JET Program CIR Report




CIR Report from Kanazawa (14)

By Sophie Bocklandt
(Coordinator for International Relations)

I have decided: I re-contracted and will stay the full 5 years on the JET program, until July 2011! The first big challenge coming our way are the Second French-Japanese meetings on Decentralized Cooperation held in Kanazawa in May 2010. The first edition was held in sister city Nancy in 2008 and gathered many French and Japanese sister cities interacting on a variety of topics and deepening the sister relations. This year Kanazawa is hosting the second edition, which has been in preparation for over a year. In the beginning of February a French delegation came over for a preliminary meeting. French-Japanese translation and interpretation are now mainly the task of my French CIR colleague, in cooperation with a newly hired Japanese colleague with fluent French skills. But as part of the program of the French delegation, I had to interpret and give explanations during a visit to the Higashi tea district and the Kenroku garden. As for my work responsibilities, I am still in charge of contacting Ghent and handling different kinds of questions or requests concerning Belgium, and when necessary I help out with translations or check of translations in French, English and Dutch. Besides that I have a variety of assignments.

Last year we had an unbelievable amount of school visit requests. The last week before the winter holiday, I had to visit a school every single day, including a kindergarten visit! Even though it always comes down to a presentation of Belgium, school visits have different formats. Sometimes I am the only speaker, so I need to prepare a long presentation, sometimes I have to present together with my CIR colleagues, limiting our presentation time, and sometimes we just have to listen to presentations from the students about Japan or our own countries. So before every school visit we need to have a meeting with the teachers in charge to discuss all the details. Besides school visits we sometimes organize children’s events, which of course need to be held on weekends, when the children have free time to come. During my last one I prepared chocolate mousse with twenty children and their parents, a lively event which appeared in the local newspaper!

Another fun job was visiting a soy sauce company with a bunch of CIR colleagues. After having gone around the facility and having tried cookies and ice cream made with soy sauce, we had to give our opinion on how soy sauce was perceived and how it could be marketed in our home country. And a few weeks later I was asked to “play the foreigner” in some role plays that were part of an English training for city hall personnel.

After a week of CIR orientation in Tokyo last November, I had another week of training in December, this time at the JIAM facility in Otsu, Shiga prefecture. Since the summer I have been taking a Japanese translation and interpretation course organized by the JET program and a week of intense interpretation training was part of it. Interpreting can be nerve-wracking, especially simultaneous and whispering interpretation, at which I had a go for the first time during the training (usually I am required to do consecutive interpreting), but we had a very patient teacher, an enthusiastic class and at night we were free to visit nearby Kyoto. After the training I stayed in Kyoto one more day to see the last of the beautiful autumn foliage and I reunited with a Japanese friend from Expo Aichi, while taking a cruise on the Biwako lake, Japan’s largest lake, with the Michigan paddlewheel boat.

Thanksgiving was the perfect occasion to organize a party up in the Noto peninsula, which finally gave me the opportunity to explore that part of Ishikawa prefecture a bit more. Having a car comes in handy when going to the Noto, but it’s worth to rent one, because nature-wise it’s beautiful beyond words up there, a gorgeous combination of sea, mountains and big forests.

Furthermore I visited Big Apple, the yearly jazz festival at neighboring Nonoichi city, I went to a Korean gospel concert in a Korean church, a Belgian art student came to the Kanazawa College of Art for an exchange of a few weeks so I attended her final exposition here, I also attended the live percussion concert of a Japanese friend, and I was invited to a gathering of the regional billiard club where I learned the correct position and basic techniques of billiard, allowing me to play some good games against my fellow Japanese beginners.

At the end of January the four Kanazawa city CIRs participated in a Noh theater workshop. Last year we tried our hands at the musical accompaniment of Noh plays, this year the workshop focused on kyogen, the farces played during a Noh performance. At this workshop we learned a bit more about the typical way of talking, we learned how to laugh and cry, to drink sake and how to walk correctly with our legs slightly bent. All very interesting and fun but reason to blush when you have to do so in front of a television camera!

The cold winter nights are a perfect excuse to indulge myself in cooking or go out and treat myself on delicious local cuisine. As every winter the supermarkets offer a grand display of broths and ingredients for nabe, the Japanese one pot dishes, best comparable with Belgian hutsepot or waterzooi or a stew. There is a variety of flavors one can choose from for the broth, Japanese flavors like soy sauce, miso, sesame and curry, tomato is the latest flavor, and my favorite: spicy Korean kimchi. Countless variations are possible, alternating the meat, fish and vegetables you add to the broth you pick. Nabe is so easy to make, just heat the broth, add the cut meats and vegetables, let it simmer for a while and done. You savor a few portions with just the meats and vegetables and a bit of the broth, but you leave enough broth in the pot, so at the end you can add rice or noodles to your liking and thereby finish your nabe dinner. Healthy, quick and easy to make and very delicious! During winter a lot of home parties are being held, the year end is celebrated with colleagues at a bonenkai drinking and eating party (literally "forget the year gathering”), New Year might also be celebrated with colleagues at a drinking and eating party called shinnenkai (literally "new year gathering”) and during all those occasions you can count on it that nabe will be served.

Until now I had a place to go should I feel like going out for Belgian cuisine. The chef of the restaurant “Le Marcassin” in Kanazawa spent several years at one of Belgium’s most known restaurants, “Le Sanglier des Ardennes” in Durbuy. He adapted the taste and the volume to his Japanese clientele, but he uses typical Belgian ingredients like Brussels sprouts and chicory, and he offers a vast choice of Belgian beers. That is, until the end of March, when the restaurant will close and probably move to Tokyo. After that I can still go to some French restaurants in Kanazawa (in fact, Kanazawa will soon have its own 3-star French restaurant!) or cook Belgian dishes myself of course. Or I can treat myself on a real Belgian waffle at the `Mominoki Café` up north in Kahoku city! A few years ago a fellow Belgian from Brussels opened up a small waffle shop over there with his Japanese wife. The café is decorated Belgian style and the Belgian flag can be seen clearly from the highway. As far as I know we are the only Belgians in the Ishikawa prefecture, so I like passing by for a chat and that feeling of home. And the delicious waffles of course!

Because of the huge success of the winter cooking class series last year, the Kanazawa CIRs had another go at presenting typical winter dishes from their specific countries, which are Korea, France, Belgium and America. On the Belgian menu were Brussels sprouts soup, Flemish hutsepot with pork, potatoes and a bunch of winter vegetables like turnip, carrots, celery and green onions, and rice cake for dessert.

At the beginning of December I organized a Saint-Nicolas event. Twenty children from Kanazawa joined me in making chocolate letters, marzipan potatoes and a Saint-Nicolas miter. A few years ago I did a similar event, so this time I knew what to expect, what activities the kids liked, what took too much time etcetera. Time-wise it went much smoother and the kids seemed to be even more enthusiastic. When I mentioned in the beginning of the event that I would play some Dutch and French Saint-Nicolas songs on the CD player while they were making the hat, one kid actually reminded me after it slipped my mind!

After a Saint-Nicolas event for the children, I organized a Christmas event for adults. This event was also repetitive, making a Buche de Noel roll cake and Christmas cookies. Based on my experience from three years ago, I did a better job at managing time, so I could talk in detail about Christmas in Belgium and Europe, the Christmas markets, family dinner on Christmas Eve, catholic traditions, and the overall warm atmosphere (still my favorite time of the year!).

The very next day I actually took the plane to Belgium to spend the holidays with my family. It was the first time since my arrival in Kanazawa that I went home for Christmas and it became an unforgettable experience with the visit of a Japanese colleague and my former CIR colleague from Brazil. Together we spent Christmas at my house enjoying a fabulous dinner prepared by my father, we did city trips to Ghent, Brugges, Ostend and Brussels where friends from Expo Aichi 2005 guided us around, and we took the Eurostar to London and later to Paris, where we had a delicious raclette dinner at another Expo Aichi friend’s house before attending the New Year’s countdown underneath the Eiffel tower. It was an unforgettable trip, also because of the surprisingly cold temperatures in Europe!

Winter in Kanazawa, capital of the Hokuriku region, bordered by the Japanese Sea, is cold, wet and snowy. Half December the first snow came falling down, so I thought I would escape the white winter landscape by going to Europe. Not exactly! The three weeks I was there it snowed regularly and stayed below zero degrees for most of the time. In Kanazawa temperatures will seldom drop under zero, but the amounts of snow that come falling down are more impressive. In fact this was a rather heavy snow year, for the first time in my life I was woken up by the sound of half the people in my street shoveling snow!

The perfect weather conditions to give skiing another try! Although I was not keen on going after having fallen badly last year, my colleagues convinced me and I was happy to realize that skiing is like cycling, you don’t forget the basic moves!

After Christmas and New Year have passed, stores bring out the Valentine decorations. In Japan this is slightly different than in other countries. Valentine is the day of love, sure, but it’s mainly the day that women show their appreciation for the men in their life. In a broad sense, not only husband or boyfriend, also men they admire, male colleagues, even their father. And no worries for a lack of inspiration, there is only one gift you can give on Valentine`s day: chocolate! All department stores and supermarkets are flooded with chocolate stands, all ingredients you can think of to make your own chocolate cakes or cookies, chocolate-flavored beer and sodas, posters and cards with delicious-looking chocolate, it’s chocolate all over. This year I took it upon me to go and buy no less than 13 boxes of chocolate for all the men in our office! And once Valentine day has passed, chocolate stays around until March 14th, White Day, when it’s the turn of the men to give chocolates or sweets to the women in their life. I guess it comes to no surprise that White Day was started for commercial reasons by a group of Japanese candy makers?

The past months Belgium made it a couple of times into the Japanese headlines. I took pride in Kim Clijsters winning the US Open 2009 and Herman Van Rompuy being elected as the first President of the European Union. Unfortunately it was not all good news. I would like to express my deepest condolences to the families of the victims from the apartment explosion in Liege center and the train collision near Halle.

While waiting for spring to come to Kanazawa, I send you warmest greetings!

Sophie Bocklandt