JET Program CIR Report




CIR Report from Kanazawa (10)

By Sophie Bocklandt
(Coordinator for International Relations)

Let me first of all wish you all the best for 2009, may it become a year filled with happiness, a bit of foolishness, good health and plenty of wonderful experiences! And not to keep you in suspense any longer: I re-contracted for a fourth year, so ‘ll be sharing my adventures with you until August 2010!

It already seems a long time ago, but only last October I accompanied a Kanazawa delegation including the mayor and his wife on their business trip to Europe. The main purpose of this trip were the First Japanese-French Exchange Meetings, held in sister city Nancy at the end of October. Because the Japanese-French diplomatic relations celebrated their 150th anniversary in 2008 and the sister city relations between Kanazawa and Nancy existed 35 years, Nancy came with the idea of bringing several Japanese and French sister cities together at a large-scale joint event, with a central role for Kanazawa and Nancy. The preparations were complicated and long, many people and many projects were involved, but with the help of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, the embassies, the city halls and other major institutions, the First Meetings were a huge success. In fact they were so successful that the Second Meetings will be held in Kanazawa, in spring 2010. I know what to do the coming months!

The 35th anniversary of Kanazawa-Nancy was celebrated in particular with a tree planting near the Japanese kotoji lantern in Nancy, a Noh theater performance by a Kanazawa troupe and a gala dinner. Although I had been in contact with Nancy for over two years and had the pleasure to meet the mayor and other officials here in Kanazawa, it was the first time for me to visit the city. The heart of the city is the so-called Stanislas Square, a beautiful square with 18th-century buildings on its four sides and impressive fountains decorated with gold in the corners, which gives it deservedly a place on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. For the occasion the square was decorated with a Japanese garden.

Besides the major event in Nancy, the Kanazawa delegation also passed by sister city Ghent to talk about exchange between the art schools and the modern art museums. Interpreting at the welcome reception in Ghent city hall in front of representatives from Japanese institutions in Belgium was nerve-racking, but I enjoyed every minute of being home again. The mayor of Ghent was still talking about his visit to Kanazawa last June and was happy to welcome his colleague in Ghent this time; and the Kanazawa mayor from his part was very delighted with the beautiful set-up of the kotoji lantern in the Ghent city park (purpose of my previous business trip to Ghent in August 2007). A hotel visit from my sister completed that day.

The major part of the business trip we spent in Paris though, where the Kanazawa mayor had rendezvous at the Louvre Museum, the Sorbonne University and the UNESCO headquarters. Kanazawa has truly unique handicrafts and puts a lot of energy in preserving those techniques for future generations; therefore it would like to be recognized by UNESCO. Fingers crossed!

Even though I was there for work, I enjoyed every minute of the business trip, all the beauty and good food that Europe has to offer, yet another interesting work experience that had been given to me. After those two weeks travelling around, I stayed one more week at ease with my family and friends in Belgium, to whom I introduced delicious Japanese curry!

After coming back from Europe, I had to pack another suitcase. Traditionally there is the CIR mid-year conference in Tokyo at the end of November. It is always organized around a long weekend, resulting in a 1-week trip to the capital. I took advantage of the opportunity to climb Tokyo Tower with my CIR colleagues, which has look down windows in the floor that give you a spectacular but bit frightening view till 145 m below! Furthermore I paid a visit to the Japan-Belgium Society (JBS) situated in the Panasonic building in Meguro. I was lucky: a chat with the president who happened to be in and a private guided tour along all the new technologies! The articles that Kanazawa city and I wrote for the JBS concerning the Ghent and Kanazawa sister affiliation have just been published in the latest JBS Bulletin! My personal highlight in Tokyo was definitely my visit to the Ghibli Museum. A beautiful mansion with a rustic interior and a lovely garden filled with characters from the Ghibli animations. I really adore the movies of Hayao Miyazaki that I have seen so far and getting a closer look at the creation process of them, only made that feeling stronger.

Other work projects these last months included a tea time chat, this time chatting in Japanese about Belgium and its political situation. Belgian fashion was the topic of my next radio interview and most of that information I actually received from a fashion-conscious Japanese colleague! Seems that quite some Belgian designers are represented in Japanese stores! In December I had to lecture again for a volunteer group. During 1,5 hour I talked about different facets of my country, with special attention for the Saint-Nicolas celebration, which is unknown to Japanese people. Even though Saint-Nicolas is a kid’s event, the chocolate and marzipan figurines I had brought from Belgium were very appreciated by the Japanese adults!

This year the Kanazawa International Exchange Foundation (KIEF), the foundation attached to city hall and for which the Kanazawa city CIRs often organize events, celebrated its 20th anniversary. For the occasion the Orchestra Ensemble of Kanazawa gave a concert based on the four seasons, accompanying a video with interviews of foreigners living in Kanazawa. A serene event.

Talking about foreigners, at one of the international festivals my boyfriend and I met a Japanese photographer whose goal it is to portray about a hundred foreigners for an exposition. He wanted to do a photo shoot with the two of us as well, so for the first session we dressed up in fancy clothes and posed in front of a wedding hall. The second session was quite difficult, since it took place at a playground, on a sunny Saturday afternoon…The kids liked us for sure, but keeping them away from the camera was more exhausting than the posing! Last session was in a bamboo forest at the outskirts of Kanazawa. It was at the end of the day, so we were all getting tired, but the green scenery was for sure my favorite. Seems like Kanazawa is the place to be if you want to start a modeling career!

And Kanazawa is also the ideal spot for those who have an interest in Noh Theater. My CIR colleagues and I participated in a Noh workshop to learn more about the instruments that accompany Noh plays. We tried our hand at the taiko drum, but as might be expected, there are many ways of playing, several rhythms, several patterns, and on top of that you are supposed to somehow sing along. It all got confused in my amateur head, Noh is for sure a form of art!

As elsewhere December is a month of partying in Japan. First there was the wedding reception of my Japanese friend, where I actually won an earthenware pot (the challenge was to fill up exactly 30 seconds with a message for the happy couple) and then I participated in no less than three year-end parties! One of them was with my colleagues, an occasion to eat blowfish for the first time and even drink blowfish-based sake! Other parties included a make-it-yourself sushi and bowling night, a hot pot party at a friend’s house and a Christmas party with a delicious turkey in Osaka. I went there at the end of December to take the French TCF test and took advantage of the occasion to visit the family I stayed at during my very first holiday in Japan, now 9 years ago…

This year I didn’t go anywhere during my year-end holiday, with exception of two visits to a ski resort. Skiing is a first for me and although I am still afraid of even small hills, I enjoy sliding down in the beautiful mountainous snow landscapes around my prefecture. At least enough to join my colleagues on a ski trip next month!

I don’t know if the winter cold has to do with it, but unfortunately some relatives of colleagues have passed away during the year-end. I have not yet been present at a Japanese funeral, but I am amazed by a Japanese tradition that goes with it. As you may remember from my wedding ceremony report, it is a custom in Japan to give money at ceremonial events. The same goes for funerals. As elsewhere funerals cost a lot of money, so a koden or “a monetary offering to the departed soul” can come in handy. But what shocked me is that Japanese consider this money giving as a burden for the giver, so you will receive a gift back, worth about half of the money you gave in the first place. Isn’t that amazing? Even at such sad times it is important in Japan to consider the people around you. Another cultural shock…

To end on a funnier note, I finally made it to Kyushu, the most southwesterly of Japan’s four main islands! The difference with snowy and windy Kanazawa was quite big, from zero degrees to twelve and a clear blue sky! We could even see Mount Fuji from the airplane! Together with my friend I visited Kumamoto, a city known for its castle, the beautiful Suizenji garden, its delicious ramen noodles and raw horse meat. Our planned visit to the nearby Aso-san volcano unfortunately got cancelled, because the volcano was fuming that day. Next on the programme was a visit to harbor city Nagasaki. This was a center of European influences in the 16th century and those are still present in the form of European houses, street names and the castella sponge cakes, originally a Portuguese recipe. During the Edo period (1603-1868) trade with the Dutch on the artificial island of Dejima was about the only contact of Japan with the outside world. For me the visit to Dejima was particularly fun: it is probably the only place in Japan were explanations are given in Dutch! Unfortunately Nagasaki was also the setting for the second atomic bomb. The visit to the museum and the nearby peace park made a big impression on us; a heavy rain completed the atmosphere. At night we took the cable car up to Mount Inasa, where we gazed at Nagasaki’s “10 Million Dollar Night View”. A memorable trip in every way!

Have a warm-hearted winter, or if you’re on the opposite side of the equator, a pleasant summer!

Until my next report!

Sophie Bocklandt