A Fun Way To Get Involved in Your Community

A Fun Way To Get Involved in Your Community

Looking for a way to get out into the community? Considering how small the foreign population is in Japan, it is surprisingly easy for us to spend almost all of our time with our foreign friends. JET is a great community, but sometimes it’s almost too good! One of the best and most rewarding parts of working and living in Japan is the opportunity to meet new people and learn about a different culture.

I am also guilty about forgetting the “Exchange” part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. In order to force myself to expand my comfort zone, I intentionally carve some time out to do things in the community every once in a while. Some of my best memories so far have been my interaction with locals as part of the community, rather than simply a “foreign teacher.”

Spanish Paella I made during cooking class
Spanish Paella I made during cooking class

One of the first things I did when I came to Japan over a year and a half ago was to sign up at my Working Youth Center in Aizuwakamatsu City where young adults can take classes and join clubs with other people their age in the community. Since joining, I have taken part in a Break Dancing Club, cooking, baking, jewelry-making, leather-work, and lacquer painting classes. In the next few months, I am looking forward to adding calligraphy and magic classes to my list.

Most clubs meet weekly, such as basketball, hula dancing, tea ceremony, and volleyball. If you are looking for something with less commitment, they also have short courses running once a month such as taiko, flower arrangement, yoga, how to put on a yukata, or even one-time courses including jewelry-making and leather-work classes.

A leather belt I made in a one-time course
A leather belt I made in a one-time course

During my time at the Working Youth Center, I have made a lot of friends with fellow members and staff, while definitely feeling like I am a member of the community. We converse entirely in Japanese and we get into great discussions about the similarities and differences between our cultures with everyday things, such as chatting about customary fruit and vegetable peeling habits in our countries as we peeled fruit in baking class.

Another benefit I have reaped from these classes is a new appreciation for handmade crafts. While I have always admired gorgeous handmade goods, I have always hesistated to buy them due to the hefty price tag.

After taking a lacquer-painting class where I got told – to my horror – that there are no templates for designs, and seeing the difference between my finished product and the teacher’s array of products on display, I realized the price is befitting of the time and effort these professionals have poured into their work.

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My unfinished attempt at making a lacquerware plate!

My hands-on experience with one of Japan’s traditional crafts made me ashamed for not valuing the products which professionals work so hard to create. A single plate can take up to two months to make, which doesn’t include weeks to dry the paint and the decades of accumulated skill. Joining in on one of these classes is a great way to see how professionals work, and an inexpensive way to learn more about traditional Japanese crafts in a hands-on way!

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Carmelized apples we made for baking class

If you have any interest in trying Japanese traditional crafts or joining a sports club, ask around and either find a Working Youth Center near you (勤労青少年ホーム/ kinsei shounen homu) or a community center. The membership and classes offered will depend on your location, but as a reference, Aizuwakamatsu City’s Working Youth Center costs 500 yen for membership and 500 yen for insurance per year, in addition to the cost of the course – although many courses are free. Even the courses or clubs that have a fee are generally very reasonable.

There are several Working Youth Centers around Fukushima in Aizuwakamatsu City, Fukushima City, Kitakata City, Sukagawa City and Iwaki City. Unfortunately, the websites are only in Japanese, but I encourage you to team up with someone who knows Japanese and jump into a class or two!

 

 

April 2016 – The Lucky Island Events (Cherry Blossom Viewing Locations Included!)

April 2016 – The Lucky Island Events (Cherry Blossom Viewing Locations Included!)

 

Welcome back the spring with new teachers, new students and blooming cherry blossoms! This month cherry blossom events are happening in various locations across the Prefecture. While you can see cherry blossoms just about anywhere, there is something special about gathering under the trees with friends, drinks and festival food.

 

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cherry blossom kaiseizanCherry Blossom Viewing at Kaiseizan Park in Koriyama

Date: Sunday April 3rd – Sunday April 24th

Area: Kaiseizan Park in Koriyama

Time: All day!

 

Address: Kaiseizan Park ( 開成山公園)

963-8851 Fukushima Prefecture, Koriyama, Kaiseizan 1-5

Details: Spread out a blanket, order some Domino’s Pizza from the delivery guy wandering around the park (done it!), and relax under some cherry blossoms! This spacious park boasts 1,300 cherry blossom trees and is considered one of the best places to view cherry blossoms in the prefecture.

 

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tsurugajo cherry blossomsCherry Blossom Viewing in Aizuwakamatsu City

Date: Friday, April 8th – Sunday, May 8th

Area: Tsurugajo Castle, Aizuwakamatsu City

Address: 1-1 Ōtemachi, Aizuwakamatsu-shi, Fukushima-ken 965-0873 (福島県会津若松市追手町1-1)

Details: Enjoy cherry blossoms within the castle grounds and various events throughout the month, including tea ceremonies, sake tasting and more. You also have the unusual opportunity to enjoy the blossoms right next to a castle. It makes for great pictures!

 

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soma cherry blossomsCherry Blossom Festival in Soma City

Date: Friday, April 8th – Sunday, April 17th

Area: Soma City

Time: All day

 

Address: Baryo Park (馬陵公園)

〒976-0042, 福島県相馬市中村北町

Kitamachi Nakamura, Sōma-shi, Fukushima-ken 976-0042

Details: Check out another popular spot to view cherry blossoms in Baryo Park in Soma City with 600 cherry trees that are lit up at night.

 

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date city cherry blossomsCherry Blossom Viewing in Date City

Date: Saturday April 9th – Sunday April 17th

Area: Date City

Time: All day

Address: Yanagawa Kibo-no-Mori Park (やながわ希望の森公園)

Uchiyama-1 Yanagawamachi, Date-shi, Fukushima-ken 960-0600

福島県伊達市梁川町字内山1

Details: In Date City you can enjoy over 2,000 blooming cherry trees, stage events, appetizing food and even an old steam engine that will take you along the trees in the park for 300 yen one way or 500 for round trip. At night, the cherry trees are lit up to give guests a unique nighttime scenery.

 

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ishikawa cherry blossomsCherry Blossom Viewing in Ishikawa City

Date: Saturday April 9th – Sunday April 24th

Area: Ishikawa City

Time: All day

 

 

Address: Asahi Park (あさひ公園)

〒243-0014 Kanagawa Prefecture, Atsugi 旭町1-122 あさひ公園

Details: Enjoy a picnic or a walk in the park under the cherry blossoms. While there will be food stalls available every day, the main stage events are planned for April 16th and 17th. There will also be a free shuttle bus which you can ride around the park and enjoy the blossoms (available only on the weekends).

 

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projection mappingFukushima Projection Mapping Festival

Date: Friday, April 15th – Saturday, April 16th

Area: Shirakawa City

Time: 6:20pm; 7pm; 7:40pm; 8:20pm

Price: Free, but reservation is required

 

Address: In front of the Ishikawa Station

Details: After the huge success of Aizuwakamatsu’s projection mapping, the entertainment has spread to Shirakawa City. Started in an effort to support Fukushima after the 2011 disasters, this projection mapping will now be held in Shirakawa City as well. The images will be orchestrated to three carefully selected songs. You can sign up on the website and get tickets for up to five people.

 

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aizu jyuurakuAizu Juuraku

Date: Every Saturday, Sunday and Holiday from April 16th – May 5th

Area: Aizuwakamatsu City

 

Address: Tsurugajo Castle grounds

1-1 Ōtemachi, Aizuwakamatsu-shi, Fukushima-ken 965-0873

福島県会津若松市追手町1-1

Details: Stepping through this historic market with the castle as a backdrop is not something to miss. Try some new food, buy crafts and enjoy the cherry blossoms over three weeks!

2016 February JET Study Tour

2016 February JET Study Tour
Rows and rows of strawberries at Wada Strawberry Tourism Association
Ripe strawberries at Wada Strawberry Tourism Association

I am happy to report that my second study tour was just as incredible as the first, and high on my list of recommendations for JETs. Who wouldn’t want an opportunity to stuff yourself so full of strawberries you feel sick while learning more about the beautiful prefecture in which you live?

This time, our adventure took place along the coast in Minami Soma which suffered overwhelming damage and loss of lives during the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. While I have visited the coast a few times to volunteer since the earthquake, this was my first time to visit the area with the sole purpose of learning more about the people, culture, and relief efforts. 

What left the biggest impression on me following the study tour was an interaction I had with one of my high school students who had seen us in the newspaper. An article had been written about us and I was interviewed about my experience. My student, who is one of the many people displaced during the disaster five years ago, stopped me in the hallway. She said, “I am from Minami Soma. I am glad you liked it.” Her joy that I had taken interest in her town which has been shrouded in rumors in past few years made me thankful for this opportunity provided by the JET Program.

Armor worn during the Soma Nomaoi Festival
Armor worn during the Soma Nomaoi Festival

So what were some of the things we got to do on this trip? We got to try our hand at generating hydropower with a water pump at the Minami Soma Agripark, try on traditional armor used in one of the two oldest festivals in Japan with over a thousand years of history, and eat strawberries to the point of regret.

We stayed at a hotel directly on the ski slopes, so all we had to do was tumble out of bed and onto the slopes with our rental gear with the option of joining in on free skiing or snowboarding lessons or hitting the slopes on our own. To round out the trip, we stopped by a farmer’s market and the Decontamination Center in Fukushima City.

A memorial at the Solar Agripark to those who lost their lives in the 2011 disaster
A memorial at the Solar Agripark to those who lost their lives in the 2011 disaster

Along the way, we learned about alternative power at the Solar Agripark that had been built over the place where five houses had been swept away in the tsunami. We heard the stories about how Wada Strawberry Tourism was rebuilt after being swept away in the tsunami five years ago and the changes made to appease customers’ concern about radiation (even though the area had proven to be radiation free) and the fight to return back to the number of customers in the aftermath.

The last stop on our one night, two day trip was the decontamination center in Fukushima City. Even though I have lived in Fukushima for almost two years and was living in Japan when the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster incident happened, I had very little knowledge about radiation and its effect on the body. The presentation, conducted in English, was easy to understand and the knowledgeable presenter carefully explained how much radiation is dangerous, what is dangerous about it, and how decontamination is conducted. I found this lecture incredibly useful and good for general knowledge that should be general knowledge considering we are all exposed to radiation in our everyday lives, regardless of where we live in the world.

The biggest reason I recommend these study tours to you is the simple fact that you will be able to participate in events and learn knowledge that otherwise would difficult to coordinate (whether due to language barriers or tours not open to individuals). I think one of the best parts about being a JET is that I am not here only as a teacher, but as student to learn, share, and support Fukushima Prefecture and all the people who are still working hard to recover and move on.

If you have the chance, jump at the next opportunity to sign up for a JET Study Tour!

The gorgeous view from the slopes
The gorgeous view from the slopes

FuJET Sapporo Snow Festival 2016 – Jeni Bloomfield

FuJET Sapporo Snow Festival 2016 – Jeni Bloomfield

IMG_1296In early February, a small group of Fukushima ALTs left from Sendai on an overnight ferry bound for Hokkaido. This was the start of FuJET’s annual trip to the Sapporo Snow Festival. Not being the best at travelling, I was a little unsure about the ferry crossing, but it turned out to be a very fun experience. The ferry had a restaurant, a small arcade and even an onsen!

Teams around the world working on sculptures.
Teams around the world working on sculptures.

Once we had arrived in Sapporo and settled into our hotel, we had a quick look at the nearby snow sculptures before going to Sapporo Beer Hall. I always enjoy yakiniku (where you cook thinly cut pieces of meat on a grill in front of you) and this was a particularly good meal with good beer. We rounded off the evening with a few hours of karaoke before heading back to the hotel, tired but ready to enjoy the next few days.

One of the main highlights of Sapporo is, of course, the snow festival. Due to the unseasonably warm weather this year, we had all been wondering about the state of the sculptures. Luckily, we seemed to have arrived at a perfect moment and it was only toward the last day that some of the smaller ones started to look a little sad and grey. The rest of the time, the sculptures were amazing.

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Australia’s sculpture for the contest.

They ranged from cartoon characters made by local groups (a shout out here to our favourite, Baymax) to entries in the international snow sculpting competition. The eventual winner was Latvia. I had been rooting for Australia. They made a giant frog eating a naked guy and it made me laugh every time. The most impressive sculpture in the festival was giant scene from Attack on Titan. At night, this was illuminated in a light display set to the music from the show.

Sapporo is also famous for its food. On our first full day, we headed to Ramen Alley for lunch. Ramen Alley is a small street filled end to end with ramen shops. Ramen is a perfect cold weather food, as is Sapporo’s soup curry. A word of warning about curry soup: this isn’t Japanese curry so the spice rating should definitely be taken seriously.

Some of the choices at yakiniku
Some of the choices at yakiniku

The area’s most famous dish is crab. To try this, we went to an all-you-can-eat restaurant that served just about everything you could imagine as well as giant crab legs. I’d never eaten crab before so I was a little bit confused about how to tackle it. After a few pointers, I got going. The crab was really good but the ribs here were delicious. I definitely got my money’s worth!

Lit lanterns in Otaru
Lit lanterns in Otaru.

We also ventured out of Sapporo to the nearby port town of Otaru. Otaru is known for its glass blowing and snow lanterns. These were eerily beautiful when they were lit at night. During the day, Otaru was a nice place to explore, filled with cute snowmen and interesting little shops.

Overall I had an amazing time at Sapporo. I would love to go back in the future as there many more places to see, like the chocolate factory and Maruyama zoo. If anyone has the chance to go to this festival, I advise you to go. You won’t regret it.

 

 

A big thanks to Jeni Bloomfield who was the author of this article. Sounds like a great time!

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March 2016 – The Lucky Island Events

March 2016 – The Lucky Island Events

tutuko234lName: Tsutsuko-hiki Festival

Date: Sunday, March 6th

Area: Date City, at Ikutsushima Shrine (厳島神社)

Address: 1-1 Miyajimacho, Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture 739-0588

Details: In this annual festival, a group of men clothed in fundoshi brave the cold winds to compete in a tug-o-war struggle for a large bag 3 meters in length, 1.5 meters in width and weighing 800kg filled with steamed glutinous rice. The festival is held to pray for bountiful harvests, good business and good health. It is a designated Intangible Folk Cultural Asset of Date City and considered one of the top festivals in the prefecture.

Japanese Website

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sisi_titleName: Equinoctial Lion Dance (Higan Jishi Mai)

Date: Thursday, March 17th

Area: Aizuwakamatsu City, Aizu Region

Address: Aizu 3-13 Sakaemachi, Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture 965-0871 (Shinmei Street)

Details: This dance is held in various locations around Aizuwakamatsu and Bandai to welcome spring and say goodbye to winter. The dance serves as a prayer for household safety and a bountiful harvest.

Japanese Website

 

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sisi_titleName: Equinoctial Lion Dance (Higan Jishi Mai)

Date: Friday, March 18th

Area: Bandai Town, Aizu Region

Address: Near Bandai Station (Exit 1)

Details: This dance is held in various locations around Aizuwakamatsu and Bandai to welcome spring and say goodbye to winter. The dance serves as a prayer for household safety and a bountiful harvest.

Japanese Website

 

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sisi_titleName: Equinoctial Lion Dance (Higan Jishi Mai)

Date: Sunday, March 20th

Area: Bandai Town, Aizu Region

Address: Uchikitsutate Akaeda, Bandai-machi, Yama-gun, Fukushima-ken 969-3303

(磐梯町赤枝地区内)

Details: This dance is held in various locations around Aizuwakamatsu and Bandai to welcome spring and say goodbye to winter. The dance serves as a prayer for household safety and a bountiful harvest.

Japanese Website

 

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3537Name: Bandai Shrine Fune-hiki Festival and Shrine Maidens’ Ceremonial Dance

Date: Sunday, March 20th

Area: Iwahashi Shrine in Bandai Town, Aizu Region

Time: Starts from 12pm (noon)

Address: 6199 Nishimine, Inawashiro-machi, Yama-gun, Fukushima-ken 969-3102

〒969-3102, 福島県耶麻郡猪苗代町字西峰6199

Details: This festival is carried out every year to predict the crop quality for the following year. Fune-hiki is a tug-o-war contest that is carried out three times. If the team on the west side wins, there will be a bountiful crop that year, and if the east team wins, the price of rice will rise.

Japanese website