JET Program CIR Report




CIR Report from Kanazawa (16)

By Sophie Bocklandt
(Coordinator for International Relations)

And here we are: another year older and at the beginning of my fifth and final year as a CIR at Kanazawa city hall! Four years have passed by so quickly, and I was able to have so many great experiences and meet loads of interesting people. I don’t know what the future will bring, but for now I want to fully enjoy this last year in Kanazawa!

A new year on the JET Programme also means that I had to say goodbye again to friends who completed their JET contract and went back home. We welcomed a new American CIR, already the fourth one during the time I’m here, and a new Chinese trainee. Good friends from the French club have left Kanazawa as well. It will be a little less animated without them, but I wish them all the best and hope to see them again somewhere around the world!

On the work field there aren’t many surprises anymore. School visits always require a presentation about Belgium, so I make it into a personal challenge to come up with a new Powerpoint presentation every time. Speeches for adults are usually about a topic I can choose freely, so I vary by talking about Belgian summer or Belgian Christmas one time and the Belgian World Heritage or the image of Japan in Belgium the other time, as to keep myself focused for each speech. It is also my thing to always bring a little treat for the audience, mostly a Lotus cinnamon biscuit or homemade sweets.

Belgian cooking classes are still very popular, especially Belgian desserts. In June I was invited to the beach city of Uchinada to make a Belgian lunch, so we made crepes farcies with ham and cheese, and chocolate mousse for dessert. In July I organized another Belgian dessert class in Kanazawa, where we prepared vanilla pudding, Brussels and Liege waffles with chocolate sauce and a personal beloved dessert, chocolate fruit crumble. For the international festival in the city of Komatsu in August, I invited the Belgian waffle maker from the city of Unoke up north to come and set up a waffle stand. He made more than 250 waffles which were sold out before the end of the festival! At the Belgian information booth where I was present, a lot of questions concerned the Belgian cuisine, but our complicated yet enriching language situation is also fascinating for Japanese people who often only know one language.

I was asked a second time to talk at a discussion forum about Japanese-style ryokan hotels in Kanazawa. As a resident of Kanazawa I haven’t stayed at a ryokan here, but I have stayed at some in other places and I contacted friends who had come to Kanazawa, so I could give a small speech on why foreigners appreciate ryokan and what could be improved to attract even more foreign visitors to the ryokan in Kanazawa. Talking about visitors, every three years a group of the Belgium/Luxembourg Rotary Club comes to Japan for a one-week homestay in Ishikawa prefecture and another week in Toyama prefecture. For me it is an opportunity to practice my interpretation skills when they visit Kanazawa city hall. We also had the visit of students from Irkutsk, the Russian sister city of Kanazawa. Because they wanted to go to the beach, some of my colleagues and myself were asked to come along and keep an eye on them. Never thought I would have to play Baywatch!

Although a lot of work is routine, I still face challenges. It took me a week plus the help of a friend to translate a technical text about aqueducts and waterways in the Greek and Roman periods from English into Japanese. In October Kanazawa is organizing an international symposium on water and the CIRs were asked to translate the manuscripts of the lecturers that will come here. This job will probably have a second part when the symposium will take place, but the moment I could hand over that difficult translation, I felt unbelievably relieved and proud! Another satisfying task was organizing the participation from a Tasmanian delegation in the Hyakumangoku festival, the biggest festival in Kanazawa. A former JET from Tasmania asked me if I could help fulfill their wish to play taiko drums at the festival and participate in the dance parade. For the first time I was actually put in charge of a job, so I had to contact and organize my own meetings with the people involved. It took me a long time and many meetings, but the delegation was able to do a taiko exchange and dance all together at the nightly dance parade. Mission accomplished!

Last year I was really impressed by the Belgian movie “Loft”, so after it became the most popular Flemish movie of all times, I started thinking of organizing another movie event. But since it is a suspense movie with an erotic undertone, I wanted to show the movie at night, first to keep away children, and second to attract young people and people that can not participate at my events during the day because of work. This meant I would have to put more effort into promoting the event than usual. I contacted acquaintances at the Kanazawa College of Art and the Kanazawa University, I sent emails to my fellow CIRs and the French Club, I contacted my friends and made a lot of mouth-to-mouth promotion. Thanks to everyone’s efforts I was able to gather not just the twenty people I hoped for, but thirty! Combining the movie with a presentation on modern architecture in Belgium, the participants were impressed and really surprised by this modern take on our country!

The mayor of Kanazawa was invited to give a speech at the Venice Biennale International Architecture Exhibition about the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, which was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The mayor wanted to challenge himself by giving the speech in English and I was appointed as his language coach. I made several recordings of myself giving the speech, which served as reference material for the mayor. Since he is already well advanced in age and I had never heard him speak in English before, I was quite surprised to find out he has a good grasp of the language! We rehearsed several times, mostly focusing on pronunciation of words, emphasizing certain lines and making the speech easy to listen to. I enjoyed this job very much, although I must admit I was a little nervous when the mayor asked to turn the roles and I had to speech for him!

Since this is my last year in Kanazawa, I plan to do all those things I’ve always wanted to give a try, go to the places I still haven’t gone to, spend a lot of time with my friends here and see some more of Japan. And so I inscribed myself for a trial class of belly dance, I went for a (rather painful) shiatsu massage, with my two male CIR colleagues I went for a drive around the Noto Peninsula and enjoyed a deliciously fresh Noto donburi fish-on-rice bowl, I visited the Peel Art Gallery where all pieces of art are made frpm the peel of fruits and vegetables, I finally made it to the Kawakita fireworks which are the biggest fireworks in Ishikawa prefecture and beyond (more than an hour of firework spectacle) and I went to the Monterey Jazz Festival in Noto 2010. The stage was next to the Japan Sea, so a refreshing breeze added even more charm to the smooth sounds of jazz bands from Japan and abroad. I was surprised to discover so many styles of jazz and to hear jazz in combination with a violin. I was also struck again by the discipline of Japanese people. Everyone enjoyed the jazz stage sitting on a chair, applauding at the end of a song, no people shouting out loud or dancing along, and as soon as the festival was over, everybody went back home. Of course a jazz festival asks for an intimate atmosphere, but this civilized behavior is very standard in Japanese life, with people waiting in line to get on transportation, people taking home their own trash, keeping their feelings for themselves, mostly trying not to stand out of the crowd. Japan really is an interesting place to be!

Another thing on my still-to-do list was pottery. During a recent visit to Shiga prefecture I decided to give it a try, since Shiga is famous for Shigaraki pottery. Especially the statues of tanuki raccoon dogs are famous all over Japan. I wanted to make a mug, but the taller it got, the wider it became and the more difficult to reach the inside bottom. The clay that we used was very flexible, but with the heat it hardened fast, so water had to be applied regularly to smooth the inside and the outside. The process took a long time, but it was satisfying to make something from scratch with my own hands. It will take at least a month to be baked, to apply the typical brown color and to let it dry. A masterpiece it is probably not, but I am excited to receive the result at my home in Kanazawa in a few weeks!

I have been traveling quite a lot the past years, but it was in June that I made my most memorable trip so far: I drove the Alaska Highway! One of my best JET friends is from British Colombia in Canada and after having said goodbye to her two years ago, I promised myself that one day I would go and visit her and her country, and that day came in June. After a touristic visit of Vancouver, seeing the remaining infrastructure of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, shopping for souvenirs at Gastown, strolling around the market of Granville Island and going for a long morning walk at the enormous Stanley Park, I took an inland flight over the impressive Rocky Mountains to Prince George where I was happily reunited with my friend. We met up with another friend and after stuffing the car with camping gear and food for at least a week, us three girls hit the road for the Alaska Highway. The Alcan goes from Dawson Creek in British Colombia, all the way up north to the Yukon Territory and from there to Fairbanks in Alaska. I took us five days to cover the distance of 2395km and another day to go further down to Anchorage where I took my flight back after some more days of sightseeing. What made this trip such an unforgettable experience for me was the close connection with nature. While on the Alcan you are constantly surrounded by mountains, rivers, and thousands and thousands of mainly spruce trees. Nature over there is overwhelming, especially when wild animals take their time to cross the road right in front of your car. For a city girl like me to see moose, grizzly bears, black bears, buffalos, mountain goats etc from up close is an indescribable feeling (although I must admit that I bought a bear bell just to be safe!). The biggest challenge for me however was camping! Never in my life had I gone camping and now I had to for ten days in a row! Needless to say that I felt clumsy in the beginning and had a hard time sleeping in a sleeping bag in a small tent shared by three. On top of that the sun never really sets during summer in the north of Canada and Alaska. At midnight it is still bright, making it hard on a light sleeper like me. Camping also demands a lot of work, setting up a tent, cooking, washing dishes and in the morning packing everything up again. But I learned how to do it all and of course I had my roasting marshmallows and making s’mores experience!

Although Canada/Alaska was my big summer vacation, I planned another city trip in July. With a Japanese colleague I went to visit the previous Chinese trainee and together we explored Shanghai and Suzhou, the Chinese sister city of Kanazawa. Needless to say that China is very different from Canada! A humid heat came falling upon us as soon as we arrived and literally everywhere there were people. It is impossible to be at ease, especially in the metropolis that is Shanghai. Of course the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai attracted even more people than usual, including us. Being at the expo was quite nostalgic for me. I was able to meet up with Argentine friends whom I met at Expo 2005 Aichi and of course we could count on a VIP treatment at the Belgian pavilion! In Suzhou we got to see a more traditional China. Suzhou is often called the “Venice of the East” because of its many rivers and canals and small bridges over flowing water. The gardens are also famous, representing some of China’s finest landscape architecture. Only 30 minutes away from Shanghai by train, Suzhou is a popular tourist destination, resulting again in huge crowds and melting heat!

Talking about heat, like other countries in the world Japan has been struck by a heat wave. Since half July temperatures have been in the 30 degrees, even at night, and five weeks later there is still no sign of cooler weather. Over 500 people have died already, mostly elder people and people that didn’t use air conditioning. Sleeping is difficult in these temperatures and the humidity makes you sweat like crazy, but at least we can’t complain about an unstable summer!

I hope you are all taking care of yourselves! Until my next report!

Sophie Bocklandt