JET Program CIR Report




CIR Report from Kanazawa (11)

By Sophie Bocklandt
(Coordinator for International Relations)

It always seems like so much happens to me here in Japan! Is it because I write about it only once every three months that it seems more than it is, or am I really that busy? For sure I am not made to sit down and do nothing, so I always give myself projects to do, I look for places and events to go to, I meet up with a lot of people. As a foreigner you probably get more invitations from Japanese to go to events or to be part of their cultural activities, and thanks to my work at city hall I get to hang around in different circles and I am well aware of what is going on in Kanazawa. For sure it gives me plenty of ideas to write about and share with you!

After three years most of the work I do, has become some sort of routine, I don’t have to look up too many conversation topics anymore or come up with new activities or events. Everything has already been done or talked about at least once. The important thing is to keep myself challenged despite the routine. For instance, when I had yet another school visit that required Belgian games, I came up with games like `Schipper mag ik overvaren` or `Ik verklaar de oorlog aan`, two games I played when I was a kid but I had never played with Japanese children before. To me it was a challenge to explain those games in an understandable way in Japanese and to make it a fun afternoon for the kids.

For the cooking event last winter, we decided to do a cooking series with the 4 Kanazawa city CIRs about our home countries` winter dishes. So I came up with some Belgian recipes I had never tried before, like chervil soup and quiche with broccoli and ham. Thanks to three years of experience I now have a good idea of Japanese portions and Japanese taste, I know how to make sure everybody keeps the same pace during cooking class and how to fill up the moments of waiting for a dish to be ready, therefore the events go smoother every time, giving me a bigger feeling of satisfaction. During another CIR collaboration kid’s event we had to introduce a short activity to six different groups of children. I decided to challenge myself by teaching the chicken dance again, six times in a row on a Saturday morning. Quite tiring, but getting all those children to dance along was rewarding.

In Kanazawa there are not so many possibilities for people to practice their French. Hence the French club that we started. Therefore I know that organizing a French chat event will always be a success. But to come up at least with one new way of introducing Belgium to Japanese people, I decided to organize a Belgian movie afternoon. On the program was `Pauline en Paulette`, an international award winning Flemish movie about the care of a 66 year-old woman with a mental handicap. An emotional topic that provoked quite some discussion, interesting opinions from the Japanese public, making it another successful and rewarding event for me.

Once in a while what seems to be a routine job can be quite surprising. In February I was asked to do a presentation at a Japanese free school. I pictured it to be some sort of Steiner (Waldorf) school where children are more involved in artistic classes. But the free school I went to, a new project in our prefecture, is indeed a “free” school. The accent lies on practical technical knowledge and students mostly combine this school with a job. Therefore they have to be present in school for minimum three sessions a week, but they can freely choose to come in the morning or in the afternoon. No surprise that the mornings are not that crowded, hence the small public I had during my presentation. On the other hand, the smaller number of people gave opportunity to more discussion, questions and answers and even a little quiz about Belgium. So even after three years I still get a lot of satisfaction from my job!

The nicest part of my job is to welcome foreign visitors and guide them around Kanazawa. In March a delegation from the engineering school `Ecole des Mines` of Nancy came over for a week. The two sister cities are thinking of organizing annual business-related student exchanges, school trips focusing on company visits, and this was a first try-out. We mostly visited Japanese IT-related enterprises, but also had exchange with Japanese students and some sightseeing in Kanazawa. According to the daily blogs of the Nancy students, the visit to Japan and especially the sister city was a short but satisfying experience, so I guess it will be continued!

A new Japanese fiscal year has started on April 1st. This year my department did not undergo big changes, although we did say goodbye to our Brazilian CIR and our Korean trainee. In June we will welcome a Chinese trainee and in August we will get the company of a new American and French CIR. Another European in the office, that will be weird after three years! Also some Japanese friends left their home country to go study or work abroad, so as always a bunch of goodbye parties in March. Another returning party was the one for Hina matsuri or the doll festival on March 3rd. My Japanese friend decorated her house with the traditional dolls again and invited us to celebrate along with a typical sushi rice dish and clam soup for the occasion. For Valentine this year I met up with my boyfriend in Tokyo, where we went to see a performance of the all-women Takarazuka theatre. These shows are very colorful and entertaining, revue shows with lots of music and dancing and costume changing. Takarazuka has a huge fan base in Japan, therefore getting tickets is really difficult, but it is worth the effort!

After my first visit to Kyushu in the south of Japan last January, I thought it was time to bring my first visit to Hokkaido, the most northern part of Japan. Although it’s colder up there than elsewhere in Japan, we went in February, the coldest time of the year, to go see the Sapporo Snow Festival. Freezing it was! We made a little tour in the southwestern part of Hokkaido, passing by harbor town Hakodate (with the most famous night view of Japan and delicious salty ramen noodles), the hot springs and the hellish hot springs from Noboribetsu (soaking yourself in hot water, naked, outside in a snowy landscape, a truly relaxing only-in-Japan experience!) and the romantic canal of Otaru. Eventually we ended up in Sapporo, where we witnessed the construction of dozens of snow sculptures. Even the Japanese army was helping out! There were several Disney and Japanese manga characters, sculptures of animals and famous people and an impressive Korean castle. Although this festival started out as a small-scale student event, it now attracts millions of visitors and this year I was one of them!

And from a snow festival it went to a penis festival! Believe it or not, but in the Tagata shrine near Nagoya, the statue of a penis is enshrined, as a symbol of fertility. And since every shrine has its annual festival, this one has become known as the penis festival. Although it started as a small-scale local festival, it got picked up by foreign visitors and became bigger and bigger. The main event of the festival is the procession of a huge penis that is carried down from the mountain all the way to the shrine. At the end of the day there is a mochi rice cake throwing ceremony. If you can catch one and use it in your cooking, it is believed you will be prosperous. Getting hit by such a mochi is rather painful and the event often results in pushing and pulling, but what a satisfied feeling you get when you catch one!

During the cold winter months it was heart-warming to get visitors from Belgium, the parents of my boyfriend. After a weekend of showing them around Kanazawa, we went for a trip to Shirakawa-go and Takayama, two traditional Japanese villages. They were happy to get to know the more countryside of Japan, especially after having visited all the big city tourist spots. And seeing these traditional places in the snow, added to an idyllic atmosphere.

But the most exciting thing for me these past months was for sure the visit of my own parents to Japan! For years I have been asking them to come here, it took a lot of persuasion, but they finally bought that ticket. Since I had been planning their visit for a while, I came up with a busy but all-included program that brought them from Kanazawa to Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Himeji, Tokyo, Kamakura and Nikko. Almost every day we went to another city, but the transportation system in Japan is so developed, the shinkansen bullet train is so convenient, that it poses no problem and not too much fatigue. As was I upon arriving in Japan, they were amazed by the mountainous landscape, the many green areas, the gardens, the parks, the flowers. Of course they picked out the best season to come to Japan: cherry blossom season! This caused for huge crowds at several sightseeing spots. Cycling around Kyoto was a true challenge, but the blossoms there were breathtaking.

My parents were really open for all Japanese experience: karaoke, funny purikura pictures, Japanese festivals and performances and of course the delicious Japanese cuisine. Chopsticks were a bit hard to handle, but sleeping on a futon was more relaxing than they had thought. The Japanese cleanness and politeness, the waiting in line for trains and the punctual train system itself, were other sources of amazement. Personally I am very happy that I could finally show them Japan, the country I’ve been studying about for ten years now, and Kanazawa where I’ve been living and working for three years now. And their positive impressions of the country made me appreciate again why I am here and why I will stay for at least one more year!

Take good care of yourselves in these times of flu! Until my next report!

Sophie Bocklandt