite… waffles :-) I had barely had the time to say the word “waffle”, and there I was making them again at another waffle baking class at a community centre. I think I have had more waffles during my stay here in Kanazawa than in all the rest of my life! And I wasn’t done with waffles in November yet…

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We went to visit the Kanazawa Agricultural Centre, in order to learn more about a brand of locally produced vegetables (15 different vegetables to be precise), called “Kaga yasai”. The idea was to organise a cooking event for university students (as part of an exchange students event) in December. We (the 5 CIRs) would be cooking national dishes from our home countries using these Kaga yasai, making sort of an international fusion food menu :-) The dishes were quickly decided upon… even before I could suggest anything, the word “waffle” was hinted in unison by my colleagues, leaving me little choice but to give in to peer pressure. It also meant I would have to figure out a way of incorporating a Kaga vegetable in a waffle… Luckily one of the vegetables is a sweet potato, so I wouldn’t have to do anything too extreme :-) At any rate, I still had to work out how these sweet potato waffles would be made exactly, so I organized a waffle baking experiment and got the help of Yoolim and Julie to figure out how to make the Satsuma-imo Waffle work. We tried several different kinds of waffles, adding the sweet potato in different ways, and finally found the winning combination, putting sweet potato paste into Liege waffles. Very yummy!! :-)

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Kaga vegetable

Next on the agenda was the annual JET Conference in Chiba; a great opportunity to catch up with CIRs from other prefectures, and get useful tips for work stuff in the workshops and lectures. It was a hectic couple of days, and I had to leave again as soon as I got back in Kanazawa.

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JET conference

I took a trip to Shirahama Onsen with my sugar auntie, to see the pandas at the Adventure World Zoo and soak in a ryokan rotemburo (outdoor bath). Dinner was sooo elaborate, I thought it would never end. I ended up eating so much I am lucky I didn’t explode :-) Next day a heavy storm hit the coast, and we were barely able to catch a train back to Osaka. In retrospect it really was quite the adventure world :-)

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Shirahama onsen
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My sugar auntie Shirahama onsen

At the end of November the first Year End parties were held. For the party with the city hall colleagues we drove all the way to the neighbouring Toyama prefecture to eat a special kind of white shrimp, only available during a certain time of the year. The people in the Toyama restaurant were quite confused/amused by the fact that we came all the way from Kanazawa “city” (which prides itself on being a cultural and culinary capital) to “countryside” Toyama for good food :-)

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Bonenkai with colleagues

The Year end party with the Ishikawa CIRs went even further and we went on an onsen (hot spring) trip to Wajima Onsen! We always have a great time at these get-togethers, but this one was exceptionally fun; starting of with a party dinner, white elephant gift exchange game, karaoke, soaking in the onsen baths and playing games until deep in the night.

Getting up in the morning was very painful, but seeing sleepy heads all around at breakfast was quite entertaining to watch… People were battling with fishes to be fried on little grill thingies (how long should they be left on the grill? No clue other than black is bad and don’t set your fish on fire ), all the while trying to figure out what should be dipped in what on a tray full of stuff yet no explanatory note… (too early for brain function…) Some’s noses wrinkled at the sight of various kinds of sea weeds and unidentifiable white stuff (could be squid, tofu, fish cake, or any number of other things) with an equally mysterious black sauce (no telling what flavour that would turn out to be), not sure how their empty stomachs would take it… and (half-)raw onsen eggs were swallowed in Japanese style by the brave, or chucked into boiling broths and steam baskets by the less brave, to great indignation of the serving lady, who found left-over egg in various places it didn’t belong :-) After one last soak in the bath looking out over the sea, we said our goodbyes and we all returned to our respective cities.

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Bonenkai with CIRs Ikebana

My last Year end party was with the ikebana ladies. We had dinner at a small restaurant hidden behind an inconspicuous front. It turned out to be yet another one of Kanazawa’s hidden gems; we had a series of wonderfully delicate dishes in a stylish minimalistic setting. It was fun to see the ladies outside of the usual ikebana class surroundings and we had a blast. And of course I was praised for my chopstick wielding skills… ;-)

With all these Year end parties you’d think it was almost the actual end of the year, but it was still only the first week of December :-) Before I would get to go home for x-mas, there were plenty of other things on the agenda to be dealt with first; another handful of school visits, where I handed out chocolate euro coins in honour of Sinterklaas and played all sorts of games with the kids :-)

… The long awaited Kaga yasai cooking class! A crazy kitchen full of university students from all corners of the world and us, making Korean, Chinese, French, American and Belgian food… guess what dishes were from which country ;-)

And finally a couple of x-mas parties as well! The first one in Komatsu, where I put up the Belgian booth under the Christmas tree again, just like last year. The second one a bit more exotic, a x-mas tea party organised by Beniya kimono shop, with all the guests (including me) dressed up in kimono! :-) (Lots more about kimono in the second bonus report for those who are curious…)

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Xmas party in Komatsu Beniya

The partying continued on in Belgium with family and friends :-) Now I’m back, ready for another Kanazawa winter! You will hear all about my snowy adventures once spring will have set in… Until then, have fun and stay warm!

Groetjes uit Kanazawa,


(Photos by Marlies)